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Analysis: The Hon. Donald Lu’s witness statement at India hearing 2022-03-02

The Senate Foreign Relations sub committee held a hearing on India. Unfortunately there was only a cursory mention of the abuses of human and religious rights in India. The Assistant Sec. of State, the Hon. Donald Lu was the only witness heard from. Below is our response to his statement. You can watch the hearing at https://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/us-policy-towards-india030222

Background:

India has a diverse population, but it is a large majority Hindu population (80%), with the Muslims at 14% forming the largest minority. Christians, Sikhs and other minorities form the rest. India’s current government is a nationalist majoritarian government, and the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the political arm of the largest paramilitary organization in the world, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).1 Gandhi was murdered by Godse, who had a long association with leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha & RSS, and Modi is a long time member of the RSS.2 3

India has seen many violations of religious freedoms, and of abuses. This has led to India being recommended as a Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for two years.4 The State Dept., in its own report on Human Rights abuses has listed several abuses in India.5 Since Modi came to power, abuses against Muslims, Christians and Dalits have enjoyed a tacit ok, with police often being partial to the majority community.

Quad considerations:

It is imperative that the threat of China, in its economic, military and abysmal human rights record, be contained. To that end however, it is important that we do not overlook egregious and systematic abuses in economic, military and human rights records of any of the Quad countries. Of the four countries represented, India is the one of concern. Ignoring human rights and religious rights abuses in favor of Quad considerations will only embolden Modi, and the RSS. India actively uses its military personnel in Kashmir to suppress the population of the internationally disputed region.

Kashmir & Terrorism:

India maintains a brutal stranglehold on Kashmir. It is the most militarized region of the world.6 Many extra judicial killings, long incarcerations, pellet guns used on crowds is all common.7 Pulwama and other attacks on Indian security personnel are in no small part the result of the frustrations and despair because of this Indian stranglehold. It is widely accepted that Modi and his team relied on preferential reading of the constitution, substituting one for many and abrogated Kashmiri partial-autonomy.8 9

Mr. Lu ignored the fact that Kashmir is a disputed territory. Kashmiris consider the Indian held region to be occupied. Talking of improvements in 4G access, or in relative freedom to travel is a moot point until the United States is willing to confront India on its refusal to consider allowing the Kashmiris their right of self-determination.

Rather than gloss over the issue with talk of improvements by Modi’s government, the United States must work with India, Pakistan and the United Nations to allow the Kashmiri people their right to self-determination. The United States must also stand against India for its stranglehold and occupation of the land and its people. That is the only way to resolve the dispute for the benefit of all parties involved. The United States must also strongly oppose this abrogation, and call on India to reinstate the partial-autonomy as well as hold elections for a legislative assembly until the vote for self-determination can be held.

Democracy, Civil Society, media & judiciary:

Modi and his party have actively played a communal card, one that seeks to divide the elections on religious lines, and paint Muslims as anti-national and violent.10 11. Since Modi came to power, civic society institutions have suffered greatly.12 Many activists, researchers and advocates for minority rights have been persecuted under draconian acts such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Media in India mostly have been subservient to the BJP’s benefit, and via self-censorship push narratives suitable for the ruling party.13 Ignoring this and saying that India has a “free media” is not only incorrect, it is grossly misleading.

The recent Babri Masjid verdict demonstrates that the judicial process is not unaffected by the majoritarian Modi government. While holding that placing idols in the mosque, as well as its eventual destruction by Hindu mobs was illegal, the verdict hands over the land to the very people that illegally destroyed it. It was a judgment based on faith rather than evidence.14 15 Similarly, judges often delay bail hearings and process for activists and journalists opposed to the Modi regime, and most openly show their support for the government.16 Again, the terms “independent judicial system” is grossly misleading.

