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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:45 am on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 10:45 am, 12th January 2021

Absolutely. The hon. Member is right to raise this. There is a real opportunity, when that trip goes ahead, not just to talk about what is incredibly important in our trading relationship with India, but to put on the table our concerns around these issues. In that vein, I can confirm that during the Foreign Secretary’s visit to India in December, he raised a number of these human rights issues with his Indian counterpart, including the situation in Kashmir and our concern around many consular cases.

Most recently, our acting high commissioner in New Delhi discussed the UK’s parliamentary interest in minorities in India with officials from India’s Ministry of External Affairs on 4 January. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials here in London discussed the situation for India’s religious minorities with the Indian high commissioner on 29 December. Our Minister responsible for human rights and our relations with India, Lord Ahmad, speaks regularly to his opposite number in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi and with the Indian high commissioner here in the UK. Where we have concerns, he raises them directly with the Indian authorities.

Over the last three years, our high commission has worked with local non-governmental organisations to bring together hundreds of young people of diverse faiths in three cities in India to work together on social action projects in their local communities, thereby promoting a culture of interfaith dialogue. Our diplomatic network across India also regularly meets religious representatives from all faiths to understand their perspectives. We use important milestones such as Inter Faith Week to reach out to these communities. In May, our high commission hosted a virtual Iftar, engaging over 100 Muslim and other faith and civil society contracts across India. There was positive media coverage, reaching around 7 million people.

In September, our high commission hosted a virtual roundtable with faith leaders from the Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian communities to understand how faith groups in India have responded to the pandemic, to celebrate their important contribution to supporting local communities, and to promote joint working between faith leaders. This year, our high commission will support an interfaith leadership programme for a cohort of emerging Indian faith leaders, including Christians and Muslims. Hopefully, this will create an opportunity for: UK-India interfaith dialogue on tackling shared global challenges such as climate change; exchanging expertise on leading modern, inclusive faith communities; and promoting values of tolerance and multiculturalism.

The hon. Member for Strangford raised the case of Father Stan Swamy. Human rights defenders make an essential contribution to the promotion of the rights of their fellow citizens. We acknowledge that they face growing threats, and the UK works with many international partners to support them through our networks of high commissions and embassies. We have directly raised the case of Father Stan Swamy with the Indian authorities, most recently on 12 November. We will continue to monitor such cases and raise them directly with Ministers where appropriate.

With regard to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, Lord Ahmad has previously raised our concerns about the impact of recent legislative and judicial measures on India’s minorities directly with Ministers. We have not yet received any confirmation from the Government of India on whether an India-wide national register of citizens will be implemented. We keenly await details of any next steps that they take following the NRC in Assam.