“Violations of Rights of Religious Minorities (Muslims & Sikhs) in India”
Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
IPRI Conference Hall, Islamabad
July 12, 2017
A One-Day Roundtable on “Violations of Rights of Religious Minorities (Muslims and Sikhs) in India” was organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) on June 12, 2017 at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) conference hall, Islamabad. The workshop had one working session, in addition to an inaugural session. Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President and Executive Director, Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad chaired the roundtable. The sufferings of minorities living in India, in particular the Muslims and Sikhs were discussed. It was pointed out that the minorities living in India were victims of Hindu extremism; the world needed to respond to the sufferings of the Muslims, Sikhs, Christians living in India. Eminent scholars included Mr. Khalid Rahman, Director General, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad, Dr. Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad and Dr. Noor ul Haq, former Senior Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). The roundtable deliberation brought forth policy recommendations.
Brig (R) Sohail Tirmizi, Acting President Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) welcomed the distinguished scholars and experts in the One-Day Roundtable titled: “Violations of Rights of Religious Minorities (Muslims and Sikhs) in India”. He said that it was satisfying to see a pool of scholars at the IPRI conference hall to discuss the deteriorating state of minorities living in India. He said: “the minorities are living in a hostile environment, where their rights are being subject to discrimination at the hands of the Hindu majority”. Further he stated that the use of force and violation of the rights of religious minorities having the backing of the Indian Government was a common occurrence. The places of worship were unsafe, people were not allowed to express their views and alternate ideas were being snubbed. Thus, the space for the religious minorities in India was fast shrinking, laying bare the falsehood of the Indian Constitution and its claims of being a secular state. He referred to the attack on Golden Temple (1984) and said that the attack was a testament to Hindu atrocities against the minority Sikh community. The attack led to large scale Sikh massacre. Further, he remarked that the incident left a mark on many, but with no accountability till-to-date, what could be expected from the Hindu dominated Indian society. He opined that to put an end to the brutal use of force against the religious minorities living in India, the international community needed to restrain India from aggressive methods. On the BJP government’s rule, he stated that the extremist policies of the incumbent government had further fueled the communal divide. The state-sponsored victimization and exploitation of minorities had abetted the Hindu extremist factions. BJP had also employed coercive policies in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), the unarmed Kashmiri populace was victim of Indian atrocities.
Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President and Executive Director, Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad while referring to the sufferings of minorities in India and the atrocious violations of human rights said the minorities status was unique as well as worst. The miseries were parallel to that of the Palestinian people. On the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), Dr. Cheema opined that the ill-treatment incurred upon the people of the valley was, in actual, an extension of India’s barbaric rule. Concerning Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, he said: “Pakistan supports the Kashmir cause on moral and political grounds”. Moreover, given the socio-cultural, historical and religious commonalities between Pakistan and Kashmir, the connection appears to be strong. However, seeing the severity of the situation in IOK, serious deliberation on promotion of Kashmir issue in various international platforms was required. He explained that the situation in Kashmir cannot be seen in isolation, rather, the regional dimension, particularly, in the context of India and Pakistan being nuclear states needs to be seen. He was of the opinion that the situation might lead to limited conflict, inescapable fear of escalation. Therefore, there was a need to contribute wisely to the Kashmir cause, and undertake appropriate steps in projection of the issue to the outside world. Likewise, Pakistan through innovative strategies needs to highlight the violations of human rights of religious minorities in India.
Mr. Khalid Rahman, Director General, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad spoke on “Indian Secularism and Policy towards Religious Minorities: Myth and Reality (Case of Muslims)”. The speaker highlighted weak areas of India’s secularism. He said that the secular character of the Indian constitution was designed primarily for political purposes. The incidents of abuse and mistreatment of religious minorities in India were in sharp contrast to the secular principles. He pointed out that since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came into power, Muslims have been targeted under various hate campaigns such as Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, and most recently in the name of cow vigilantes and ban on beef slaughtering. Quoting a 2017 report by India Spend, he informed that in the 63 heinous hate incidents during 2010–2017, 86 percent of the victims were Muslims and 98 percent of these incidents occurred after Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed power.
