India: Persecution of Minority Groups — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:01 am on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North 10:01 am, 12th January 2021

Before I begin, I want to say that I resent having to come here this morning. I also resent the fact that this will be one of the last debates that we are able to have in Westminster Hall. Scrutiny is very important, and the scrutiny we do in this Chamber is important, but we should be able to do it remotely and observe the guidance that the Government have given to others.

Imagine when the Windrush scandal broke in the UK if there had been a debate in the Indian Parliament about the persecution of black people in Britain. Or, in 2011, when the London riots broke out after the police shooting of Mark Duggan, that there had been questions asked in the Indian Parliament about the impartiality of the Metropolitan police, and how it was that they stood by and did not use force to stop the rioters for four days before those riots were brought under control. Imagine that there had been debates in the Indian Parliament all through the troubles in Northern Ireland, accusing the British Government of persecuting the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.

I say this, not to minimise the subject that hon. Members have brought for debate in this Chamber today—injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere—but to give ourselves a sense of humility and a little perspective about how we might feel, as parliamentarians, if legislators in India were to pronounce on our institutions from afar, putting us under the microscope in the same way that colleagues are doing for their Indian counterparts today.

Add to that the fact that the UK is the former colonial power, whose influence in what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh was not entirely beneficent, and certainly not above pitting one religious or ethnic group against the other. In this light, it is not beyond ordinary powers of imagination to conceive that people in India might not regard our intervention as either wholly welcome or appropriate.

Many of my own constituents—British citizens whose families were originally from India—have written to me, outraged by the very fact that we are holding this debate at all. One of my constituents’ letters says:

“It is a very difficult time in the UK due to the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It is surprising to know that elected British Members of Parliament are debating subjects attacking the Government of India, rather than focusing on UK priorities.”

There is of course a debate on covid in the Commons Chamber today, and I do not think that we must confine our debates only to immediate to domestic priorities, so perhaps I should have begun my remarks by declaring my interests. I am a Christian and I therefore have an interest to prevent the persecution of my fellow Christians; but, then, I am also a human being and I have never understood how anyone can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation, let alone the persecution, of a fellow being. I am also the founding chair of Labour Friends of India, and as one of India’s longest-standing friends in the UK Parliament, I am keen to see that the true nature of Indian democracy is properly represented and not distorted.