India’s Hindutva Agenda:
Threat to Minorities in India

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Amid the increasing  rise of Hindutva threat to minorities in India, politicians, academics, religious leaders and national representatives as well as leading diaspora organisations came together to call for international intervention to counter the threat posed by Hindutva agenda in India. A major international conference was held, chaired by Lord Ahmed, chair of Parliamentarians for National Self-determination (PNSD), at the main chamber of the Birmingham Council House, Birmingham, on 29 April, 2017. The Conference unanimously adopted Resolutions (enclosed below).

 

On 20 June, 2017, a delegation of Sikhs and Kashmiris delivered a Memorandum to the UK Prime Minister Rt. Honourable Theresa May at 10 Downing Street calling for intervention to protect religious freedoms and fundamental human rights of minorities, Christians, Dalits, Muslims and Sikhs alike in India.

 

In this connection, I would like to mention the hugely authoritative report issued recently in February by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) entitled “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India” which details the numerous constitutional and legal restrictions on minority religious freedoms in India, as well as this week’s open letter by 65 senior Indian civil servants which condemned the rampant ‘majoritarianism’ of the establishment.

 

The followings are the reports on the international conference at Birmingham Council House and its Resolutions. Draft Memorandum to the UK Prime Minister is also included along with the report below.

 

Conference on

India’s Hindutva Agenda: A Challenge

to International Law and Civilised Norms

A major international conference was held on 29 April 2017 in the main Chamber of the Birmingham Council House, Birmingham attended by politicians, academics, religious and national representatives as well as leading diaspora organisations. The conference was chaired by Lord Ahmed, Chair of Parliamentarians for National Self-determination (PNSD), who had earlier in the week raised formal questions in the House of Lords seeking the UK government action based on the recommendations of a report issued last month by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom.

 

The conference was addressed by Dr Mukul Hazarika (Assam Watch), Prof Dr Mohammed Arif Khan (Kashmir based educationalist and author), Amrik Singh Sahota (President, Council of Khalistan), Nazir Qureshi (President, All Parties Kashmir Coordination Committee), Dr Gurnam Singh (academic and TV presenter), Dr Jeffrey Kitingan and Doris Jones from the Sabah region of Malaysia, Joga Singh (Babbar Akali Organisation), Raja Amjad Khan (Kashmir Iqbalistan Movement) and Ranjit Singh Srai (PNSD).

 

They came together to call for international intervention to counter the threat posed by an increasingly rabid extremist Hindutva agenda in India. That agenda has denied not only the rights of nations to self-determination in their homelands but even the free practice of other faiths without intimidation and violence.

 

After the conference a press release under the above caption was issued along with the resolution of the conference. Followings are the details of the press release:

“The key, according to the resolutions adopted at the conference was to require Indian compliance with international legal obligations and, in case of default, to punish defiance with targeted sanctions, including the banning of fascist group that are responsible for almost daily attacks on minorities.

 

Dr Iqtidar Cheema, who authored that report; US Commission for International Religious Freedom, presented to the conference the array of legal and constitutional measures by which religious minorities in India were being targeted, such as Sikhs Buddists and Jains being deemed to be Hindus for the purposes of personal laws.

 

His namesake, Harpal Singh Cheema, president of Dal Khalsa, participated by video link from Punjab, along with senior human rights lawyer Amar Singh Chahal. They castigated the Indian state for the genocide of the Sikhs, the denial of freedom and the illegal appropriation of Punjab’s river waters in breach of riparian law. On the anniversary of the 1986 Declaration of Khalistan they said the Sikh nation will pursue its right of self-determination in a peaceful and democratic manner, in accordance with international law. There was, they said, no option other than an independent and sovereign Punjab to bring to an end the decades-old conflict there.

 

Professor Shawl, chairman of Kashmir Concern, said the people of Kashmir alone must decide their destiny and India’s posting of 800,000 troops in the region will never alter that fact, despite the atrocities being committed by them. Mehmoob Makhdoomi, a Kashmiri author and columnist, urged the international policy and decision makers to facilitate efforts for true conflict resolution in the troubled region, based on the will of the people. India’s vision, which he characterised as the “peace of the graveyard” was no solution – the rise of a new generation of Kashmiri freedom supporters witnessed in recent months has amply demonstrated that.

