Trade agreements with India should have a human rights clause: British MPs

Several MPs from various parties debated on the persecution of Muslims, Christians and other minority groups in India

India UK

Several members of the British Parliament have sought that a ‘human rights clause’ be included in any future trade deal with India. This was proposed after a debate in the House of Commons that focussed on the persecution of minority communities in India.

According to a news report from London, published in The Times of India, several MPs from various parties, including the Conservatives, took part in “the backbench debate” on Tuesday on the persecution of Muslims, Christians and other minority groups in India.

This is a significant move that will once again put India’s position on human rights violations on record, and also out the increasing number of attacks on minority communities in the global spotlight. According to the news report Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Jim Shannon called on the UK government “to ensure that robust human human rights provisions are included in any future trade and investment agreement.” He stated, “Violations of freedom of religious belief lead to domestic conflict, which is good neither for India’s economic prosperity, nor for the chances of a stable, long-term trading relationship between India and the UK.” 

The topics discussed at the debate included stigmatisation of Muslims as “bio-terrorists” and “corona-jihadists”, terms used for those participating the Tablighi Markaz event in Delhi who were stranded after the sudden announcement of a lockdown dues to the Covid-19 pandemic. As SabrangIndia had reported extensively, the  narrative around the Tablighi Jamaat had turned turtle as Indian courts exonerated the conservative Muslim sect of conspiracy spread around the Coronavirus. Eight months after 11 state governments also filed 205 FIRs against 2,765 foreign nationals for allegedly violating visa terms and intentionally disregarding Covid-19 guidelines, not one member of the Tablighi Jamaat, a back-to-roots Islamic movement, has been convicted by any court.

The UK MPs also discussed the spread of anti-conversion laws, the rise of religious nationalist vigilante groups, growing mob violence, the “stripping of citizenship rights” via the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and the Cittizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the burning of bibles and attacks on Christians, and the targeting of Sikhs in the farmers’ protests, stated the TOI report. 

MP Shannon cited examples of attacks on Christians such as the one on February 3, 2019, when a 40-strong mob attacked a church in Karkeli village, near Raipur leading to 15 worshippers being hospitalised. According to Shanon, “Much of the violence against minorities is not appropriately investigated by government authorities.” The TOI quotes him saying, “Powered by the anti-conversion laws and often with the police’s complicity, right-wing groups conduct campaigns of harassment, social exclusion and violence against Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities”. 

According to Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh, “True friendship requires not turning a blind eye to each other’s faults, and we must protest persecution in India today”, stated the news report adding that the Minister for Asia Nigel Adams said, “India faces challenges in enforcing its constitutional protections for freedom of religion or belief. We look to the government of India to address these concerns.” 

Conservative MP Theresa Villiers was quoted as pointing out, “In 2004, a Catholic, Sonia Gandhi, facilitated the handover of power to a Sikh, Manmohan Singh, enabling him to become Prime Minister, with his oath of office overseen by a Muslim President, APJ Abdul kalam.”

However, the news report added that not all the MPs were comfortable with the UK Parliament debating India’s internal matters. According to the TOI, the High Commission of India in London had sent out briefs to those attending to try and address any “misinformation” ahead of the debate. Labor MP Barry Gardiner, who India honoured with a Padma Shri award in January 2020, reportedly said he was “inundated with letters from Indian-origin constituents outraged that the debate was going ahead.” 

Gardiner reportedly stated, “Imagine the Indian Parliament debating the persecution of Black people in the UK when the Windrush scandal broke. The UK is the former colonial power, whose influence was not entirely beneficent, and certainly not above pitting a religious or ethnic group against the other. People in India might not regard our intervention as either welcome or appropriate”. However, SNP MP David Linden said, “I understand the optics of India’s former colonial rulers being seen to lecture them on human rights and democracy. However foreign affairs is still very much a matter reserved to this Parliament.”



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