Women’s issues:

In response to a question by the Honorable Senator Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mr. Lu spoke of the response from the Indian population with regard to the rape of a young girl in a Delhi bus, referred to as Nirbhaya. Systematic abuses against women in the country were not even mentioned. It is no coincidence that India was listed as the most dangerous country in the world for women by a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll.17

The response from the Indian population against the rape of Nirbhaya was rightly applauded. But that is one case where the country came together to oppose the atrocity. India is deeply caste driven.18 When rape victims happens to be a Dalit (the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy), Muslim, or Christian, India’s majority population turns a blind eye. Dalit girls are often considered fodder by higher caste perpetrators of abuses against women. Protests for such cases often do not see the judicial detail that cases such as that of Nirbhaya did. We list some cases below.

1) Dalits become victims in India every 15 minutes, many of whom are women19

2) Aug. 2021, a 9 yr. old girl was raped, with little response from the majority population20

3) Sep. 2020 saw the brutal rape of a Dalit girl, who was then cremated forcefully by police.21 Siddique Kappan and his team, who traveled to the town of the rape, were arrested, and are in jail under draconian “prevention” acts. Kappan is recognized as a victim by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.22

4) Jan 2018, Asifa Bano, an 8 yr. Old Kashmiri was raped by a priest and police officer in a temple.23 Majority community people actually rallied in support of the rapists. The Hindu lawyer representing the victim was threatened by the bar association which comprises of the majority community and supporters of the Bhartiya Janata Party, the ruling party of Prime Minister Modi.24 The little girl was raped and killed to drive her community from the area.25

5) Muslim girls in the BJP run state of Karnataka are being barred from attending classes.26 Strangely, the state High Court upheld the ban order while it debates the legality of the ban.27 This is in contrast to the normal practice of upholding the status-quo while the issue is debated.

1 https://www.elections.in/political-corner/relation-between-rss-and-bjp/

2 https://southasia.ucla.edu/history-politics/hindu-rashtra/nathuram-godse-rss-murder-gandhi/

3 https://thewire.in/politics/narendra-modi-rss-pracharak-politician

4 https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2021-05/India%20Chapter%20AR2021.pdf

5 https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/india/

6 https://www.globalvillagespace.com/kashmir-an-integral-part-of-india-the-most-militarized-zone-in-the-world/

7 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/30/un-chief-pellet-guns-kashmir-children

8 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/sc-commences-hearing-on-pleas-challenging-abrogation-of-article-370/articleshow/72454345.cms

9 https://thewire.in/rights/kashmir-petition-condemn-abrogation-article-370

10 https://countercurrents.org/2022/02/why-communalising-the-election-remains-final-recourse-for-bjp-to-win-uttar-pradesh/

11 https://www.thehindu.com/elections/jharkhand/anti-citizenship-act-protests-those-indulging-in-arson-can-be-identified-by-their-clothes-says-narendra-modi/article30311723.ece

12 https://monitor.civicus.org/India.PeoplePowerUnderAttack.2019/

13 https://www.theindiaforum.in/article/how-indias-media-landscape-changed-over-five-years

14 https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/ayodhya-ram-mandir-babri-masjid-supreme-court-verdict-security-on-alert-1617220-2019-11-09

15 https://www.dailyo.in/politics/bjp-modi-babri-masjid-lk-advani-supreme-court/story/1/16755.html

16 https://theprint.in/opinion/supreme-court-judges-gushing-over-modi-is-a-problem-for-judiciary-and-democracy/370935/

17 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-women-dangerous-poll-exclusive-idUSKBN1JM01X

18 Caste is the inherent segregation system in Hinduism, where Brahmins are the highest caste with most privileges while Dalits (untouchables) are the lowest. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35650616

19 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/india-dalits-still-feel-bottom-caste-ladder-n1239846

20 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/alleged-gang-rape-murder-9-year-old-dalit-girl-prompts-n1275888

21 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-54351744

22 https://www.uscirf.gov/religious-prisoners-conscience/forb-victims-database/siddique-kappan

23 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-43722714

24 https://www.unp.me/threads/lawyer-fighting-asifas-case-threatened-by-bar-association-asked-to-stop-spreading-filth.351727/

25 https://www.voxspace.in/2018/04/12/asifa-bano-rape-incident/

26 https://www.cbsnews.com/news/karnataka-hijab-ban-india-protests-malala-yousafzai-narendra-modi-muslim-hindu/

27 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/11/world/asia/hijab-ban-india-karnataka.html

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