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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:25 am on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 10:25 am, 12th January 2021

There is an indivisible historic bond that we have been reminded of between the UK and India. India is rightly admired as the world’s biggest democracy, and its economic achievements have been staggering. My hon. Friend Barry Gardiner rightly paid tribute to the constitution of India drawn up under the leadership of Dr B. R. Ambedkar, which says

“all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.”

It is a model for such a vast and richly diverse nation. However, India is seeing growing violence against religious minorities.

As Theresa Villiers said, the latest Open Doors’ World Watch List will be launched tomorrow. For the last two years, India has been in 10th place on that list of the worst countries for the persecution of Christians, and the position is not going to improve, as I understand it, in the list being published tomorrow. Now that would once have been unconceivable; 10 years ago it was down at number 32. The current Indian Government was elected in 2014 and in 2016, Open Doors put India for the first time among the world’s worst 20 countries and the report that year referred to

“a surge of militant Hindu pressure on religious minorities, most frequently Muslims and Christians.”

In 2019, India entered the worst 10 countries. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that year that India be designated a country of particular concern. Human Rights Watch reported in 2019:

“The government failed to properly enforce Supreme Court directives to prevent and investigate mob attacks”.

India remained in the top 10 last year. Open Doors reports four religiously-motivated murders of Christians in the first half of 2020 and eight just in the third quarter.

We have been reminded that Christians and Muslims account for 20% of India’s population. I paid a wonderful visit to Kerala in 2017 where the location of churches established by the Apostle Thomas were pointed out to me. Islam arrived between the 12th and 16th centuries. Both religions have been very significant in India’s development. The problem is, and this point has rightly been made, that it is not that the state is perpetrating violence against minority religions but, to quote Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

“Right-wing groups are emboldened by a culture of impunity due to state negligence or complicity.”

Government inaction has meant that mob lynching against Muslims and Dalits and violence against Christians and humanists are increasing. The Government are not always negligent, but they have often been negligent.

A report from the London School of Economics published at the end of 2019 entitled “WhatsApp vigilantes” refers to more than a hundred lynchings since 2015, many against Dalits, Muslims, Christians and Adivasis, carried out by

“mobs of vigilantes who use peer-to-peer messaging applications such as WhatsApp to spread lies about the victims, and use misinformation to mobilise, defend, and in some cases to document and circulate images of their violence.”

We have been reminded that covid-19 seems to have increased the problems. When our Prime Minister visits India, he must raise this issue.When Ministers such as the one who is with us this morning visit India, I hope they will meet religious minorities. That will be a huge source of encouragement.

Meeting in the USA and in India, Donald Trump and Narendra Modi have heaped praise on each other. At the moment, we are seeing where America-first politics leads playing out in the US. Every community needs to feel protected; it is not enough to protect only the majority, and the authorities in India need to act against those who perpetrate violence towards Muslims, Christians, Dalits, humanists and other religious minorities.