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 am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making his points so clearly. Let me try to address them. He spoke of Muslims being stripped of their citizenship rights—no. Actually, they are not stripped of rights that they ever had. They were not citizens; they were classed as illegal migrants into the country.

It is very important when talking about India and religious persecution to consider the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. India is one of the world’s top destinations for illegal migrants. Most are Muslims who come from the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Pew Research Center estimates that they number 3.2 million and 1.1 million from Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively. The Act provided a pathway for illegal migrants to become citizens of India where they had been victims of religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan. It established the important legal principle of non-refoulement by offering shelter to refugees who fled those countries due to discrimination based on religion. It gave that right to Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists.

The Act was passed in both the Lok Sabha, where the BJP Government hold a majority, and the upper Rajya Sabha, where they do not. It sparked riots and outrage because the pathway was not open to Muslims. The argument applied by the Indian Government is that those are Muslim countries, and therefore Muslims coming to India as migrants could not be persecuted religious minorities.

The right hon. Member for Gainsborough spoke about Ahmadiyya Muslims, and I entirely agree with him. The Indian Government say that the legislation discriminates not against Muslims per se, but only against illegal immigrants who do not have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. There is a basic logic to that argument, and I disagree with it. It is clear to me that if someone is an Ahmadiyya Muslim or a gay Muslim, it is perfectly possible—indeed, highly probable—that they have suffered religious persecution in one of those countries. It is also possible that Christians or Parsis have come without actually having a well-founded fear of being persecuted. They may simply be an illegal migrant, rather than a genuine refugee. Better, in my view, that the law should seek not to treat illegal immigrants on the basis of broad religious categories at all, but to consider each individual case on its merit. However, India is a sovereign country with an established democracy, and I respect its right to enact legislation whether or not I think it clumsy or ill-framed.

As people criticise India for legislation that is giving citizenship to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, perhaps we should recall that just in December, a British Home Office Minister complained to the Home Affairs Committee that we had been unable to get the French to agree to a policy of turning back migrant boats in the channel. As India enacts the principle of non-refoulement, we are busy trying to do the opposite. Sometimes, as a Christian, I think we would do better to cast out the beam from our own eye, and then we might see clearly to case out the mote from our neighbour’s.