 

Reverend Joshva Raja John, Church of England Priest and Queens Foundation research scholar expressed dismay at the rampant minority bashing being tolerated by the Indian authorities. Christians have been targeted by violence and intimidation under the guise of the repugnant ‘ghar vapsi’ mantra of Hindu extremists. He called for the Bajrang Dal and VHP offshoots of the BJP’s RSS mentor to be internationally banned as terrorist organisations.

 

Christina McKelvie, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, said other nations should aspire to self-determination just as the proud people of Scotland are doing and that the pursuance of national self determination through peace and democracy is a noble cause. Phil Bennion, former Member of the European Parliament, of the Liberal Democrats spoke of the paramount need for the right of self determination to be respected in disputed territories like Kashmir and called on India to drop its threat to execute Sikhs prisoners.

 

John Burn of the Green Party called on India honour its international obligations and to show zero tolerance to attacks on minorities. He also called on the UK government to stand up for human rights and the right of self-determination, rather than allow trade interests to override those “most basic and important” vales. Graham Williamson, chair of Nations without States, spoke of the need to allow self-determinists to operate peaceably within conflict zones, without the threat of sedition and treason laws, in order to unlock peaceful and democratic solutions to intractable.”

 

Resolutions Adopted At The Conference

At the end of the Conference following resolutions were unanimously adopted at the Conference:

“This Conference calls on the international community to fully recognise the role that self-determination can play as a means of peaceful conflict resolution; this is a democratic mechanism underpinned by international law. Whilst nations and peoples must be left to decide their own destiny, the global community must do what it can to hold non-compliant states to account when they refuse, overtly or covertly, to respect the right of self-determination. In the case of India, which officially rejects Articles 1 of the 1966 Covenants on Human Rights, this non-compliance has led directly to the unresolved and hugely destructive conflicts in Kashmir, Punjab, Assam and Nagalim over sovereignty, territory and riparian rights.

 

“The denial of religious freedoms, attacks on religious minorities in the name of chauvinistic ‘majoritarianism’, as being currently witnessed in the Hindutva extremism sweeping across India, is condemned as a breach of international law as well as basic moral standards of behaviour adopted by the civilised world. This Conference fully endorses the recommendations of the recent report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom entitled “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India”.

 

“This Conference calls on the international community to identify and impose targeted sanctions against Hindutva organisations, including the RSS and all its affiliates across the world, to force a change in the cowardly tactics that are being adopted to intimidate Dalits, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and others.

 

“This Conference urges all UK based political parties to address the concerns of the diaspora communities so that UK political representatives, including the UK Government, responds to the threats caused by blatant breaches of international law by the Indian state.”

 

Sikhs and Kashmiris call on UK Prime Minister

to tackle India’s Hindutva Agenda

On 20 June 2017 a Memorandum was delivered by a delegation of Sikhs and Kashmiris to 10 Downing Street calling for Intervention to protect Religious Freedoms and Fundamental Human Rights. A press release was issued along with the draft Memorandum to the UK Prime Minister Rt. Honourable Theresa May. Followings are the press release and the Draft Memorandum to the UK Prime Minister. 

 

Following press release was issued. A delegation of Sikhs and Kashmiris delivered an appeal on 20 June 2017 to 10 Downing Street calling for a re-set in the UK’s foreign policy towards India.

 

Lord Nazir Ahmed, Chair of Parliamentarians for National Self-determination, and Lord Qurban Hussain both endorsed the memorandum and joined Sikh and Kashmiri representatives in delivering it to the UK Prime Minister’s official residence. They urged the UK Government to listen to the UK’s massive diaspora communities which want their political representatives to act on their concerns.

 

They characterised the Hindutva surge in India as a fascist threat to Christians, Dalits, Muslims and Sikhs alike – a threat which breaches India’s international legal obligations. Compelling India to comply with universally accepted legal and humanitarian norms was, they said, the key to bringing India back in to line.

