My Lords, I thank every noble Lord who will be speaking in this debate, as the topic is a daunting challenge, given the vastness and complexity of the great nation of India. I am therefore grateful that noble Lords with longer and wider experience of India will make their distinctive contributions to remedy the limitations and omissions of my own.
I must naturally begin by expressing the profound sorrow that we all felt at the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai and by extending our deep sympathy to all who are still suffering in the aftermath of those terrible days. I will then raise three issues of concern in a spirit of respect for India as a long-established friend of this country and as the world's largest democracy. It is characteristic of friendship that one can share concerns openly and constructively and it is in that spirit that I will raise the outbreaks of violence against religious minorities, including the Muslims in Gujarat and the Christians recently in Orissa and Karnataka; the restrictions on religious freedom posed by the imposition of anti-conversion laws in seven states; and, finally, the plight of dalits.
With regard to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, there has been a wide range of responses to those horrific events, which have been usefully summarised in the excellent briefing paper prepared by the House of Lords Library. One result of such wide-ranging public discussion and speculation has been summarised by Dr Paul Cornish of Chatham House, who argues that the saturation coverage has played into the hands of the terrorists, providing them with a gratuitous plethora of justification and rationales.
“The terrorists might have assumed, quite correctly as it happens, that the world’s media and the terrorism analysis industry would very quickly fill in any gaps for them”.
I am therefore not going to play into their hands with further speculation about their ideological justifications and rationales. However, will the Minister say what continuing support Her Majesty’s Government are giving to India in the aftermath of this massive tragedy?
The recurring problem of violence, perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists against religious minorities, is a product of the ideology called Hindutva, which conceives of India as one nation, one culture, one religion. It is an ideology that denigrates religious minorities and rejects the right to change one’s religion, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and groups that espouse this ideology, including the VHP, are widely implicated in anti-minority violence. Such extremist political movements are rejected by Hindus committed to the idea of a secular India, but they pose very serious challenges.
In 2002, about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were massacred in Gujarat. Christians have been repeatedly targeted in recent years. The attacks are especially widespread in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states, and although a recent outbreak of violence in Karnataka was relatively rapidly contained by the authorities, impunity for these sorts of attacks is cause for concern. In Orissa state, an outbreak of violence against Christians over Christmas in 2007 prefigured an onslaught on a much larger scale this autumn.
On 23 August this year, following the assassination of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, widespread violence against Christians erupted. The atrocities were committed despite the claim by Maoists that they had carried out the killing. After the assassination, despite pleas for caution by church and secular leaders, including representatives of political parties, the VHP arranged for his body to be taken on a 200-kilometre circuit. Violence followed in the wake of this funeral procession, fanned by media disinformation and the chanting of Hindu nationalist and anti-Christian slogans, targeting Christians and church buildings. It is widely believed that the violence erupted so quickly because it was pre-planned.
We are now approaching the first anniversary of the previous outbreak of violence and radical groups are aggressively pushing for a state-wide shutdown on 25 December, which would make life very difficult for beleaguered Christians wishing to celebrate Christmas, and could easily lead to another eruption of violence. Although it is encouraging to know that a delegation representing the EU, including a British representative, recently visited Orissa to assess the violence, it would be reassuring if the Minister could indicate that our high commission will monitor the situation very carefully this Christmas.
HART, the NGO with which I work, visited Kandhamal district, the epicentre of the violence, in October, and we saw what had been taking place. The toll of violence includes 69 people identified as having been killed and approximately 50 still unaccounted for and presumed dead. Among those killed were one man who was buried alive, several people who were burned to death and others who were cut to pieces. At least 160 churches of all Christian denominations, approximately 5,000 homes and an unspecified number of Christian businesses have been destroyed, and 54,000 people have been displaced from their homes and forced to take shelter in 14 state-sponsored relief camps in Kandhamal district, together with many hundreds who are living in non-state camps, including in two very overcrowded buildings in Cuttack town. It was also estimated that about 20,000 people were still living in the jungle or had fled to big cities.
In addition to the violence in Kandhamal district, 13 other districts had experienced similar atrocities, including killings and the looting and burning of churches and homes, and two other relief camps had to be established for approximately 2,700 more people who had had to flee from their homes.
In our report, we concluded that the Orissa state government had failed to provide protection for the Christian minority population, allowing widespread violations of human rights—including killings, rape, looting and the destruction and desecration of places of worship, homes and other property—and that the forced conversion of some Christians to Hinduism constitutes a serious violation of the right to religious freedom enshrined in the UDHR, to which the Indian Government are a signatory. It is noteworthy that Hinduism and the caste system have only relatively recently, in the past 50 years, been introduced into this region. It is characteristic of Hindutva ideology that those forced conversions to Hinduism are propagated by the same groups that denounce conversions to other religions. There was also deep concern that the Orissa state government have failed to bring many of the perpetrators of crimes and violence to account, and that failure to bring to justice those who are allegedly guilty of these atrocities was making it impossible for victims to return to their homes because they feared that impunity would encourage further attacks.
Taken together, the violence inflicted on Christian communities, the reports of forced conversion and the threats of more to come, and the failure to provide enough security to encourage the Christians to return home appeared to constitute a policy of attempted religious cleansing of the region. Moreover, the viciousness and the scale of the attacks would have been impossible without a sustained hate campaign over many years. That still continues in the Oriya and Hindu media, targeting both Muslims and Christians.
In our report, we offered a number of recommendations for consideration. As the Orissa state government have insufficient resources for policing and judicial functions, police should be brought in from other states to receive and process complaints, including women police to register and investigate gender crimes. It was also suggested to us that the Central Bureau of Investigation, the CBI, should initiate an inquiry into the official dereliction of duty by the authorities in Orissa state for failing to prevent and control the violence. The Roman Catholic nun, Sister M, who suffered gang rape and torture, has added her voice to this request. There is also a widely expressed demand for adequate compensation for and the return of looted property.
Resources are urgently needed to improve conditions in the camps for the displaced. The conditions are horrific with massive overcrowding. We estimate that in the tents of the outdoor camps every individual has 12 inches to sleep alongside the next person. Priorities for provision include better healthcare, especially for women needing obstetric and gynaecological treatment, and paediatric provision for children and infants. There is also an urgent need for baby food and for access to education for children. As the fear of renewed attacks is preventing people from returning to their homes, they are pleading for the retention of the Central Reserve Police Force on location for as long as necessary to ensure their safety. Finally, an inquiry is needed into the regional Oriya language press for complicity in fomenting hatred and misrepresentation of facts. The state government should insist on that and it is incumbent on the Press Council to do so.
Will Her Majesty’s Government raise with the Indian Government their concern over the failure of the state and central governments to ensure the safety of their citizens and their right to practise the religion of their choice? There is concern that the ad hoc annual EU-India human rights dialogue might be seen as the main mechanism for doing this. That would seem to be insufficient as it is seen as insubstantial and non-transparent. Has DfID been able to help with resources for relief for those who are currently living in the camps for the displaced? They are suffering in appalling conditions from overcrowding and an acute shortage of basic facilities, with many related illnesses. Further, will DfID consider supporting the longer-term rebuilding and rehabilitation effort?
I turn briefly to widespread concern at the anti-conversion legislation now in place in seven states. This applies to those who wish to convert from Hinduism to another faith: in practice, it does not prohibit conversion to Hinduism from other faiths. The legislation requires anyone wishing to convert from Hinduism to give advance notice to the district authorities, rendering them vulnerable to pressures of many kinds. In the case of Gujarat, the person who converts another must obtain prior permission of the authorities.
These requirements obviously hinder the freedom to choose and change religion, in violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which India is a signatory. These laws also threaten charitable activities, since the conditions under which conversions are banned include, for example, “allurement” by the “grant of any material benefit”. The problem of restrictions on religious freedom is not unique to India: such violations of this fundamental freedom must be seen as cause for concern in any country where a majority religion denies its citizens the freedom to choose and change religion. Sadly, there are many in the world today. Her Majesty’s Government have previously given assurances in Parliament that they have raised concerns about proposed anti-conversion legislation in Sri Lanka, which is modelled on Indian state-level laws, yet often refer to these Indian laws as an internal matter. Can the Minister tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government have raised, and/or will raise, this cause for concern with the Indian Government in the same way as has been done with the Sri Lankan Government?
The final topic to which I wish to refer raises the plight of the dalits, those deemed to be outside the caste system and therefore treated as inherently untouchable. Their predicament is unenviable. Unable to take work or to come into contact with members of the caste system, many are doomed to undertake the most humiliating and unsanitary tasks, such as the 700,000 or more manual scavengers dealing with human excrement. Others are so poor that they become involved in bonded labour from which they cannot escape, so that this form of servitude is passed from one generation to the next. Dalits are susceptible to any form of exploitation and there is widespread caste-based violence against them. In an attempt to escape from their outcast status, many dalits are converting from Hinduism to another faith—Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. This disruption of the traditional caste system is causing tensions and attracting opposition, especially from proponents of the Hindutva, some of which may be reflected in violence against religious minorities.
I have witnessed the human dimension of the plight of the dalits when visiting a clinic which we in HART are supporting in Tamil Nadu for dalits with HIV/AIDS. These unfortunate people are doubly untouchable, as HIV/AIDS adds its own stigma of untouchability to their outcast status. It is a privilege to embrace such vulnerable people, but the joy they express when we touch them or eat the food they have prepared brings home the appalling suffering they endure as the ultimately marginalised and dehumanised members of Indian society. This is also a challenge to the EU-India Strategic Partnership joint action plan’s description of India as,
“a paradigm of Asia’s syncretic culture and how various religions can flourish in a plural, democratic and open society”.
It is impossible in one speech to begin to do justice to the vast nation of India with its indescribably rich tapestry of ethnic groups, cultures, traditions, achievements and problems. I greatly look forward to the speeches of other noble Lords who will bring information and insights from their own knowledge and experience to create a constructive and comprehensive debate worthy of the issues confronting this great nation which we are proud to call a friend. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to acknowledge the first act of our Deputy Speaker in his new role and to recognise, as the noble Baroness has reflected so well in her remarks, the sheer size, exuberance and commitment to the pluralistic democracy of India. Amartya Sen states at the beginning of his book The Argumentative Indian that:
“India is an immensely diverse country with many distinct pursuits, vastly disparate convictions, widely divergent customs and a veritable feast of viewpoints”.
