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Ignoring criticism of human rights abuse is affecting India’s image
The new US government is not willing to follow in the footsteps of Donald Trump and ignore the partisan approach of the Modi govt
At the height of the Kashmir insurgency in the 1990s, the then prime minister Narasimha Rao was irritated by criticism of the Indian security forces’ harsh counter-insurgency tactics. But he did not create any hindrance in the functioning of Amnesty International or any other human rights watchdog. On the contrary, stung with repeated allegations of rampant human rights violations in Kashmir, Rao’s Congress government created the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to examine the charges. It is hard to imagine that Pm Narendra Modi would set up this nature of watchdog to monitor his governance.
Modi government froze the assets of Amnesty International, claiming that the organisation was in violation of Indian law. The fact is he was feeling irritated by Amnesty’s unfavorable reports on recent riots in New Delhi, India’s human rights record in Jammu and Kashmir, and the passage of recent legislation that could adversely affect Muslims. No prime minister had ever turned vindictive to Amnesty.
Using Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate and CBI has been most common tactics of Modi and his government to terrorise his critics. The Ford Foundation has also been at the target of Modi government. It is widely believed that the government was angry with its decision to fund a well-known human rights lawyer and activist, Teesta Setalvad, and her work representing the victims of a pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 when Modi was the chief minister of the state.
Attacks on the democratic institutions and crushing of the human rights have been taking place under a well-planned design. What is most disgraceful and shocking is all these have been happening under the full knowledge of Modi. He cannot pretend to be unaware of the developments. Modi and RSS are determined to crush any independent scrutiny of India’s human rights problems.
The most favourite action of Modi has been to put his critics in jail by slapping charges of sedition. Nine prominent human rights activists were arrested in 2018 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and they are still languishing in the jail on the charges of ‘waging a war against the country’. All nine have worked with the most marginalised people of India, Dalits and Adivasis, and held views opposing the government.
The Modi government’s intolerance of foreign institutions’ criticism of the sharp rise in the violation of the human rights and its persistent unwillingness to take action against the violators has motivated lawmakers of western countries to push a bill in their respective parliaments decrying the claim of the Modi government of India being a democratic country.
The political leaders of the western countries strongly feel that since India under Modi government was inching towards declaring itself as a Hindu Rashtra, the ruling dispensation was in a planned manner ignoring the global concern.
A couple of days back the United States Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd J. Austin (retd) was on a three-day visit to India. Though there were many defence deals to be sorted out, he was specifically on the mission to discuss the issue of human rights violation and the measures the Modi government intends to initiate to salvage the situation.
On March 19 he met Modi but clarified that he “did not have an opportunity to talk to” PM Modi on reports of human rights violations targeting minority communities.
The importance of the issue could be gauged from the fact that this issue was to come up during the first outreach by the new US administration less than two months after President Biden assumed office.
Ahead of Austin’s visit, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee leader Senator Robert Menendez had also written a letter urging him to raise concerns over “ongoing crackdown” by the Modi government on farmers and journalists, and other issues, including the amendment of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Austin raised the issue of human rights in India during his meetings with Cabinet Ministers on Saturday. He made it abundantly clear during his talk with foreign minister S. Jaishankar that “as the two largest democracies in the world, human rights and values are important and we will lead with these values.” He also raised the violation of human rights of the Muslims in Assam.
Austin’s observation that “India is our partner, a partner whose partnership we value. And I think partners need to be able to have those kinds of discussions. And certainly we feel comfortable doing that. And you can have those discussions in a very meaningful way and make progress”, ought to be viewed in proper perspective.
He also mentioned, “You’ve heard President Biden say human rights and rule of law are important to the US. We always lead with our values. As a democracy that’s pretty important to us.”
The new US government is not willing to follow in the footsteps of Donald Trump and ignore the partisan approach of Modi government. Significantly. Senator Menendez had emphasised that India-U.S. partnership in the 21st century must be based on “adherence to democratic values. India has been trending away from those values”. At some level, this remark reflects lack of trust in Modi.
Earlier the US Congress had held two hearings that largely focused on Kashmir. Several lawmakers criticized India’s actions in Kashmir, including political detentions and communications blockade, and raised concerns over other abuses including the citizenship verification process in Assam.
In August last year, the UN Security Council held a closed meeting on Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in decades. In September, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet expressed concerns over rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir.
Views expressed are personal