 

They cited the hugely authoritative report issued in February by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which details the numerous constitutional and legal restrictions on minority religious freedoms in India, as well as this week’s open letter by 65 senior Indian civil servants which condemned the rampant ‘majoritarianism’ of the establishment. 

 

The delegation called for the implementation of the USCIRF report’s recommendations which include changes to the Indian Constitution (such as the removal of outrageous provisions that deem Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains to be Hindus for the purposes of personal and religious law) and operationalizing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

 

The memorandum also heighted the atrocities committed by state and non-state actors aimed at crushing the self-determination movements in Punjab and Kashmir. It called for genocide perpetrators to be punished by UN established tribunals and for peaceable conflict resolution by holding plebiscites so that the people of those regions could freely determine their own destinies. An unchecked Hindutva agenda in India makes resolution of those conflicts impossible; hence the international community must, according to the memorandum, require India to formally accept and comply with the right of self-determination as enshrined in Article 1 of the 1966 Covenants on Human Rights. India has formally rejected that right – something which the UN and leading member states have said is unacceptable.

 

The memorandum was signed by Amar Singh Chahal (official spokesman of Jagtar Singh Hawara, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs), Prof Nazir Shawl (Chair, Kashmir Concern), Amrik Singh Sahota OBE (President, Council of Khalistan), Gurdev Singh Chohan (President, Akali Dal, UK) and Joga Singh (Babbar Akali Organisation). Importantly, it was also countersigned by Dr Iqtidar Cheema, the author of the USCIRF report which was also formally handed over at the same time.

 

MEMORANDUM

An International Law Response to the Hindutva

Majoritarianism Threat to Minorities in India:

an Appeal to the new UK Government to hold India to account

 

The followings are the Memorandum prepared, signed and delivered on 20 June 2017 to 10 Downing Street calling for intervention to protect Religious Freedoms and Fundamental Human Rights.

 

“Rt Honourable Theresa May,

Prime Minister,

10 Downing Street,

London.

20 June 2017

Dear Prime Minister,

“Following your re-election in this month’s General Election, we write to you in connection with an aspect of UK foreign policy which is a great concern to hundreds of thousands of Sikhs, Muslims and Christians from the large diaspora communities settled here that have roots in India. We believe there is an urgent need to re-set the UK’s foreign policy toward India so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated, especially in light of the appalling right wing Hindutva surge that is alarming those communities.

 

“The Manchester and London atrocities over recent weeks have disgusted all right-thinking people across the world.  Apart from the clear determination to defeat the evil ideology of hate and the cowardly targeting of innocents and non-combatants, there has though been another remarkable feature of the response from ordinary people here in the UK. That has been the impressive show of defiance and unity – whatever peoples’ backgrounds – grounded on core humanitarian values such as mutual respect for all our fellow citizens and a sense of common humanity. Those values will ultimately play the crucial role in defeating the narrative of chauvinism and belligerence being espoused by cowards who despite their claims, in truth, have no religion at all.

 

“During the month in which Sikhs commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the infamous Indian army attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984, in which thousands of innocents and non-combatants were deliberately targeted to quell a legitimate movement for self-determination by the people of Punjab, it is timely to remind the new UK Government of the clandestine connivance, for the sake of trade, of the then British and other governments with the Government of India, and the subsequent genocide of the Sikhs. You will of course be aware of the need to fully disclose the level of that unfortunate British involvement and, we hope, the need to redress that wrong by taking suitable action now to protect the very nation that was then so inhumanely targeted.

 

“Even today, there is a growing threat to minority groups in India who are facing a right-wing extremist ‘majoritarian’ onslaught. Christians, Sikhs and Muslims have been covertly targeted by discriminatory laws, sectarian policies as well as by state and mob violence for decades, but there is now a more overt threat to them.