That serves as a caution against generalisations.
I recall at conferences of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association gazing across at the Indian delegation, marvelling at the range of races and wondering how such a disparity coheres, but it does, even if there is always a crisis somewhere in the 28 states with 22 official languages and 2,000 different ethnic groups of India. Even if the economy looks somewhat vulnerable today; even if like all other countries India is guilty of double standards in its foreign policy, thinking of Burma and Iran; and even if there are vast disparities of wealth—all interesting points for another debate—the core of India remains sound and in good health. India also remains a good friend of this country in the Commonwealth with a vibrant, entrepreneurial community in the United Kingdom, of which my noble friend Lord Paul is a sterling representative, contributing much to our national life. We have a remarkable bilateral exchange in areas such as science and technology.
That must be the starting point; the context within which we should place recent events, for, as the noble Baroness has shown and as recent tragic events well illustrate, India is not immune from the scourges of our age such as international terrorism and religious extremism.
Before turning to the Mumbai tragedy and to the atrocities in Orissa, let me say a word about the noble Baroness. I pay tribute today to her indefatigable pursuit of justice and human rights worldwide. I sometimes muse that she was born out of her age—she should have been a Gladys Aylward or a Mary Slessor, perhaps with an admixture of Lady Hester Stanhope. She travels to crisis areas, stands alongside the victims and returns with first-hand accounts of suffering and ready to offer remedies to your Lordships’ House. I do not follow her in respect of the dalits today nor on the anti-conversion laws, save to say in respect of the latter that the opposition BJP has threatened that if it were to win next year’s general election it would legislate against mass conversions.
What lies behind the atrocity in Mumbai? I note that Misha Glenny, whom I respect, states in the Guardian that it is essentially local and regional factors, as does William Dalrymple in the Observer, who, in a typical western breast-beating mea culpa way, also blames western policy in the region. Others look to al-Qaeda and call Mumbai India’s 9/11. Although it is true that the Kashmir issue played a part, as did a desire to harm Indian-Pakistan relations, the latter view is probably nearer the truth because the targets in the area were westerners and Jews, which suggests that the jihadist message from the madrassahs played a significant part.
This was part of a series of attacks elsewhere in India—Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur, Guwahati and Malegaon. The response of the Indian Prime Minister and the Minister of External Affairs, Mr Mukherjee, has been a model—cautious and statesmanlike—as was the journey to the subcontinent of Condoleezza Rice, seeking to cool the temperature in both relevant capitals and trying to prevent the incipient peace process being derailed. We must understand the peculiar internal problems of Pakistan and not push it in the direction of a failed state, yet it is also right for the international community to continue to press Pakistan to take responsibility for the terrorist groups which operate on its territory, to reform its army and the ISI and to examine the role of the madrassahs. President Zardari has spoken brave words and should be held to them.
For ourselves in the United Kingdom, clearly we should seek to encourage confidence-building measures between these two great countries, to recognise that the problems of terrorism in India and Pakistan are indeed our own problems, as the Prime Minister has stated, and to increase co-operation with them both.
I turn now to Orissa and then shall give one or two further thoughts. Christians are not the only victims of violence by Hindu extremists. I refer, as the noble Baroness said, to the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, and dalits are regularly the targets. I commend the work of Christian Solidarity Worldwide on this issue. August saw the worst spate of communal violence against Christians in India since independence in 1947. Such a bloodbath needs the righteous indignation of a Milton:
“Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints”,
from On the Late Massacre in Piedmont in the 17th century. The horrors have been well described by Christian Solidarity Worldwide and by the Maranatha Community, in three submissions to the FCO. I make only two points, because those horrors are well illustrated.
First, there is the role of the VHP—the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a militant Hindu nationalist movement—in inciting violence. According to the Maranatha Community, that movement seeks to drive Christians out of India; my concern is more about its activities in the United Kingdom, about which I asked a Question in your Lordships’ House on 17 November. The VHP is a registered charity here, with branches around the country. It seems wrong, in principle, for a body widely perceived to be associated with inciting violence abroad and to have at least some links with terrorism—certainly, with the inflammatory language of the extremists—to enjoy charitable status. I hope that the Government will refer its position in this country to the relevant authorities.
Secondly, on Orissa, I stress only the urgency of the situation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, did. Last Christmas, as she has said, there was an upsurge of violence against Christians in Orissa, with over 500 Christian homes burnt, 100 Christian shops looted and over 50 churches destroyed by militant Hindu extremists, who declared a bandh—a stay-away or closedown—on Christmas Day to prevent celebrations. Of course, the widespread atrocities in August were well documented, but the problem of a further bandh is a new and urgent situation. The closedown that the militants have declared on Christmas Day has put Christians awaiting Christmas into great fear.
This morning, I spoke to Bishop D.K. Sahu, the general-secretary of the National Council of Churches in India. He was in Delhi today but will shortly visit Orissa again. He mentioned that representatives of the British high commission, along with other EU diplomatic representatives, visited the state on 5 December and expressed their concern about the declaration of the bandh. He mentioned, however, rather more promising signs; two days ago, in the Orissa state assembly, the opposition called for the Christmas Day bandh to be declared illegal, and the state’s Chief Minister gave certain assurances about ensuring that the bandh will not take place. Yesterday, 3,000 primary school teachers in Kandhamal district apparently held a successful peace rally, and the district magistrate has called a meeting this Saturday. I hope that is to prepare for the possible outbreak of the bandh on Christmas Day. There appears, at least, to be a response to the national and international pressure that Christians should be allowed to celebrate on Christmas Day. I should mention that Bishop Sahu also expressed his concern about conditions in the relief camps, which the noble Baroness alluded to.
Finally on this situation, the Indian Prime Minister, who has acted in great, statesmanlike ways on this matter, called the August massacre “a national shame” after meeting with President Sarkozy, who was acting on behalf of the EU presidency. He is clearly well aware of the damage to India’s reputation abroad, which these actions are tarnishing. He must be equally well aware that the Christian community is law-abiding, and well known for helping the poor in the area. The Government of India must also be well aware of the threat to public order and should, with the state government, take immediate steps to protect the Christian community. I pray that the warnings of what might well happen on Christmas Day—as happened last Christmas, and again in August—will be heeded. At least there are, as I learned this morning from the bishop, some signs of hope.
My Lords, on 22 November I spoke at the Hindustan Times leadership conference in Delhi. The last session of the conference was a live video debate with President Zardari of Pakistan. He was being filmed in his presidential palace with his lancers behind him, flanked by a portrait of his late wife Benazir Bhutto and a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. The conference ended on a terrific high as President Zardari spoke with genuine optimism about Indo-Pakistan relations. Then, just four days later, the atrocities in Mumbai took place. We are all shocked, saddened and angered by what happened there and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for tabling this Motion after those tragic events.
This was not just an attack on Mumbai or just on India, but an attack on the United States of America, on Israel and on us in Britain. Our condolences and sympathy go out to everyone affected. In the midst of all this, my 10 year-old daughter in her innocence asked me, “Daddy, how can people kill innocent people like this?”. I said to her, “I don’t know, and I don’t think I ever will know. I will never understand how terrorists can so ruthlessly and deliberately kill innocent men, women and children”.
Almost immediately after the attack, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed the finger abroad, ostensibly at Pakistan, and our own high commissioner in India, Sir Richard Stagg, increased the pressure on Islamabad by saying that,
“there is clear evidence that the attacks in Mumbai have links to organisations in Pakistan”.
It is clear that much of the north of Pakistan is slipping out of government control. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has repeatedly spoken of a “chain of terror” stretching from Pakistan, through Afghanistan to European and British shores. Real international pressure has been brought to bear on Pakistan since the attacks.
It was reassuring to see the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, visit the region so soon after the attacks and hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Zardari. When that happened, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our own Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office also went out to India?”. I was so happy when we went one step further and our own Prime Minister visited India and Pakistan last weekend. I congratulate and thank him for doing so.
Earlier this month, when the England cricket team was debating whether to go back to India for the test series, I remarked how much cricket is at the heart of the Indian nation and how much it would mean to India if the British players defied the terrorists and returned to India. Not only did the whole team return but it provided us with a most thrilling test match. Having been born and brought up in India, I am often asked which country I support at cricket and whether I would pass the so-called Tebbit test. I assure your Lordships that I usually enjoy the game purely for the appreciation of the cricket without taking sides, but I was overjoyed when one of the greatest cricketers of all time, Sachin Tendulkar, scored a century and won the test match for India. On top of that, he dedicated the Indian victory to Mumbai. He said that,
“it was an attack on India which should hurt every Indian, not just those who live in Mumbai”.
There is no question but that lessons are being learnt from the atrocities in Mumbai. The Indian security services were found to be hugely lacking. We have learnt that the United States had provided warning of imminent attacks on Mumbai a month before they occurred. We have learnt that a week before the attacks the Indian Navy and coastguard failed to intercept the fishing trawler that transported the terrorists, despite warnings from Indian intelligence that an attack by sea was immediate. We have learnt that on the day of the attacks the police initially dismissed them as mere gang warfare. This is no way to fight terrorism.
I am pleased to hear, however, that the Indian Government are speeding through legislation to create an FBI-style national investigative agency as well as to enhance coastal security and strengthen anti-terror laws. Given the United Kingdom’s vast experience and history in this field, from Ireland to combating modern global terrorism, and given the joint exercises that the UK already undertakes with the Indian armed forces, I urge the Government to do everything that they can to help the Indian authorities, police, paramilitary forces, armed forces and intelligence services in this task, for India’s benefit and security and for our own.
As we heard from the noble Baroness, India is the most complex and diverse country in the world by far. Every day, Indians feel the pull of those invisible threads that keep them united, yet I believe that the vast majority of Indians feel themselves to be Indian first over their regional identities—I am not sure that we can say the same over here and whether people feel that they are English, Scottish, Welsh or British first.
India remains a steadfast, pluralist and secular democracy, where, every day, 99.9 per cent of all its religious groups coexist peacefully side by side—India has the second-largest population of Muslims in the world—but all this does not detract from the serious internal difficulties with which it is struggling, in Orissa, in Kashmir, as well as the growing Maoist Naxalite insurgency in hundreds of districts.
India is an ancient civilisation, but it is also a young country. Jawaharlal Nehru said in his famous “tryst of destiny” speech in 1947 on the eve of independence:
“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance … The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity … to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman”.
