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House of Lords Hansard
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24 April 2017
Volume 782

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the rise of extremism in India following the state elections in Uttar Pradesh.

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My Lords, we are aware of concerns over religious tolerance and community relations following recent state elections in India. Prime Minister Modi has made it clear that every citizen has the right to follow any faith, without coercion, and vowed to protect all religious groups. We welcome this statement. The Indian Government have a range of policies and programmes to support minority groups, and we support India’s commitment to the fundamental rights enshrined in its constitution.

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I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware of the recent Hindutva vigilante-style attacks on Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Dalits? According to a senior Indian army general, HS Panag, and the former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, the honourable Mr Shah, right-wing nationalists such as RSS and the Hindutva brigade have targeted all minorities in the name of nationalism. Is the Minister aware of the concerns expressed in the Pew report on religious intolerance in India, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s report on the constitutional and legal challenges faced by religious minorities in India? Will Her Majesty’s Government remind the BJP Government of their obligations under international law for the protection of minority communities?

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My Lords, we share the noble Lord’s concern about the importance of ensuring that there is religious freedom, because it is a foundation for economic and public security. I can assure him that the British high commission in New Delhi discusses human rights issues with institutions such as the Indian National Commission for Minorities and state governments. More than that, in direct answer to his question, the British Government work directly with the Indian Government to build capacity and share expertise to tackle challenges, including the promotion and protection of human rights. Next month, that will include working with India on its universal periodic review.

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My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, instead of interfering in the internal democratic processes of the world’s largest democracy, the Government should be working closely with Prime Minister Modi’s Government to open up and liberalise the Indian economy, and encourage more trade and investment between the UK and India to promote development in both countries? That is what the people of Uttar Pradesh overwhelmingly voted for, and that is the clear message we should send to India—one of our closest friends and allies—from this British Parliament.

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My Lords, we are indeed clear friends of India. The UK-India trade relationship is flourishing. The two Prime Ministers agreed that, when the UK leaves the European Union, they will make it a priority for both countries to build the closest possible commercial and economic relationship—but our friendship also goes to the development of human rights.

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I am grateful for that commitment by the Minister, because many of us will be very concerned that, as a consequence of Brexit, the focus of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be on trade and economic development alone. Will she repeat, again, that there can never be a trade-off between economic trade and human rights and that we will remain committed to raising our concerns with President Modi at every opportunity, because the recorded level of violence against minorities has increased and we must raise it with the Government?

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My Lords, the Prime Minister referred to reports of violent offences when she visited India in the first bilateral overseas visit after she became Prime Minister last summer to show the importance that we ascribe to our relations with India. The reports have also been raised more recently by my honourable friend the Minister for Asia when an Indian Minister visited this country. So we will continue to raise those issues. It is for the benefit of both countries that we develop our trade relationship—but, as I mentioned earlier, it is our firm belief that good relations and strong human rights are the underpinning for successful economic development.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that what happens between faith communities in other countries can spill over into the UK, particularly when we have diaspora communities? We have a significant Indian community in Bradford. They are mainly Gujarati. Some are Muslim, some are Hindu. Relations are good, but on other occasions and with other faiths we have seen how, when events in the countries from which their ancestors came worsen, relations in this country can worsen. I pay tribute to the excellent work that the Minister has done on interfaith issues in this country. Is this not something with which the Government should engage, and should they not point out to the Indian Government that this is not a matter simply for them?

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My Lords, with regards to the diaspora, ensuring that there are good community relations is a serious issue. How could I think otherwise coming from Woking, where such a significant proportion of the community brings with them the strength of their background in the Punjab and enriches our community? It is important that, across the United Kingdom, faith should join us, not break us up.