The speaker recommended that to counter the Hindu domination and to protect their rights, the Muslims needed to empower themselves politically as well as socio-economically. Besides, the Muslims needed to project their stance unanimously both at the domestic as well as the international levels. At the domestic front, networking and alliances with the ‘saner’ elements in Indian society should be undertaken. Internationally, there had been efforts by the rights organizations but to put pressure on India to be fair to its minorities, the Muslims needed to strategize their efforts, so that the voice reaches out to the appropriate audience.
Dr. Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad delivered a talk on the “Plight of Muslim Community and Indian Atrocities on the Kashmiris”. It was underscored that the third world post-colonial states, like India had an in-built hegemonic process due to which the society had been divided into various strata. In the hegemonically divided society, some segments are gainers while others are losers. The minorities apt to their size and weaknesses are the actual losers; they somehow have to lead a subservient life to the dominating elite. The communal and caste system in the Indian society has further exacerbated the hegemonic divide. In India, this class difference had been translated into the constitution. It was reiterated that in India, there had been no recognition of religious minorities constitutionally. Dr. Mujeeb pointed out that politically India’s reliance on aggression against minorities ensures a large vote bank since the presence of religious minorities is perceived to be a hurdle in the process of national integration. Under the garb of nationhood and socio-cultural integration, the Muslim community’s rights were being exploited. In the process of cultural transformation, religious minorities especially Muslims have been a victim of ‘soft Hindutva’. Given their social circumstances, the Indian Muslim community only speaks out against the human rights violations in IOK, rather than supporting the Kashmiri freedom struggle. Further, it was stated that the Muslims in India were being viewed from the prism of partition, their loyalty was doubted. Thus, this discrimination and biasedness towards the Muslim community had marginalized them politically as well as economically. In December 1992, the Babri Masjid was attacked by the Sangh Parivar activists; the attack was a testament of Hindu extremism, expressing hatred towards the Muslims of India.
While discussing the state of education in the Muslim community, it was underscored that the educational system in India was formulated in such a manner that the Muslim community was not able to compete with the Hindus in scientific/technical fields. Muslims, in order to preserve their Ali Gargh identity want their children to study Urdu. In the madrassa, the Muslim students learned Urdu but their opportunities/exposure to other subjects/fields was limited. The prevailing circumstances portrayed that the Indian Muslims were leading a subservient life, they were victims of Hindu extremism. The BJP government’s anti-Muslim rhetoric had further marginalized the Muslim community, adding to their miseries. In this backdrop, the international community needed to play its due role. At first there was a need to reach out to the Indian Muslims. Then, through mobilization of masses, both Muslims as well as Hindus, the factor of hatred within the Indian society could be mollified.
Dr. Noor ul Haq, former Senior Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) delivered a presentation on “Indian Human Rights Violations and Atrocities on the Sikhs Accelerating their Demand for a Separate Homeland”. The presentation highlighted the Sikh community’s struggle for a separate province. It was opined that the Sikhs were a religiously and socially distinct community. Their demand for a separate province in India was primarily to safeguard their religious and cultural practices. The Sikhs feared that like other religions “Buddhism” and “Jainism”, they might lose their identity to the Hindu oppression. It was stated that back in 1948, Sikhs launched the struggle for a separate Punjabi province. The demand for a separate province was forcefully curbed by the Indian government, which antagonized the Sikh-Hindu relations. In the later years, the Sikhs continued with their struggle for a separate province, and faced oppression from the majority Hindus. However, the Indian government accepted the Sikh demand for a separate Punjabi province in 1966. The province constituted 64 percent of Sikhs, but still the Sikh grievances were not addressed. Sikhs once again started the battle for their rights, demanded greater provincial autonomy and merger of Sikh majority areas (reference-Anandpur Resolution 1978). The Indian government termed the Sikh movement as “secessionist”. The Golden Temple was attacked and a large number of Sikhs were arrested. The Indian government placed Punjab under the Central government, and diverted the water of river Sutlej. These pressure tactics were employed to frustrate the Sikh’s demand for a separate province. The ‘Khalistan movement’ calling for Sikh’s independence was brutally curbed by the Congress. Anti-Sikh riots, supported by Police and Congress leaders, were the worst India had seen, around 10,000 Sikhs were killed. These events left the Sikh community emotionally distraught. In November 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by his Sikh guards. The talk concluded that the Sikhs despite the sufferings have not given up their struggle for separate identity. The Sikhs in India have support of their community members, living in other countries. Thus, the “Sikh Freedom Movement” is still alive and “Never-forget 1984” is their slogan.