Has Nehru’s dream been fulfilled? To this day, every time I land in India, I am hit by its abject poverty, which is as great today as it was when I grew up there as a child. The India that has caught the world’s attention with its 300 million middle-class consumers—a sector of society that is growing at a rapid rate, with 14 million people being added to it every year—is a world apart from the 300 million people at the other end of the social spectrum who live on less than $1 per day.
According to the World Bank, 456 million Indians, or 42 per cent of the population, lived below the poverty line in 2005; in 1981, the number was 420 million. India has 60 million chronically malnourished children, which is 40 per cent of the world’s total. When we talk of India’s GDP growth rate having averaged 8.8 per cent over the past five years, what people overlook is that this is an average. As a leading Indian economist once explained, “If I have one foot in frozen ice and the other foot on burning coals, on average I am comfortable”. There are states in India with appalling sanitation, appalling literacy—especially among women—and appalling malnutrition, yet this is a country that is a nuclear power and that has just launched its first mission to the moon.
As chairman of the UK India Business Council, supported by UK Trade & Investment, and the UK chair of the Indo-British Partnership, I used to deal with the current Home Minister, Mr Chidambaram, who has taken up his post since the Mumbai attacks, in his capacity as Finance Minister. I would say, “Why can’t we reform quicker? Please can you open up the Indian economy faster?”. He would say to me, “Do you think we don’t want to reform quicker?”. However, he would then explain to me the practicalities of implementing reform with a coalition of 18 parties.
On top of that, India is a country of several states. It has a federal system where each state operates almost like a country. In many ways, it is easier to do business between countries in the European Union than between states within India. Not only does India have all the challenges of awful infrastructure and very poor primary education but it is surrounded by neighbours with enormous problems of their own. At 4 per cent, south Asia has one of the worst figures for internal trade. One should compare that with south-east Asia, where it is 20 per cent, let alone with the European Union and what we have here. If only we had more intra-south Asia trade, it would help to bring those countries together and solve many of the problems. However, I believe that India is an example of the saying, “Some people fail because of and others succeed in spite of”. In spite of all its challenges, complexities and problems, India will succeed.
I do not remember a great deal from my physics lessons at school, but I remember one formula: momentum = mass x velocity. A population of 1.1 billion and an economy growing at nearly 9 per cent a year: that is unstoppable momentum. India is now reaping the rewards of the liberalisation of its economy, which started only in 1991. The India in which I was brought up was inward-looking, closed and insular; today, the spirit of entrepreneurship and enterprise has been unleashed and India is an outward-looking, open and increasingly vigorous economy, with Indian companies, in manufacturing as well as in the IT sector about which we hear, going global. This sustained economic growth is critical to tackling poverty. However, the Government or foreign direct investment alone will be unable comprehensively to tackle India’s challenges; we need NGOs, corporates and individuals to do the ground-level work that is so urgently required.
Today, the world has woken up to India and India is rightly taking its place at the top table of the world. The Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver to India, with the help of the United States, acknowledges this fact. It is a defining moment for India, yet India is not a member of the G7 or G8 and it still does not have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which I know Britain wishes to see.
I always say that there are two countries to which we in Britain are closer than any others in the world: one is the United States and the other is India. The reason is that we share the same values and principles in terms of democracy, the rule of law, a free and vibrant press, English being the language of business, and, of course, a shared history.
At the Hindustan Times summit in Delhi in November, I shared the podium with a remarkable young man, Chetan Bhagat, who at the young age of 35 has become the biggest-selling author in India. In his speech, he spoke about what really mattered to young Indians. He said that young Indians above all wanted the politics of similarity, not the politics of difference and elitism, and that they wanted education. There is a huge shortage of capacity and quality in education at every level, yet to this day foreign universities cannot open up in India. By contrast, I am delighted to see record numbers of Indian students coming over here to study in the UK. We have a great advantage in this country in that 2 per cent of our population is made up of Indians. That 2 per cent is now reaching the very top, which is no better illustrated than by our Deputy Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Paul, whom I congratulate on his new position. It is an honour to speak in the first debate over which he presides. That 2 per cent of the British population contributes more than double that figure to the British economy.
With all these links, and with the relationship between Britain and India stronger than ever—people to people, business to business, Government to Government—we are in the best position to be India’s best friend, yet when I give talks around the country and ask business audiences how many of them are doing business with India, less than 5 per cent of the hands go up.
When the 1998 financial crisis took place in Asia, India was barely scratched; today, India has been directly affected by the financial crisis now facing us all, to the extent that the Indian stock market has pre-empted the remarks of the US Treasury Secretary and fallen by 60 per cent. However, while we are going to suffer the most awful recession—I hope that it is not a depression—India’s growth is still predicted by the IMF to increase by 6.5 per cent.
The Mumbai attacks were an attempt to destabilise this growth even further. India has sadly experienced several terrorist attacks over the years, with almost 1,000 people killed in the past three years, but it bounces back every time. After the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament, the Indian economy turbocharged from 2002 onwards.
When I am in Bombay, I stay in the Taj hotel. When I go with my family and children, they always look forward to it and love staying there—it is, after all, one of the finest hotels in the world. After the attacks, my children asked me, “Daddy, will we be staying at the Taj again?”. I said to them, “Of course, we will”. When I wrote to the resident manager of the Taj to express my sympathies, I got an e-mail back from Birgit Zorniger, which stated:
“Thank you for your supportive words and with every passing day we are getting closer to reopening the Taj in memory of those whose lives have been lost. Your support gives us the strength to go on and we look forward to welcoming you and your family soon”.
India did not invite this attack; she simply embodied the ideals that these terrorists find so threatening—the ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom. The world has admired India’s restraint after these attacks and we should take comfort from the words on Mumbai’s coat of arms:
“Where there is Righteousness, there shall be Victory”.
Britain has time and again proved to its allies that we are not just fair-weather friends; we are eternal friends, with mutual trust and mutual respect. We are partners in the good times and partners in the bad times. It is this spirit, which India and Britain share, that means that terrorists cannot win and will never, ever win.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate at such an opportune time. Like other noble Lords, I express my sympathy for the bereaved and injured as a result of the recent atrocity in Mumbai, and encourage the Indian Government in their measured response to it.
It is important to note at some point during this debate that the Indian constitution is in principle a very sound one, which ought to be followed by a number of other countries in the world where there is no religious freedom, even in theory. The distinguished scholar Amartya Sen has argued that India allows for a secular society in the very best sense of that term: one in which it is recognised that religion has an important role to play, but in which all religions are treated on an equal basis. The relationship of the state to religion may be close or distant, he says, but the point is that in a secular state they will all be treated in the same way.
Against that background, the first issue I raise is the same one raised by the noble Baroness and other speakers, but with a particular slant. That is, why have the Indian Government not taken action in relation to the state of Orissa? The constitution, as I understand it, specifically says that, in the case of internal unrest in a state, the national Government have the right to intervene. We know that there are still something like 50,000 displaced dalit Christians there who are fearful of returning to their homes, because the perpetrators of the recent religiously inspired violence regard themselves as immune from prosecution. It was this very sense of immunity, arising from a failure to bring charges after the previous attack in Orissa in December 2007, that gave rise to the even worse one this year. So I ask Her Majesty’s Government to urge the Indian Government to exercise what I understand is their proper constitutional role in Orissa, to ensure that proper justice is carried out within that state.
My second point has already been made, but it is worth reiterating. Although, like other speakers, I have a particular concern for dalits and dalit Christians, other minorities—not least Muslims—need to be reassured that both the state and national Governments will act to preserve India’s constitutional position of every religion being treated on an equal basis. In Gujarat in 2002, over 1,000 people—perhaps as many as 2,000—were killed, most of them Muslims. Since then, many Muslims in that state have felt fearful. Human rights, including the right to practise one’s religion, are universal; they exist on the basis of our very humanity, and a Christian would rightly be just as concerned with the protection of those rights for members of other religions as for members of their own.
I come to my third point. Dalits in general, but dalit Christians in particular, are being disgracefully discriminated against in a number of different ways. The Indian caste system has rightly been described by none other than the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, as a terrible “blot on humanity” and it is no less—sad to say—a blot on India itself. Although some steps have been taken to redress this, at the moment it is working in such a way as to disadvantage dalit Christians even more than other dalits. For whereas there is a reservation system in public sector education and employment for scheduled caste dalits, dalits who convert to Christianity lose that status, and therefore their eligibility for a reserved place. So although the state has made some legislative efforts to overcome the discrimination that dalits in general suffer, dalit Christians do not benefit. The result is that dalit Christians are doubly disadvantaged: they are discriminated against as dalits, and because they are dalit Christians. Although the linking between scheduled caste and religious identity has been challenged in the courts since 2004, there is still no satisfactory outcome. The national Government and state governments need urgently to recognise this gross injustice and rectify it.
In speaking of the dalits, we are not just speaking about a few people—although even if it were only a few, it would still be an outrage. There are well over 250 million dalits, perhaps 270 million, in India. The extraordinary thing is that, as I understand it, they represent one in 25 of the world’s population. They suffer multiple degradations, not only segregation and discrimination but bonded labour, child labour, violence done to them and an inability to have the violence done to them properly investigated by the police, and so on. Within that category, the women are particularly degraded and humiliated, with temple prostitution, trafficking, rape and violence all too prevalent.
Take just one area, which has not yet been mentioned—education. The economic development of India in recent years has indeed been remarkable—almost miraculous. But something even more remarkable and miraculous is the extraordinary way in which the millions of poor in India somehow survive against all the odds and, as I have experienced, with extraordinary personal, spiritual dignity and sometimes even joy. That is deeply moving, and such a contrast to people who are degraded in some other western capitalist societies. To focus on the development, they produce more than 2 million graduates a year, and something like half of the world’s software engineers come from India. But this extraordinary development among the middle classes, as already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, in his wonderful speech, simply highlights the growing gap with the poor, and in particular the poorest of the poor, the dalit women.
The Indian constitution says that every Indian citizen must receive an education, but something like 50 per cent of women generally in India are still illiterate, despite the staggering economic growth, and among dalits it is higher still. Among dalit women, illiteracy is still terrible, with only 28.5 per cent literate. All this highlights the fact that the most demeaning jobs are given to dalit women—in particular the manual scavenging of dry toilets, a dirty and demeaning task performed with only the most primitive implements. Something like 1.3 million dalits are employed in this way, most of them women.
