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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:20 am on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:20 am, 12th January 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate Jim Shannon on securing this debate.

“It’s time the Modi government learned they cannot promote ‘Make in India’ abroad while condoning the propagation of ‘Hate in India’ at home.”

Those are not my words but those of Shashi Tharoor, an author and Indian politician, highlighting the reality of India under a BJP Government.

With the rise of nationalist politics all over the world, we have seen the threat to minority rights. With Trump 2.0 in charge in India, in the form of Narendra Modi, we are witnessing before our eyes the scaling down of the secular, liberal rights for which Indian democracy once hailed itself. Power politics has an interesting link with the legitimacy of an individual, especially in the case of Narendra Modi, a man once barred from the US because of his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat massacre, which saw more than 2,000 Muslims murdered and some newspapers giving him the title, “the butcher of Gujarat”. Today he is invited on to red carpets across the globe, including in Britain.

Narendra Modi does not just attract a nationalist crowd with his populist rhetoric; he is directly involved. He is a life member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is inspired by the likes of Adolf Hitler and Mussolini and the ideas of an Aryan race. The RSS is built on an ideology of the superiority of Hindus, and the group’s mission statement calls for change to the policy of

“endless appeasement of the Muslim population”.

In reality, what they see as the ending of appeasement towards Muslims is seen by the world as the ending of equality towards Muslims in India. Over the years, mob attacks on Muslim communities in India have risen. Only last year, five Muslim men, severely beaten by police officers, were forced to sing the national anthem. Two days later, one of the men, a 23-year-old Muslim, was murdered. Later, we witnessed a nationalist mob launch riots in New Delhi. More than 52 people were killed, hundreds injured, places of worship and property destroyed, with the majority of victims being Muslims.

It is not just extremist mobs that are changing the landscape in India. It is directly ingrained in the policies pursued by the BJP Government. The controversial citizenship law and the national registration of citizenship directly discriminate against Muslims. The citizenship law ensures that Hindus and people of other faiths who live in India have an automatic right to citizenship, whereas Muslims do not. In 2019, the Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah said,

“I today want to assure Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees, that you will not be forced to leave India”.

That outrightly left out Muslims.

A New York Times investigation in Assam province found Muslims, who have lived their entire lives in India with voter ID, birth certificates and marriage certificates, being sent to foreigners tribunals to prove their citizenship. One man, Asbahar Ali, due to a spelling error by the authorities on his documentation, was sent to prison for four years. His family sold the house to pay for legal costs and his wife committed suicide. The same investigation found five officials of the foreigners tribunals, such as Mamoni Rajkumari, claimed they were dismissed from their posts because they accepted the citizenship of too many Muslims.

If one believed that the discrimination against Muslims is India is just hearsay, consider the words of an MP and BJP leader, Dr Swamy. In defence of controversial citizenship laws in an interview, he stated,

“We know where the Muslim population is large and there’s always trouble…If Muslims become more than 30%, that country is in danger.”

When challenged for his hateful comments, he asserted he was being kind to Muslims by not letting them into India, because equality does not apply to them, as they fit into a completely different category.

The Bishop of Truro’s independent review for the Foreign Secretary in 2019 found rising levels of hate and attacks on Christians in India. The report mentions 750 reported cases of Christian persecution in India in 2017 alone. Recently, we have witnessed the use of brute force with water cannon on Indian farmers, who are mainly Sikhs. Other marginalised groups such as Dalits, those of lower caste or even non-religious groups such as humanists have often been at the forefront of hate and discrimination in India.

India is at a pivotal point. While its economic advance is set to lead it to become the third biggest economy by 2035, its political advance is set to eradicate the legacy of Gandhism based on a pluralist India. The world is also at a pivotal point because nations likes ours need to make a choice between turning a blind eye to the Nazi-inspired ideology taking charge in the ruling party of India in favour of economic trade, or standing by persecuted minorities and the very values of Gandhism.

If our words fall on deaf ears, then the world should not be shocked if minorities in India push towards a path of ethnic cleansing in the future. India has a choice to make, but so does the rest of the world.