Discussants and other Participants
Following experts offered brief comments in the seminar:
- M. Nasrullah Mirza, In charge, Defence & Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad
- Brig (Retd) Said Nazir, Senior Associate, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)
- Rizwan Nasser, Assistant Professor, Programme I.R., Department of Humanities, COMSATS, Islamabad.
- Salma Malik, Assistant Professor, Department of Defence & Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad
- Aarish Ullah Khan, Editor, Institute of Regional Studies (IRS)
The salient points of the talk of each speaker on the subject are given below:-
Dr. M. Nasrullah Mirza
- The regressive caste system is engrained in Hindu scriptures which has given impetus to the Hindu elite in India to demonise the minorities. Hindutva, an ultra-nationalist kind of fascism is rising in India leading to anti-minority politics with the aim of creating a Hindu India.
- The event of 9/11 as an external factor, has given power to the Indian state to treat their inhibitants as however they wish under the spectrum of terrorism.
- State machinery has been involved in the unlawful and inhumane treatment of minorities under the behest of “suspect terrorist”. According to an Indian newspaper, 36,000 human rights cases were reported to the police in year 2015-2016 but no action was taken.
Brig (R) Said Nazir
- There are gross dichotomies and discrimination in what the Indian Constitution says and what the Indian Government practices. There is a stark difference in the ground realities.
- The official Indian narrative is driven by Hindutva, followers of which argue that whoever lives in India should live like a Hindu. RSS is the brainchild of Hindutva and Narendra Modi is a staunch follower of this facist ideology. Currently, there are 19 Ministers with RSS background in the Indian Cabinet.
- Another dichotomy is within the Hindu religion itself. While there are only 1.9 million discovered species in the world, Hindu religion has 330 million dieties. Hence, Hindu religion itself is confused.
- The Hindu caste system draws a very bleak picture for the minorities in India too. Dalits are Hindus but they are considered Untouchables. This shows that there is inherent dichotomy and discrimination within Hinduism as well.
Dr. Rizwan Nasser
- Secularism in India is a farce. India uses the garb of secular constitution to snub the identities of minorities. And this is not a new phenomenon, it dates back to partition.
- India’s systemic suppression and discrimination against Muslims can also be explained through the prism of psychological fear that the Hindus of India suffer from. Muslims have ruled Hindus for centuries and there is an inherent fear amongst the latter that if the Muslims unite, they may pose a serious threat to Indian integrity.
- India has been coloring peoples aspirations for independence as terrorism and has been successful in doing so. But India’s aspirations to become a leading economy will not succeed until it adheres to the International Human Rights standards.
- Strategic relationship between the United States and India has also favored India in keeping minority issues off the radar of the International Community. Rigorous diplomacy and lobbying is required to bring it back on the agenda.
Ms. Salma Malik
- The International community has been quite dismissive about the gross human right violations in the Jammu & Kashmir. For instance, the Armed Conflict Survey 2017 of International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has dismissed the last one year of indigenous turmoil in Jammu & Kashmir as a Pakistani backed militancy.
