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

I shall refer to the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks later, but at this point I will continue to make some progress. I represent the constituency of Brent North, which only Newham, which includes the constituency of my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, might be able to rival for diversity of ethnicity and religious faith. Perhaps 40% of the families in my constituency are originally from the Indian subcontinent. Many are Hindu and many are Muslim and I am equally at home visiting the mosque or the mandir.

As a Christian, I remember the appalling murder of the Christian missionary Graham Staines in Odisha. He was burned to death with his two little boys, aged 10 and six, when Dara Singh led a group of Hindu militants who set light to the van that they were sleeping in. I think I was the first person in this Parliament to raise the matter with the then high commissioner, my good friend Lalit Mansingh. As a human being, I also remember that Dara Singh murdered the Muslim trader Sheikh Rehman, chopping off his hands before setting him alight too. Psychopaths and murderers exist in all countries, but when talking of persecution it is important to examine how the authorities in those countries respond to such atrocities. The Indian constitution is, importantly, a secular constitution and it provides for protections of minority communities including Sikhs, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists and Christians. Though different political parties have formed the Government since its independence, all have respected the constitution and worked within its boundaries, so it is important to say that 21 years later, Dara Singh is still serving a life sentence for his crimes. It is also important that he was convicted in the year 2000 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, at the head of a Hindu nationalist BJP Government.

In June 2017, in response to the growing violence of Hindu mobs known as cow vigilantes, it was the current Hindu nationalist Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who spoke out against that violence and proclaimed that killing people in the name of protecting cows was criminal, illogical and unacceptable. When the Muslim trader Alimuddin Ansari was later lynched by a Hindu mob for allegedly transporting beef, 11 people were sentenced to life imprisonment, including one local BJP worker. That justice was meted out by a fast-track court and was the first case ever successfully prosecuted against such religious extremists in India. The state acted. It did not sanction the atrocities. Are there atrocities in India? Yes, there are. Are they often perpetrated against religious minorities? Yes, they are. Do they represent persecution by the state? No, they do not. Islam is the second largest religion in India. There are 40 million Muslims in Uttar Pradesh alone. As Sir Edward Leigh said, there are 1.4 billion people in India and the second largest population is Muslim. He spoke of 1,000 attacks on minorities.