I hope the Indian authorities will give their full support to the growing campaign to phase out this system of dry sewage scavenging, carried out by dalits for a few pence a day. I note the Early Day Motion on this, now signed by many Members of the other place. It is rightly the focus of an international campaign, to which the Indian Government need to respond as a matter of urgency.
I end where I began, by emphasising that India has a wonderful constitution in which freedom of religion and equality for all are clearly set out. However, in reality, the brutal facts deny this. Hindu extremists—not Hindus—are getting away with what should have been stopped and prevented a very long time ago. Discrimination against dalits still exists in multiple forms. The Indian Government must take a significant share of the responsibility for this. It is a cultural phenomenon, but laws are not being properly applied and there are practices that the Government could change. I urge Her Majesty’s Government, with our European partners, to continue to do all they can to help India, not only in the struggle against terrorism but also to end what has rightly been termed as this terrible blot on humanity.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on securing the debate and I thank her for introducing it with the passion and conviction that we have come to associate with her. I should also like to welcome my noble friend Lord Paul in his new incarnation. I wish him well, and it is by serendipitous coincidence that he should be presiding over the House on a day when we are debating India.
In the past few years India has been subject to more terrorist attacks at the hands of Islamic militants than any other country, with the exception of Iraq. Terrorist targets have included the Indian Parliament, commercial centres, commuter trains, five-star hotels, crowded railway stations, airports and, even, hospitals. Methods of terrorism have been increasingly brutal. Recently, at the Taj in Mumbai a man was asked to bring water. After he had done so he was shot in his forehead. Another was asked to render a similar service and his throat was slit.
The aim was to kill. According to the Indian newspapers, the target set for the terrorists was to kill no fewer than 5,000 people. When the Indian Government wanted to negotiate and see whether hostages could be released under certain conditions, the terrorists did not want people under their control to be seen as hostages. Even grievances were not stated and were reeled off at random. No clear demands were made and, in the indiscriminate killing, many Muslims as well as Hindus became victims. This was not therefore a case of instrumental terrorism—the point of which one might under some circumstances be able to see—it was, rather, an expression of mindless hatred resulting in cold and clinical execution as part of a mission with no clear goals.
Happily, the Indian response has been most mature. There has been no Hindu backlash in any part of the country, not even in my own Gujarat. In recent state elections, the BJP, the so-called Hindu fundamentalist party, was defeated in some states. Muslims of India unanimously have condemned these attacks. They have issued fatwas saying that terrorism is incompatible with Islam. They have collectively decided that terrorists should not be allowed burials. Indians, largely, have gone about in a quiet way, asserting life and their own pride. They have confronted death with life and national humiliation with pride. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, spoke about the wonderful example of Tendulkar very quietly scoring a century, knowing in his own mind that it was meant for India and to heal the process of national pain. Every nation comes to terms with its tragedies in its own way. The people of the United States responded in one way to 9/11; we responded in another way to 7/7; and Indians spontaneously drew upon their own cultural resources in order to cope with this process. Surprisingly, although perhaps not so surprising, even in Pakistan there has been some sense of outrage and criticism, in public and in private, of what happened in Mumbai.
The question before us therefore is how we respond to this litany of terrorist attacks in India. Largely, three causes are responsible for what has happened. First, there is the Jihadi mentality, which is concerned largely to restore the earlier Muslim hegemonic empire. The West is seen as the enemy and India, with its increasing globalisation and close ties with the West, is identified with the West and Israel. Therefore, India becomes a target, more so now than before, partly because of the Jihadi mentality that lies at the heart of the terrorists attacks.
The second factor that has played an important part has to do with the history of Pakistan. Unlike all other countries that defined their identity during the colonial struggle against the colonial masters, Pakistan defined its identity in relation to India. While India defined its identity in relation to Britain, Pakistan saw India as its comparator or point of reference. Large sections of the Pakistani population have never really got over this. This has been intensified by a sense of revenge after Bangladesh, for which India was held responsible, rather than Pakistan’s own failure to come to terms with its own diversity. Therefore, there is a certain hard core of opinion, reflected in ISI and in certain circles, that is hostile to India and wants to take advantage of every available opportunity. This is changing, but not fast enough.
A third factor has played a part in India being subject to terrorist attacks. That has to do with India’s own limitations and failings, partly in the case of Kashmir and partly in the case of a large number of disadvantaged Muslims.
If we recognise that these three factors have played a part in terrorist attacks, then the response has to be at all these three levels. Terrorists obviously must be fought and subdued, and India needs all the help that we can give it in the form of shared intelligence, pressure on Pakistan, helping with tracking down terrorists and training counterterrorist forces in India. India also has to learn to handle the whole thing professionally, rather than in a lackadaisical way, as it did in Mumbai.
India needs to make sure that its 150 million Muslims are not deeply alienated. As I argued in a couple of articles recently, if even 1 per cent of India’s Muslim population felt that it had no stake in the country and resorted to terrorism, the number involved would be as high as 1.5 million.
As of now, despite all that has been said, India’s record has been much better than expected, or than that of most other countries that I can think of, in integrating its minorities, including dalits. Dalits constitute about 14.5 per cent of the population. I cannot think of any other country that has embarked on a programme of massive affirmative action, as India did, long before the Americans, back in 1949. I ran one of India’s largest universities several years ago and was responsible for implementing the programme of affirmative action for the ex-untouchables, now called dalits, tribals and other minorities. In sports, in films, in Bollywood, in the economy, Muslims and other minorities occupy important positions. It is also worth remembering that India had a dalit president long before the United States had a black president. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, a dalit, was the founding father and the architect of India’s constitution.
Sadly, what has happened in India is that Muslims have increasingly come to be seen either as a vote bank to be pampered, or as a drag on the country’s progress. Muslims have suffered—they are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country—largely because of neglect, rather than positive hostility. Whatever the reason, all minority communities need to be integrated in the national mainstream.
Here I should like to say something about what has happened in Orissa and parts of south India, where I come from, in relation to Christians. India has a long tradition of showing enormous respect for Christianity. It is striking that the founding father of India, Mahatma Gandhi, was more Christian than Hindu. In his ashram there was only one image, Jesus on the Cross, and none of the Hindu gods and goddesses. It is also striking that modern-day Hinduism, which claims to be anti-Christian, is profoundly shaped by Christian ideas of social service and homogeneity. Lots of Christian influences have permeated modern-day Hinduism. Why is it, therefore, that during the past 10 years and not before, a country with a strong commitment to Christianity should have increasingly felt—this does not apply to all parts of the country—anti-Christian?
It is also striking that, as in 1947 and 1948, the constitution of India protects the right to convert. Why, after 60 years, should the country want to limit the right to convert? Unless you understand the politics and, sadly, the economics and commerce of conversion, you will never understand what is going on in India. As somebody who has made an academic study of this, I can tell noble Lords that things are not as simple as they are sometimes made out to be.
Evangelical Christians in the United States have a budget of $2.6 billion in order to bring as many Hindus as possible into the Christian fold. Some of the others have not been lagging behind either, with the result that a large number of Hindus feel besieged and insecure. Many of them are blackmailed, bought, or tempted in all kinds of ways, into changing religion. I am all for the right to convert and I deeply deplore what has happened in Orissa. However, I do not wish just to condemn; I am concerned to trace the causes of that. We must understand that while Hindu fundamentalists are to blame for what has happened, other groups are not entirely innocent. Unless profound changes take place, so that religion is not seen simply as a commodity to be bought and sold, we will not understand what is happening. Why do we want to convert people anyway? That debate took place in India in the 1930s and 1940s. Unless one bears in mind the kind of debate that has taken place, one will not understand why these things are happening 60 years after independence.
The other point to bear in mind is that, as I said earlier, India has not been entirely innocent. Kashmir is one issue. Again, India began well. It gave considerable constitutional autonomy to Kashmir so that no Indian from the rest of India is allowed to buy land or settle in Kashmir. If a Kashmiri were to marry a woman or man from the rest of India, he or she would lose some of his or her social security rights. So India has gone a considerable distance towards accommodating Kashmir, unlike Pakistan in relation to its part of Kashmir. But things began to go wrong in the 1980s when elections were rigged. The army was increased so that today nearly 600,000 Indian soldiers guard a population of 5 million. About 15 years ago, when I was deeply disturbed at what was going on, I said at a meeting in India House that India needed radically to reconsider its position in Kashmir. I was shouted down as deshdrohi, unpatriotic and a traitor. I am glad to say that, increasingly, the space for dissent has opened up in India and more and more people are beginning to question whether India is right to treat Kashmir as it has. But while India can be criticised in that regard, I do not think that Pakistan has any standing in the matter. Its treatment of its part of Kashmir is not particularly exciting. India was not divided on religious lines. Rather, Pakistan was sliced off along religious lines and the rest of India remained a secular and multi-religious country, as it always had been. Therefore, by virtue of what it is, Pakistan cannot claim to have a representative right or status to speak for Muslims in Kashmir. Whether or not Pakistan is justified in taking up the case of Kashmir, India certainly needs to rethink its position in relation to Kashmir.
A similar change is needed in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan need to reclaim their country from the hands of the military and the mullahs. Thanks to what has happened in Mumbai, there is a sense of shame. There is also an increasing brain drain in Pakistan. More and more talented people are leaving the country. If one watches Pakistani television and reads the Pakistani press, one sees some very important debates taking place. One hopes that eventually there will be a very powerful coalition of progressive forces, something like the rose revolution or the pink revolution in other parts of the world. One hopes that there will be a huge peaceful movement in Pakistan wanting to bypass the mullahs and the military. I had hoped, and had suggested to various friends in Pakistan, that it would be wonderful if important groups were to take to the streets and say to the terrorists, “Not in our name”. If they had been able to do that, it would have had a wonderful impact on India.
It is very important that we in Britain keep a watchful eye on what is happening in India and Pakistan. We have a role to play, partly due to our historical legacy. We can play the role in two important ways: by encouraging the two countries to control terrorists and, equally importantly, by entering into a dialogue with journalists, trade unionists, politicians, academics and others in places such as Ditchley Park. There people from the two countries drawn from different walks of life can get together, talk and try to work out a common agenda. We cannot wash our hands of what is happening. We must help India to fight terrorists and we must help both countries to stay together in fighting a common enemy.