 

“This week sixty-five (retired) senior Indian civil servants wrote an open letter to Indian authorities saying: “In the face of a rising authoritarianism and majoritarianism, which do not allow for reasoned debate, discussion and dissent, we appeal to all public authorities, public institutions and constitutional bodies to take heed of these disturbing trends and take corrective action”. They cited, by way of example, the right-wing extremist Hindu thugs who roam the streets in the name of ‘cow protection’ - “Gau-rakshaks function with impunity and seem to be doing so with the tacit complicity or active encouragement of state machinery”.  See:https://thewire.in/146332/open-letter-authoritarianism-india-retired-officials/

 

“More significantly, we attach a copy of the recent report issued by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom which sets out clearly why international pressure is needed make Indian authorities comply with their obligations under international law. The report details the ways in which – quite apart from the thuggery on the ground – the very constitution, laws and administrative machinery in India formalises discrimination and restrictions on (minority) religious freedoms. The report sets out how these practices contravene international law; it also includes recommendations for what India needs to do in order to comply with those universally agreed basic standards of conduct. We would draw your attention in particular to the recommendations it sets out for US Government action – all of which we urge the UK Government to adopt.

 

“Apart from the increasing use of ‘Hindutva’ to crush religious freedoms, there is (unsurprisingly) a hardening of the stance to deny self-determination and riparian rights in Punjab, Kashmir and the North East which are non-Hindu majority regions.

 

“A number of us wrote to you last year (memorandum handed in to 10 Downing Street on 15 August 2016) in connection with the India’s genocidal response to the Sikh struggle for national self-determination in their homeland in Indian-controlled Punjab and were disappointed to receive a response (dated 9th September 2016) from Duncan Johns at the South Asia Department of the Foreign Office. The response characterises the conflict as an internal matter for the Indian Government which should be resolved through dialogue. It is, with all due respect, simply not credible for genocide to be viewed as an internal matter and to expect the perpetrators to engage in ‘dialogue’ willingly. The Foreign Office will surely have noted that the Ontario Canadian state parliament passing a resolution in April of this year recognising those systematic mass killings of Sikhs as genocide – an act which the Indian Government’s spokesman quickly dismissed. We urge you to raise with the Indians the pressing issues of Sikh political prisoners, the punishment of the those guilty of genocide at a UN established tribunal and the need for a democratic solution to the Indo-Sikh conflict.

 

“In Kashmir you will have noted the unrelenting brute force being used by Indian security forces over recent months to crush mass public protests calling for the right of self-determination to be exercised in that region.  Kashmir, a disputed territory according to the UN itself, cannot be left to the brutalities of the Hindutva agenda. The oppression was epitomised when troops tied an innocent Kashmiri to their jeep as a human shield to protect them – something that Human Rights Watch has soundly condemned. See: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/20/no-one-should-defend-use-human-shield-army. The officer who ordered that obscene action has since been awarded an honour by the Indian army! Quite apart from the humanitarian need to intervene in Kashmir, there is a real need to resolve the Kashmir conflict, in accordance with the wishes of the people, given the increasingly dangerous proximity of Chinese, Pakistani and Indian forces in the context of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which India seems bent on disrupting.

 

“As such, we appeal to you to call on the Indian Government to withdraw its reservation against Article 1 of the 1966 Covenants on Human Rights, pull back from military occupation of those regions and allow the international community to oversee free and fair democratic plebiscites to determine the destiny of those traumatised regions.

 

“These concerns were raised by Kashmiri, Sikh and Christian Diaspora communities at a Conference held at the Council House in Birmingham on 29 April 2017, which was addressed by UK politicians, academics as well as speakers from those regions.” The Diaspora communities want the UK government to raise these issues as set out in the Resolutions adopted at the Conference.” (mentioned above).

 

Lord Nazir Ahmed, Chair, Parliamentarians for National Self-Determination; Amar Singh Chahal, spokesman for Jathedar Sri Akal Takht Sahib, Jagtar Singh Hawara,  Dr. Iqtidar Cheema, Author of the USCIRF Report; Amrik Singh Sahota OBE,  President, Council of Khalistan; Prof Nazir Shawl, Chair, Kashmir Concern, Ranjit Singh Srai, Admin. Sec. PNSD; Gurdev Singh Chohan, President, Akali Dal, UK and Joga Singh, Babbar Akali Organisation.