An eye on business, EU, US turn the other away from India’s human rights situation

EU Parliament, US Congress flag India’s worsening human rights record

Politics

October 18, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

An eye on business, EU, US turn the other away from India’s human rights situation

Though various institutions have criticised government's handling of issues like anti-CAA protests, western governments have maintained a stoic silence(MIG phots/Aman Kanojia)

Keen not to upset ties and aware of sensitivity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to any criticism, most developed country governments have turned a blind eye to sharp deterioration in India’s human rights record over the past few years, even as high profile but powerless bodies of parliamentarians have upped their criticism of India’s record.

The decision of Amnesty International to shut down its office in India last month following a freeze of its bank accounts ordered by the Indian government over some alleged malpractices drew a rare response from the government of United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson that expressed regret over the development, praising the work done by Amnesty, a global human rights promotion body headquartered in London, and emphasising that it was important to let Amnesty carry out activities unhindered.

Similar noises of protests were also heard from a few other governments in the European Union. The Indian government, on its part, responded sharply, saying that Amnesty had to follow the law of the land and no one was above it.

Unfortunately, for India and for Amnesty, the matter seems to have ended at that, for all practical purposes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effectively shut down and shut out yet another rare international critic of his work and his government, while the EU governments have done their ‘moral duty’ of protesting against a patently unfair and political move to cast a tighter net over dissent or criticism of any kind. Such has been the state of India’s relationship with most governments of the developed countries that would ordinarily have raised a hue and cry over flagrant violation of human rights and compromising of democratic institutions as has been seen in India since 2014.

Take the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. For over a year, almost all of its political leaders were in jail and not even allowed to air their opinion, while the government imposed an undeclared emergency and curfew that lasted almost as long with all communication systems – mobile, internet and even fixed line telephony closed. For over six months the only source of news from the troubled state, which had been controversially divided and its status within India altered permanently, was the government itself, which of course painted a Goebbelesque picture of people celebrating their ‘liberation from corrupt politicians’ and heartily welcoming Modi.

Not a murmur has been heard from any government across the world, especially the self-appointed defenders of the human rights across the EU and the US who over the past seven decades have been prompt in not only criticising any ‘undemocratic’ government but have also blatantly interfered militarily in various countries across the world to bring about ‘rule of law’ and ‘restoration of democracy’.

But in India’s case, instead of responding to the blatantly draconian and anti-democratic move, the ambassadors to India of various EU nations were happy to oblige the Modi government with some unique photo-ops in the iconic shikaras of Srinagar, capital of Jammu & Kashmir, even as they went on a highly sanitised and restricted ‘fact-finding’ tour led by government mandarins.

The reason behind this duplicacy of the developed world is not hard to fathom. Modi government has duly ‘rewarded’ all the ‘friendly’ nations with lucrative contracts and business deals, ranging from multi-billion arms deals to opening up extremely sensitive sectors of the Indian economy to competition from overseas without any reciprocity, a basic condition of most trade deals across the globe.

The foreign leaders consider that Modi government is unlikely to be dislodged anytime soon in view of any strong opposition and hence are happy to do its bidding even though it often involves going against their own founding principles and also several international treaties.

In such a scenario, it is encouraging to see that at least some elements of the Western societies are keeping their flag up, asking the inconvenient questions and openly criticising the Indian government for its actions. The European Parliament has already passed resolutions against India for its actions in J&K and the US Congressional bodies looking after religious freedom and minority rights have also been sharply critical of India.

Earlier this week, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Maria Arena expressed concern over the deteriorating rule of law in India and the closure of Amnesty International India’s operations.

“Protests over the proposed citizenship verification process and the discriminatory citizenship law amendments have resulted in arbitrary detentions and an unnecessary loss of life,” she said, adding that journalists and other peaceful critics continue to be arrested under draconian counter-terrorism and sedition laws, while human rights defenders are unceasingly and severely targeted by the authorities.

On Amnesty’s report on Delhi riots, Arena called for ‘a fully independent, public and transparent inquiry into the role of the police in failing to prevent the violence that broke out and even aiding it’.

“In the absence of action by India’s authorities since the outbreak of the violence, I strongly support the call for a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into all human rights violations committed by law enforcement officials,” Arena said.

Similarly, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2020 Annual Report, released in April, was sharply critical of India and recommended that the US State Department designate 14 countries, including India, as Country of Particular Concern or CPCs. The report also specifically mentioned Union Home Minister Amit Shah twice.

Last week, the USCIRF also welcomed the release of the US State Department’s 2019 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom that contained a detailed account of CAA protests as well as Jammu and Kashmir. The report, released by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said “religiously inspired mob violence, lynching and communal violence”, and that “some officials of Hindu-majority parties, including from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts against minority communities”.

While it is encouraging to see greater discomfort at least in some institutions of the western nations, it is perhaps time for the civil society in these countries to also raise their voices in order to pressure their own governments to change their stance and start acting on the principles that they have preached so far. Only greater pressure at home will get the leaders of these countries to open their eyes to issues larger than a few billion dollar business deals.

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