My Lords, the title of the noble Baroness’s debate was prompted by the recent horrific attacks in Mumbai, but noble Lords have rightly ranged well beyond that. I was in Nairobi with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, at the time and was reminded—as I am sure he was—of the very close ties between families on both sides of the Indian Ocean. These atrocities have affected us all, but they are not the only atrocities in India and we should neither underestimate nor exaggerate the power of a very small minority of extremists. There was obviously a plan but it was not clear whether there was any mission. The atrocities were callous and indiscriminate. I understand from an Indian Muslim friend that 40 Muslims were among the victims.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Bilimoria that we should congratulate both the England and the India cricket teams on going ahead with the test match in Chennai and on producing such an outstanding performance on both sides so soon after these events. The local police must also be commended. We can imagine what was on the minds of those players during the preceding fortnight and we can be certain that it was not cricket. But cricket must be one of the most convincing demonstrations of the victory of the human spirit over violence and terrorism. As my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, in India, Sachin Tendulkar has personified this.
Meanwhile, it is to India’s credit that collaboration with the Pakistani authorities over terrorist suspects already shows promise of more reconciliation between those two countries in future. This was immediately demonstrated by the raid on the main Lashkar-e-Taiba camp last week. This co-operation, if it holds, may be a positive outcome, much as we deplore the cost to all the families affected in Mumbai and beyond.
As my noble friend Lady Cox said, India has seen violence in a variety of forms. There are many areas of non-Islamic terrorism in India, whether from Maoists, Nepalis, Naxalites or others in the south. I was surprised that, after an all-too-brief visit, our Prime Minister’s Statement on Monday made almost no reference to the work that the police, courts and politicians have to do all the time in India to combat terrorism, crime and human rights abuse.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said this week in an interview that during his time at Karachi University you had to choose between three faiths: Christianity, radical Islam and Marxism. When the bishop sent him to work in the Karachi slums, he says, the people were so poor that he had to bury their dead children in fruit crates. Seen from the shanty towns of Mumbai and Karachi, the world has not moved on a great deal from that time, except for mobile phones, which serve every community and cross every divide. Where there is acute poverty and child labour, gangs will always rule and radical Islamists will recruit new suicidal teenagers.
Does the Minister accept the analysis of another cricketer, Imran Khan, that the aerial war on terror in the North West Frontier Province is, and has always been, counterproductive? Does he appreciate that even where intelligence about the location of terrorists is correct, the collateral damage from the air is bound to turn the population against foreign interference? This is not to deny that co-operation with the Pakistan army and intelligence services on the ground must continue and can only improve, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said. India will be furious at today’s news that Pakistan has lost Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of those who attacked the Lok Sabha in that terrible event in 2001.
Another large community in India is exposed to attacks every day of the year; namely, the dalits. I declare an interest as a patron of the Dalit Solidarity Network in the UK. To give one illustration, I was in a village in Rajasthan a year ago, where a shepherd boy had simply spilled water from a hand pump over a bucket belonging to a Rajput merchant family. The boy was thrashed, and when his mother ran to help she was beaten so badly that her clothes were torn and she was taken to hospital. When a bystander later tried to bring charges for this straightforward event, the Rajputs shot his son dead in front of him.
This vendetta against anyone who defends dalits is quite common. The chances of dalits ultimately receiving justice are extremely thin. Even when a case comes to the local courts, the victim is unlikely to win. Out of 297 cases followed by one local NGO in Hyderabad, 287 were acquittals, making an average conviction rate of only 4.7 per cent. In cases lasting more than three years, the rate fell to 3 per cent.
Despite this, I know that a lot of local NGOs in the dalit network are working overtime to prepare cases for court and in the mean time to support families directly affected by these atrocities. I am glad to say that DfID is currently engaged with some of these NGOs through the international aid agencies, and I hope that it will continue this support.
I have also seen how effectively NGOs in Orissa are working with the poorest sections of society. I was especially impressed a few years ago by a CARE International project which demonstrated how young women, given loans and basic literacy, can start small businesses and completely transform their family life and the local economy. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries is right to highlight the crucial importance of education in that context. The potential for aid and development is very strong in India, and this can extend to human rights work. I am sure that the Minister will have taken up my noble friend’s important point about internal trade in South Asia. I am sure that we can help there.
However, I should tell the Minister that like the noble Baroness I am not satisfied by the FCO's participation in the human rights dialogue with India. Part of this is bilateral and part of it is through the EU, and the EU commissioner is personally committed to it. But we are old friends of India, and many of us would like to see a much more active role for the FCO, not just through dialogue at a high and occasional level, but through engagement with some of the organisations experienced in human rights in India and, in that way, through the political process in India.
As we have heard, in Orissa last August a Hindu swami and four assistants were shot dead by unknown gunmen. As these men were known to have converted tribals and dalits to Hinduism, Christians were immediately blamed. In the reprisals, more than 200 churches and hundreds of houses were destroyed in Kandhamal; violence in which dozens of Christians lost their lives and thousands became homeless. A nun and a Hindu girl were raped: the girl was murdered, it was said, because her grandparents were converted Christians. We should all be grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox—I know that we are—and to Christian Solidarity Worldwide for all the documentation that is done following the many visits that they have undertaken.
Christmas Day has apparently been chosen for another showdown between the two religious camps in Orissa. The Hindu authorities, backed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, VHP, have ordered a sit-down strike—or a bandh—on that day if the swami’s killers are not arrested. In response, the National Council of Churches and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference have united to resist all threats to Christians during their most important festival. Violence erupted when a similar strike was called around Christmas last year, and we must hope that there will not be violence this time.
This conflict, like others in the sub-continent, cannot simply be explained by religion, as is usually suggested, especially in popular newspaper headlines. While dalits have generally been the poorest and most neglected in society, many have undeniably improved their socio-economic status through conversion. In itself, that may be a cause of envy and resentment. Yet again, victimisation of Christians and their loss of scheduled status recently led some of them to question whether the church’s protection has in fact led them into violence and homelessness, when they would have preferred to be left alone.
The Chief Minister of Orissa, Mr Naveen Patnaik, is a personal friend of mine from Delhi in the 1960s, when his father was the Chief Minister before him. I know his family well. I was encouraged to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, of his assurances about security at Christmas. But I have to tell Naveen that, from what I have read, neither his Government nor the Union Government in Delhi have taken sufficient action to find the perpetrators of this massacre or to protect its victims still in camps. The state police are inadequate to prevent further violence: some say that they cannot even defend themselves. Is it not time for both central and state governments together to take more initiative? My noble friend has already made suggestions about the intelligence services, which the Minister will have noted.
As a result of the terrorist outrage in Mumbai, there is already a lot of heart-searching in India. There will, I hope, be, alongside the pursuit of criminals, an international recognition of its underlying causes. Further, there must be a renewed determination by the Indian Government, with outside help, to deal with the country’s own major challenge, the eradication of poverty and human rights abuse in all forms.
My Lords, not for the first time, the House owes a considerable debt to my noble friend Lady Cox, both for facilitating this debate and for her powerful report on recent events in Orissa. She is often called a voice for the voiceless, which is an epithet that she has more than justified again today.
At times, Britain and India have had a turbulent relationship; but what is often called “the idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there.
Britain and India are democratic nations with many shared values as well as significant common economic and security interests. Bilateral trade is worth around £6 billion annually. Our cultural, sporting, linguistic and historic links—some of which have required colonial ghosts to be laid to rest—underline the values that bind us together.
In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace—ideals that, as the events of 26 November illustrate, have been undermined and are under siege in many parts of the world today. I join other noble Lords in expressing condolences to and sympathy with the families of the 173 people who died, to the hundreds left injured and to the Government of India.
Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I want to address two questions: first, on the lessons we might learn from that heinous attack and, secondly, on the principal challenges that India faces. The ferocious assault on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and other targets in Mumbai was not an isolated incident; it was part of a concerted and systematic international campaign. According to the Wall Street Journal, 5,000 have died in India since 2004—more terrorist fatalities than in any other country except Iraq. This is the third major attack on Mumbai in 15 years. In July 2006 alone, 183 people were savagely murdered as they travelled on commuter trains. During 2008, militants attacked hotels in Delhi, Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. One lesson that we must learn is that more commando-style raids on soft targets are likely.
Their purpose, of course, is to spread fear, to disrupt, and to assert a violent ideology. The visceral nature of that ideology can be seen in the decision by the terrorists to hunt down a rabbi and a small group of Jews in Mumbai’s Nariman House. It can be seen in the terrorists’ decision at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel to look specifically for American and British guests, in order to execute them. It can be seen in their hatred of all things Indian, the “idea of India”, that led to the indiscriminate and wholesale massacre of innocent Indian lives.
Some have pointed the finger of blame at Pakistan, for persisting, perhaps, with its battles over the status of Kashmir, or secretly aiding and abetting extremists schooled by al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Taliban and their affiliates in the madrassas of the north-west frontier. Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has refuted these accusations of complicity, rightly insisting that the same forces who have attacked India want to destroy Pakistan too.
Mr Zardari’s shaky Government need all the help they can get in countering terrorism; and all of us welcome Gordon Brown’s decision to travel to Islamabad and India to underline that message. However, I add the cautious rider that it does not bode well that Mr Zardari quickly retracted his offer to send the head of Inter-Services Intelligence to India, and elements of the Pakistani military have clearly played a double game, by saying that they are fighting the Taliban on one hand and, on the other, diverting resources, often blindly given by the West, to Kashmiri militants, global terrorists and the Taliban itself. The Pakistan army is the most important institution in Pakistan and must be held accountable.
It may be tempting for India's politicians to try to deflect criticism of intelligence failures into rumbustious forms of anti-Pakistan sentiment, or to advocate cross-border attacks; but this would be a dangerous and, given the respective nuclear capabilities of both countries, potentially catastrophic outcome. Competitive demagoguery, and sabre rattling by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress Party, would be self-indulgent. It risks raising the temperature rather than effectively combating those seeking to destroy “the idea of India”.
Any escalation of military tension would force Pakistan to divert its army from the West, which in turn would allow the militants to strengthen their bases. An attack on Kashmir would rally extreme elements in Pakistan, escalating an already dangerous situation. This would play into the hands of the Mumbai terrorist-recruiting sergeants. In Pakistan and in parts of Britain, along with the fifth column that operated inside Mumbai, there would be a new glut of applications.
Instead, India and Pakistan, with international support, must combat an enemy that threatens them both. The casus belli of the recruiting sergeants must also be addressed, finding solutions to the running sores of Palestine and Kashmir, as well as assisting the entrenchment of strong civil societies in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. But these questions should not be used as an excuse for dealing with deeper structural questions and questions of identity.
In 2009, India’s 700 million voters will elect a new Government, but whoever wins will face the fundamental issues that threaten India’s cohesion. Islamic extremists, Hindu radicals, Maoists and communalism—ethnically or religiously based sectarianism—have all found a fertile breeding ground in India. Terror has spawned terror. The bombing of the Malegaon mosque in 2006 and the arrest of several persons related to Hindu radical groups underline that. Moderates have disavowed violence, whereby, for instance, Muslims have disallowed the bodies of terrorists from being buried in their graveyards and have marched with their countrymen in protest against terrorism; but too often, extremism and communalist violence have gone unchallenged.
Revolutionary Maoism has found a foothold in eastern India. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has described Maoist insurgency as the greatest internal security challenge the country has ever faced. The political classes, without a Gandhi or a Nehru, have not risen to these challenges. Criminal elements have found their way into the highest reaches of political life. Of the 522 Members of Parliament in Delhi, 120 are facing criminal charges and 40 face serious charges including murder and rape. Too often, processes of governance face paralysis.
Plenty of attention is given to what should be done; more attention needs to be given to how it should be done. Our Indian diaspora in Britain, great human capital, are uniquely placed to assist in that process. However, the fact that social policy is neglected in Indian national security planning is astounding. As my noble friend Lord Bilimoria said in his excellent intervention, the World Bank estimates that some 456 million people, 42 per cent of the population, live below the poverty line. India has some 60 million chronically malnourished children—two fifths of the world’s total. Last year, 2 million children died, and 1,000 died each day of diarrhoea-related sicknesses.
World recession is likely to reduce growth next year to 5.5 per cent, the lowest since 2002. Exports fell in October by 12 per cent and the country faces phenomenal challenges in building a modern infrastructure while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions. India is the fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
As my noble friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth mentioned, education is a key to this issue. India is to be admired for providing near-universal education, and there has been a rise from 7 per cent to 13 per cent in those entering higher education, but many agree that teaching remains poor and only 20 per cent of job seekers have any vocational training.
Even these opportunities tend to be denied to the dalits and the 84 million tribal people, who suffer discrimination and marginalisation—an issue touched on by my noble friend Lord Sandwich and many others. The failure to address the caste system, which has left 167 million dalit people trapped by the curse of untouchability, and the failure to counter the surge of communalist violence in states such as Orissa, threatens “the idea of India” and the country’s future. This vast expanse of humanity, trapped in a time warp, appears wholly unconnected to and at variance with India's sophisticated economic and technological advances—and is certainly at variance with the advertising slogans, “Amazing India” and “Incredible India”.
What is truly amazing and incredible in this day and age is that around one in four of India’s population should be classed as tribal or dalit, a term which derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed”. Two years ago, on 26 March, on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, I quoted William Wilberforce in your Lordships’ House. He described “the cruel shackles” of the caste system as,
“a detestable expedient ... a system at war with truth and nature”.
That week I attended the launch of “India's Hidden Slavery”, a powerful film which highlights the violence, exploitation and discrimination experienced by the dalits. The persistence into the 21st century of this degrading and pernicious system threatens the social stability and economic progress of India. Other noble Lords have rightly quoted Dr Manmohan Singh, who said that:
“Untouchability is not just social discrimination; it is a blot on humanity”.
It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; it is estimated that every hour on average two dalit houses are burnt down; higher castes will avoid having a dalit prepare their food for fear of becoming polluted; in one recent year alone, 25,455 crimes were committed against dalits, although many more went unreported, let alone investigated or prosecuted; 66 per cent of dalits are illiterate; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 per cent; 70 per cent are denied the right to worship in local temples; 56 per cent of dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; 60 million dalits are used as forced labourers, often reduced to carrying out menial and degrading forms of work; most dalits are not allowed to drink the same water as the higher castes; and they are trapped in a caste system that denies them adequate education, safe drinking water, decently paid jobs and the right to own land or a home.
Segregated and oppressed, the dalits are frequently the victims of violent crime. In one case, 23 dalit agricultural workers, including women and children, were murdered by the private army of high-caste landlords. What was their crime? It was listening to a local political party, whose views threatened the landlords’ hold on local dalits as cheap labour. The list of atrocities and violence is exponential.
Although laws against caste discrimination have been passed, discrimination continues and little is done to prosecute offenders. In recent years, however, there has been a growing desire for freedom among the dalits and low-caste Hindus. Demands have been made for justice and freedom from caste slavery and persecution, and a detailed charter of dalit human rights was drafted, with appeals to the international community and the UN, in the hope that this would put positive pressure on the Indian Government.
I have one further connected point to make. Since 1956, when the dalit leader, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, led hundreds of thousands of dalits to convert to Buddhism, dalits have often seen religious conversion as a means, either symbolic or actual, of escaping caste. Coercion in a number of ways—the loss of assistance through affirmative action for dalit converts to Islam, Christianity or Buddhism, for example—and anti-conversion laws both need to be challenged because of the way that they affect dalits.
These laws undoubtedly contribute to a climate of violence and aggression against India’s tiny Christian minority, which numbers some 24 million followers—just 2.3 per cent. St Thomas the Apostle brought Christianity to Kerala in India in 52AD, long before it arrived in the US, the UK or many European nations. Christianity in India is almost as old as Christianity itself. However, in Orissa, as my noble friend Lady Cox points out, we have seen the worst spate of communal violence ever faced by Indian Christians since independence in 1947. This has included vicious murders—the Catholic Church puts the number at over 60—and has included burning alive and mutilating bodies. At least 160 Christian churches have been destroyed. I hope that the Orissa state government and the Indian Government will institute a widespread inquiry into these issues and ensure that those responsible are prosecuted.
I want to quote Vir Sanghvi, writing in the Hindustan Times on 11 October. He put it well when he said:
“Every single Hindu I know has been deeply disturbed and more than a little ashamed by the recent violence against Christians ... It reminds us that beneath our gleaming high-tech, IIT-engineered facade, there lurk medieval forces, full of hatred and bloodlust ... without a tradition of religious freedom and equality, we would be no better than Pakistan ... But here’s the thing: ban conversions and you destroy the idea of India. At the root of our notion of who we are as a nation is that we are a secular, liberal democracy. This means not only that religion and politics will be kept separate but that we will afford complete freedom of belief in both areas ... Unless I have the right to change my mind, my secular freedom is meaningless”.
In conclusion, India is the world’s largest democracy—home to one-sixth of the world’s population. It can be proud of its many fine achievements. Like all our democracies, it is a work in progress, and there are many bright spots. India produced one of the first female Heads of Government; a dalit wrote the constitution; a female dalit is currently one of the most powerful politicians in the country; a Muslim has been head of state four times; and a Jew and a Sikh are two of India’s greatest war heroes. So an astounding amount has been achieved.
However, India cannot be proud of the more general fate of the dalits, the caste system or the extremism which still play too great a role in fashioning modern India. In the light of these recent tragic events—from Mumbai to Orissa—Britain and India need to seize the moment and find rational political responses based on our shared values.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on securing this debate. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Paul, on becoming a Deputy Speaker in your Lordships’ House. I have no doubt that, had he not been sitting on the Woolsack, he would have been on his feet in this debate.
I suspect that in my case the title of this debate is a bit of a misnomer, as I shall be discussing matters in which India’s neighbours bear responsibility—the events that took place between 26 and 29 November, in which more than 173 people died and twice as many were injured. We are, therefore, talking about developments in the Indian subcontinent, which includes India’s neighbour, Pakistan.
This was a graphic portrayal of violence, the like of which bears some comparison with the events at the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11 and the bombing of the Tube and buses in London on 7 July. The most striking and ugly feature of the barbaric actions of the terrorists was witnessed live throughout the world on television screens. This memory will not fade away; nor should it be allowed to be yesterday’s news. When the TV cameras switch their attention elsewhere, the innocent victims are picking up the pieces to rebuild their lives. There are the injured and maimed individuals, who will take a long time to recover. There are those who went to work and never returned and whose memories will haunt their families for a very long time to come. We can express our sense of outrage and understand the anger that Indian nationals have felt.
The facts of the incident are not in dispute. Gunmen launched a series of attacks across Mumbai, the financial capital of India. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out, these included the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi hotels, the main railway station, a hospital, restaurants and the Jewish outreach centre. It is reported that at least 26 foreign nationals, including UK, US, Australian, German, French, Canadian, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Singaporean citizens, died.
There is no doubt that foreign nationals were the targets, as the hotels and restaurants that bore the brunt of the attacks are normally frequented by foreign tourists. So the terrorists’ intentions were not simply to destabilise the financial capital of India; they were more sinister than that. They were aimed at many of our democratic institutions in the free world. There is no doubt that the terrorists were well briefed and well rehearsed. How else could they have targeted the Jewish outreach centre? However, little publicity has been given to the fact that among those who died were at least 70 persons of Muslim faith.
There are more Muslims in India than in neighbouring Pakistan—a point stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. In fact, during the communal violence in Gujarat—a point raised by a number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and I were the first people of Indian origin in Parliament in this country to contact the Chief Minister in Gujarat and the Prime Minister, making it absolutely clear that these were Indian nationals and that any dispute whatever in a democratic country must be resolved through the process of law and not by communal violence. There is no dispute that we should be able to remind the world’s largest democracy again and again that violence perpetrated by communities is unacceptable.
Perhaps I may talk about the Muslim community. Muslims are Indian nationals who reflect the diversity and secularism that the world’s largest democracy provides. To its credit, the Muslim community in India is predominately law-abiding and there is no evidence that it is involved in these terrorist activities. It is also to India’s credit that there has been no backlash against the community in this current situation.
In contrast, since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has alternated between civilian and military rule. The prospect of democracy looks fragile, and peace and stability are often threatened by internal dissent and radicalism, which the terrorists have used to destabilise Pakistan. The role of the ISI and Pakistan’s future democracy seem incompatible. You can have a democracy with an independent judiciary and the rule of law but any interference by the military in the body politic of Pakistan is bound to discredit this process, as it has done in the past. It will inhibit pluralism, the elimination of poverty, the building of prosperity and, more important, Pakistan’s relationship with its neighbours—in this case India.
We cannot compensate for the lives that have been lost but, after the bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, the attacks on the Indian Parliament, the explosions in Bangalore and Jaipur, and the atrocities at the Akshardham temple in Gujarat, there is irrefutable evidence that the Pakistan-administered-Kashmir-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba has been responsible for these attacks. The intercept evidence provided by the United States and the intelligence obtained by the security service have confirmed this and Condoleezza Rice has been forthright in bringing that to the attention of the Pakistan Government.
India has been pressing Pakistan to take action against this group and has requested that the United Nations proscribe the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group, a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, for being associated with terrorism. Add to this the voice of our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. He is to be congratulated on the way in which he was able to articulate what he knew was happening in India at that time. He named the Lashkar-e-Taiba militants as responsible for the attacks. The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, was right when he said:
“First we have to galvanise the international community into dealing sternly and effectively with the epicentre of terrorism, which is located in Pakistan”.
International evidence points to the fact that the war on terror has not reduced terror. Over 22,000 people have been killed worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the security service estimates that 1,600 individuals are a direct threat to our country. I commend the words of our Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He said:
“The time has come not for more words but for more action. We will offer our support to the democratically elected Government of Pakistan, but that Government must act rapidly and decisively against the terror networks based on their soil”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/12/08; col. 816.]
Pakistan’s own future depends on action against those within its borders who are bent on the destruction of its elected Government and its relations with its neighbours. It has already experienced terrorism on its own soil; the regrettable death of Benazir Bhutto is a case in point.
Now we do not simply need brave words; we need practical action. India’s position in world politics has been recognised, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. The relations between India and the USA have never been stronger. The USA has provided intelligence that has helped to nail down the terrorist bases in Pakistan, but the fact remains that both the US and British Governments are so deeply entrenched in their military role in Afghanistan—and therefore need co-operation from the Pakistan Government towards this end—that they have failed to give practical support to eliminate terrorism on the borders of the subcontinent. I can well understand their reluctance, because they depend heavily on Pakistan’s co-operation for their military action in Afghanistan, but this is a very blinkered strategy. Those terrorists who have turned against India and other democratic institutions in the world would not hesitate to turn on their own Government, as past events in Pakistan have confirmed. I trust that the Minister will say something on that point.
However, if past experience is anything to go by, South Africa immediately springs to mind. Nelson Mandela was branded a terrorist and both the British and US Governments failed to condemn the apartheid regime. The message is clear. We cannot condemn terrorism and yet at the same time condone activities that give shelter to terrorists. Condemnation alone is not enough. There must be practical demonstration on the ground. We cannot defeat terrorism unless the international community squarely confronts terrorist activities. There cannot be any compromise in the global fight against those who massacre innocent people, whether in Britain, the US, India or any other part of the world. We must, of course, give credit to the United Nations. It has put sanctions on four individuals of Lashkar-e-Taiba. That is a small step in dismantling the infrastructure that feeds terrorist activities.
Equally, Pakistan has an important role to perform. The use of its territory for launching such heinous attacks requires strong action on its part. Of course, there is evidence of steps that have been taken by Pakistan, but much will depend on whether such steps lead to their logical conclusion. The attacks in Mumbai failed to sow the seeds of communal division in a country that prides itself on its secular policies. It is not enough to see al-Qaeda as sole agents for terrorism. There is evidence that young radicalised people, often the product of madrassahs, are now actively involved. Their activities do not recognise territorial boundaries, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. There is ample evidence of funding from international sources. More needs to be done to bring rogue states to account for their action in supporting the radicalisation of young people, which, in turn, influences jihadis on the ground.
Terrorism is not restricted to India and Pakistan. Also, it is a red herring to suggest that this is an issue related to Jammu and Kashmir. Terrorists have no mandate and no democracy would negotiate a political solution under the threat of terrorist activities. To the credit of both, India and Pakistan have opened a political dialogue. The evidence is there for all to see: more tourism and prosperity in Kashmir; more movement of people across the border; and free and fair elections. This has to go much further, however; there has to be a political solution untainted by terrorist activities. The example of the China-India dispute is a case in point. Despite disagreement over the border issue, both countries have regularised their relations on other outstanding matters. Perhaps that could be a way forward with regard to Kashmir.
The international community, for its part, should ensure that there is a comprehensive convention to deal with cross-border terrorism. This is the biggest menace that we all face. One of the most unexplained dimensions of this terrorist attack was that for the first time foreigners were targeted. They played no part in any dispute between India and Pakistan.
We have a lot to learn from such incidents. First, despite the massacre of hundreds of innocent victims, the terrorists have not been able to derail India’s economy. Secondly, they have succeeded in worsening relations between India and Pakistan, particularly when there was strong evidence of reconciliation and the development of economic unity between the two countries. Thirdly, as we have learnt in the West, there is no such thing as total security. Terrorism will flourish if we fail to arrest it. A way forward is to ensure that international legal processes are available to extradite those who commit such crimes. Fourthly, the United Nations must urgently consider sanctions against those countries that provide shelter and financial support to the terrorists.
To defeat terrorism, we must all look beyond our own interests. An attack on a democratic institution is an indirect attack on all the democratic and peace-loving institutions of the world—an enlightened world. I am delighted that the cricket tour is taking place, but I am sad that my team lost. I will let your Lordships into a secret. I met the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and spoke to him about cricket. His cricket test is no longer valid. I support England and he now supports India. We shall have to revise that definition.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this important debate and for all her work. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Paul, on becoming a Deputy Speaker. What a perfect first to be here in his new position for the start of this wide-ranging debate on India.
I would like to add to the words of sympathy from the rest of the House for the victims and their families of the appalling terrorist attacks between Wednesday 26 and Saturday 29 November. As the right honourable David Cameron said:
“My thoughts are with all those who have been caught up in these attacks. India and Britain stand together at this time in the face of terrorism”.
We could not, and should not, have a debate to call attention to the recent developments in India without placing great emphasis on the recent terrorist attacks. Yet it behoves us all to remember that, despite the recent news headlines, India, complex and diverse, is more than a country of poverty, caste and terrible terror attacks. It is also a hugely prosperous country, abounding in traditions, historical sites and so much culture. It naturally attracts tourists. In November, India undertook its first mission to the moon; on 12 November, Chandrayaan-1 entered lunar orbit and began sending back pictures of the moon’s surface.
As well as discussing those difficult and disturbing issues, let us also pay tribute to the impressive and wondrous. India is an important partner, especially in areas of trade, education and culture. We honour India’s democratic values and treasure her friendship. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, spoke eloquently and cited Amartya Sen’s description of India as a huge subject. I will limit myself to three topics: the terrorist attacks; the economic situation; and the tourist industry in India.
The attacks on Mumbai were a terrible tragedy and were rightly condemned across the globe. In his outstanding speech, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out that it was an attack not only on Mumbai, but on many other parts of the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, it is thought that 173 people died in the attacks and, in addition to the Indian casualties, there were UK, US, Australian, German, French, Canadian, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Singaporean victims. If ever there were evidence that it was a global tragedy, not just an Indian one, that is it.
However, it would be even more dreadful if that attack were to signify the beginning of heightened military tensions between India and Pakistan. Cracks can already be seen, as on 11 December, when Shri P Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister, stated that,
“the finger of suspicion unmistakably points to the territory of our neighbour Pakistan”.
Given the history of tension, conflict and war between these countries, what action have the Government taken to attempt to defuse tensions and help to maintain good relations? Considering that the Prime Minister has just returned from Pakistan, perhaps the Government could update us on this.
In the Observer, William Dalrymple commented that part of the problem was the,
“abject failure of the Bush Administration to woo the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan away from the Islamists”.
This is part of the great fear that jihadi groups in Pakistan are attempting to push India into an attack that would mean that Pakistan could move the focus of its army away from the Taliban and towards India. That would be an appalling situation. Can the Government tell us what is being done to avoid such a conclusion?
I turn to the Indian economy. More than 400 million people in India live on less than $1.25 a day, which is more than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. The development challenge is huge, but India is proof in point that the private sector can be the engine of development. Over the past two decades, it has had an annual average GDP growth of 5.7 per cent, and between 1981 and 2005 the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day declined from 60 per cent to 42 per cent. India is truly one of the world’s emerging powerhouses. However, India still has a long way to go. We must remember that India’s gross national income per capita is only $14 above the middle income status line. Moreover, while the proportion of poor has decreased, in real terms the number of people living at the $1.25 a day poverty line has increased from 420 million to 455 million.
The recent economic downturn has meant that,
“the global financial crisis began to bite in one of the world’s fastest growing economies”.
On 13 December, the Financial Times reported that India’s factory output had fallen for the first time in 15 years. In October this year, industrial output was found to be 0.4 per cent lower than it was in October 2007. I could go on. Like many other economies throughout the world, the Indian economy is facing difficult times. Can the Government tell us what impact the troubling developments in the global economy will have? Can they also update us on the status of the Doha round of trade talks? Now more than ever, India would benefit from a pro-poor deal in Doha but, as the House will know, the talks have come to a grinding halt over the past 12 months. What discussions have the Government had with the Government of India about the talks, and what assessment have they made of the possibilities of progress following the US election?
A further detrimental impact on the economy is the fact that the recent terrorist attacks are bound to affect the tourist industry. The Indian Ministry of Tourism released a statement saying:
“India is a large nation and an incident in one place does not impact on tourism and day-to-day life in the rest of the country”.
I hope that it is right. Will that statement be enough to convince people? According to the Financial Times, travel and tourism contribute 6.1 per cent to Indian GDP and employ more than 30 million people, which is 6.4 per cent of jobs. It is therefore vital that immediate action is taken to make certain the recovery of this crucial economic strand of industry. What action have the Government taken to aid a speedy recovery for the Indian tourism industry?
Many noble Lords have asked what humanitarian assistance has been given, in conjunction with the Indian federal and Orissa state Governments, to the people of Orissa who have suffered in the outbreak of anti-Christian violence.
As we all recover from the shock of the recent developments in India, it has been most beneficial to have had this varied and informed debate on the issues surrounding that most beautiful and beguiling of countries. We look forward to the Government’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for proposing this debate to discuss developments in India, especially in the light of the recent terrible events in Mumbai. I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Paul on taking on his role with consummate timing and occupying the Woolsack for the first time today.
Let me say at the outset that, as this debate has amply demonstrated, India remains vital to this country’s interests in so many ways. It is a country close to the heart and imagination of many of us. The close ties that bind the British people and the Indian people are rooted in over three centuries of engagement, mutual respect for human values, democracy and freedom and a colourful shared history. Government Ministers have said on many occasions that we regard India as a close friend and partner of the UK and the British people, not just in the context of promoting stability and security in the south Asian region, but in tackling together a wide range of international and global challenges, including the recent global economic downturn and promoting climate security, to name just two of the issues on which we work closely together. We cannot forget the close family and cultural ties that bind over 1.3 million British citizens to India, the world’s largest and most diverse democracy and home to over 1 billion people.
This debate comes only weeks after the terrible events we saw in Mumbai when a series of terrorist attacks on hotels and other public places left nearly 200 innocent people dead and many more injured. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said at the time, the attacks reminded us of the real challenges that we face from violent extremists and terrorists who threaten our way of life. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, this was not just an attack on India; it was an attack on all of us, but especially on those of us here in the UK, in the United States and perhaps also Israel, if some of the press reports at the time are to be believed. Those attacks serve only to reinforce our shared determination to tackle extremism and violence wherever it arises. I join other noble Lords who have expressed their heartfelt sympathies with the families and friends of all those killed and injured in the attacks.
I briefly turn to the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and their implications for India’s relations with Pakistan. As noble Lords will be aware, and as several have generously commented on, the Prime Minister has just returned from the region at the weekend, when he met Prime Minister Singh in New Delhi and President Zardari in Islamabad. He used the occasion to press in both capitals the need not to allow the relationship to deteriorate, and to stress to both leaders that the way to prevent that was to ensure that justice was done and that there was no attempt to prevaricate, disguise or confuse the situation, but that those guilty were found and tried.
I also note the kind words addressed to our cricketers for their decision to go ahead with their tour. I shall not take sides about the win, except to say that from these Benches there was rather unsportsmanlike mumbling about whether it would not have been a good occasion for the Indians to have just let us win.
It is now widely acknowledged that the Mumbai attacks were perpetrated by members of a militant extremist group based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba. During the past two weeks, we—most recently, the Prime Minister—have urged the Pakistani Government to co-operate fully with the Indian authorities’ investigation of the attacks to identify those responsible and bring them to justice. It is enormously important that no one doubts the evidence—which is utterly overwhelming —that the attacks were organised by groups and individuals based in Pakistan. Equally, there is no evidence to link those groups at this stage to the authorities or any part of the government system in Pakistan. We must start from the base that I have just described and ensure that there is no effort to prevent a clear criminal investigation being allowed to arrive at conclusions and to be followed by appropriate trials and justice.
Before those events, we already had a close working relationship with the Indian Government in addressing the challenges posed by terrorism. UK security and law enforcement agencies work closely with their Indian counterparts and there is a good flow of information both ways on operational and investigation work, as well as on the disruption of terrorist networks. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, we are looking again at ways in which UK expertise on countering terrorism can be deployed effectively to help the Indian authorities. A similar offer is there for the Pakistan authorities as well. We will help the Indian authorities in any way that they wish with the necessary security preparations for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010. We are also engaged with our Indian counterparts in trying to find ways to prevent terrorist financing and improve civil aviation security.
Before leaving the issue of Mumbai and its aftermath, I refer to the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Bilimoria, on the number of Muslim victims of that outrage. It is critical to bear in mind just how indiscriminate it was and how, for terrorists of this kind, no life has any value. The victims are indiscriminate in that sense.
I now turn to a subject which has rightly been of some concern to so many speakers today, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in proposing the debate. That is the issue of domestic extremism within India, which manifests itself in many different ways. We recognise the noble Baroness’s close interest in the issue, especially in how social cohesion in India’s local areas can sometimes fracture and, for example, lead to the violence that we saw this year in Orissa and neighbouring states. While abhorring the violence resulting in Christian victims, we must recognise that it is not exclusively the preserve of one social or religious group or another in India, but often the result of various factors such as the interplay between religion and politics and other socio-economic pressures. As my noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea observed, militants sometimes seek to exploit that for their own ends. However, I must say to my noble friend that the VHP is not proscribed as a terrorist organisation in India or, as he knows, here in the UK. If there is evidence that should lead to that being changed, we shall review it.
I reassure noble Lords that we have raised our concerns about the violence in Orissa State with the Government in India and their representatives in both London and New Delhi. For example, I discussed it with Anand Sharma, India’s Minister of External Affairs, when I visited New Delhi on 16 October, as well as with other officials. It was clear to me that the Indian Government recognised the strength of the international community’s concerns about what is happening in Orissa. We understand, and they assured me, that they urged the relevant state authorities to take immediate steps to bring the perpetrators to justice and to improve the local security environment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others raised the concern that there may be a renewed confrontation and threat to life over the Christmas period. I will certainly pass on that concern and warning to our high commissioner in Delhi and ensure that we are alert to any signs of that. I was also asked about the assistance that DfID has provided for those displaced. Although there is no specific programme for the displaced, the UK is the biggest bilateral aid donor to Orissa State, and we have tried to do a lot there.
Let me make the Government’s position clear—although I think that no one would doubt it. All violence perpetrated against innocent people on the grounds of their faith, creed or social status is evidently completely unacceptable, but I add that we should recognise that India, with all its complexities—so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others today—is still at heart a democratic and open society, and one where the sanctity of the rule of law generally prevails. We also need to recognise that communal violence in India, whatever form it takes and in whatever social context, is not state-sponsored nor state-inspired, as is regrettably the case in so many other areas of the world.
In judging the balance of complex forces which lead to such conflicts, including the role of caste as well as of religion, we must bear in mind many of the insights offered today—for example, the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, about the economics of conversion—as well as the issue of the marginalisation of castes and the particular role of the dalits. I particularly noted in that regard the words of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, about the role of Christian dalits, who seem to suffer a double whammy—if one can use that word—of disadvantage. We are doing all that we can to combat caste discrimination in India. We work closely with civil society organisations through our own development programmes to raise awareness of the rights and benefits to which dalits are entitled in Indian society, and we will continue to do all that we can to encourage this work.
How does one have a dialogue with a country such as India on human rights? So many of the speakers today reflected the sensitivity that they know we must bring to bear on this. After all, this is a country that has gone through a brutal attack on Mumbai without subsequent revenge attacks on communities that might be thought to be associated with it. It has had an astonishing incidence of internal and externally supported violence of different kinds, and each time the reaction of the people of India has been in general to show enormous tolerance towards what has happened. The reaction of the Government of India has been to try to suppress any momentum towards intercommunal confrontation. It is in that context that we must talk to India about human rights.
An important EU-India dialogue is scheduled for 2009—the date has not yet been set—and the UK does all that it can on every occasion to raise the case of the dalits and other cases that concern us, such as the tragedies in Orissa, but perhaps the most important intervention that I could make was to find the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities in his very run-down and poorly functioning office, surrounded by huge paper files of the kind that one remembers and that are almost the metaphor for the old India bureaucracy. I had an astonishing discussion with him in which he reflected a profound understanding of the events in Orissa. Equally, however, one was left wondering whether he really had the authority in the Indian Government to carry through the right kind of investigation into what had happened and the right kind of redress. It seemed to me that, to help him and others to redress the balance and ensure that human rights are implemented at the state as well as the national level, the gentle touch of the partner was needed—the offer of capacity-building support and the dialogue in his office—and not necessarily the diplomatic grandstanding from abroad such as always calling in the high commissioner.
Our relationship with India has gone beyond that point. We must be firm but sensitive in the way in which we try to push forward this complex agenda. We must understand the developmental dimensions to this; I referred to the National Commission for Minorities, with its evidently limited administrative and budgetary capacity to take on the vast agenda of minority rights across the country. Behind that are the questions not only of how we help India to establish a more efficient court system and a more effective rule of law, but of how we nudge it to comply with international human rights norms on issues such as freedom of religion. How do we build up a police system? As the Minister covering India, I am constantly bombarded with consular cases where those who have run into difficulties in India feel that they cannot get quick justice out of the court system. How do we help India with its enormously difficult regional relations? After all, this is a massive country that is complex and inevitably challenged by its own diversities of religion, nationality, ethnicity and language but that must also survive in one of the world’s most difficult neighbourhoods. Its challenges are enormous.
As was observed, the country is set in a context in which the India of rapid development is offset, as so many noble Lords observed, by an India that is still mired in rural poverty. It was noted that 456 million Indians are still living on less than a dollar a day, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said. That is one-third of the world’s poor. Seventy million more people in India are living on less than a dollar a day than are in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. If Bihar—a state which DfID has made a priority for its own development programmes—was a country, it would be the 10th poorest country in the world. These are astonishing inequalities in a country in which the modern, urbanised, middle class whom we saw in Mumbai on our TV screens in recent weeks lives side by side with others in a country that is still mired in the worst of poverty. It is therefore critical to meet the challenge of bringing both our own development programme to bear and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said, ensuring that India, like the rest of the world, is helped through this economic crisis and that issues such as free trade, which are so important to India, are not lost as a consequence of global economic recession.
I finish on a sad pre-Christmas note. The current Doha development round is not in particularly good health, and the hoped-for ministerial meeting before Christmas could not occur because agreement was not considered to be highly likely. We go into a new year with increasing anxieties about our ability to preserve global free trade for India as much as for ourselves in an era of recession and inevitable tendencies towards protectionism.
My Lords, when I won the ballot, I felt some apprehension at the challenge of addressing the complexity, and indeed the rich diversity, of the land that is the subject of today’s debate. However, when I saw the list of speakers, my anxieties were immediately allayed, because I knew that they would bring such wide-ranging expertise and personal experience that it would create a debate that was a rich amalgam of informed concern, constructive criticism and warm appreciation of India’s rich history and the achievements of a modern, secular democracy. Indeed, my expectations were fully fulfilled. It is also a great delight that this should be the first debate over which the noble Lord, Lord Paul, has presided as a new Deputy Speaker, and I join others in congratulating him on his new position. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has addressed so many of the questions and issues that have been raised so comprehensively.
In conclusion, I warmly thank all noble Lords for making the debate truly significant—a debate which I hope will be received by our Indian friends as an indication, indeed proof, of real friendship, a friendship that has been cherished for so long and which we will continue to cherish. I hope that the debate will contribute to that friendship. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.