- It should also be noted that India has not ratified any legal instruments which may excuse India from any legal and moral obligation. India has been able to act under such impunity because it uses Pakistan as the bogeyman and blames it for its own failures.
- Under Manmohan Singh, the governance was weak and the Indian security intelligentsia took over the discourse which is conituning to date.
Mr. Aarish Ullah Khan
- One needs to study the demographics of India to understand the issues faced by minorities. There is an acute disparity between the demographics and the representation of the minorities in the country. There is an explicit effort on the part of the state machinery to minoritize the Muslims of India.
- It is necessary to study the Kashmir dispute under the prism of International Law. The language of International Law will resonate with the International community. Also, India has not ratified the Convention on torture and is not obliged to follow it.
- The incidents of brutal violence against religious minorities have alarmingly increased under the current BJP’s government. The incidents of state-sponsored exploitation of minorities continue to grow in India. There is a need to awaken the consciousness of the international community against violations of rights of religious minorities i.e. Muslims and Sikhs in India and compel the international community to constrain India from such brutal behaviour and massive massacres against religious minorities in India.
- Communal hatred and human rights violence is directed against Muslims by the Hindu extremist elements in India. Moreover, abuses and sufferings of Kashmiris at the hands of the Indian Security Forces has become an open secret. The violence against Sikhs in the Golden Temple attack is still fresh in the minds of Sikh minority. Therefore, the Indian government and Indian Security forces should be held accountable for perpetuating such forms of violence against Muslims and for the denial of justice to minorities in the India.
- The persistence is essential for the survival of justice-upholding elements in India and especially for those who profess secularism in the country to raise the issues of human rights violations against religious minorities in India at national and international forums.
- As the Indian Muslims face lack of representation in political and administrative avenues, the Indian Muslims need to devise innovative and comprehensive socio-academic strategies with which they could empower themselves to play more efficient and productive roles in the society. Their networking and alliances with the saner elements in Indian Society should also be an essential part of their strategy.
- There is a need to have cooperation and unity among the Muslim World for the rights of Muslims in India. The conflicts and divide from within the Muslim World have made the status of Muslims practically insignificant in the global affairs. As a matter of fact, the unabated discriminatory behavior with Muslim minorities in India and in other countries is one of the outcomes of this situation.
- The Muslim countries could collectively play a role to improve the situation and are still in a position to raise their voice over India to adopt policies of equity and justice for its minorities.
- In the international arena, there have been voices in UN Human Rights Council as well as reports by HR organizations; the need is to make these voices even stronger; stronger enough to put a real pressure on India to be fair to its minorities.
- The Indian Muslims are victim of the Indian myth of nationhood and are in the direction of the socio-economic interpretation of caste and class system of Hindu majority state which needs to be addressed.
- The Kashmir will continue to suffer because of the insecurity of the Indian Muslim community to raise their voices against the Indian government. The essential strategy for a longer period of time for Kashmiris is to reach out to the Indian Muslims who are part of the Indian politics and to mobilize the masses both Hindus and Muslims about their demands, rights and atrocities that are taking place in India.
- Pakistan should focus on the implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir which are according to the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. There is a need to highlight the issue of Kashmir in Western capitals and diplomatic community should raise voices at other forums beside the role of government of Pakistan at political level.
- Pakistan should seek help from regional powers i.e. China and Russia by using their media to propagate the case of rights of religious minorities in India and try to pressurize India from restraining from human rights violations against minorities in India.
- In the light of legal aspects, an institutional and systematic approach should be adopted for addressing the issue of rights of religious minorities i.e. Sikhs and Muslims in India. The question that whether secularism in India would survive or not in the coming years needs to be highlighted in the political and academic circles at international level.
- The Kashmir conflict has an international dimension and when we talk about its resolution we should consider this dimension as well. Since 9/11 terrorist attacks, India has been trying to link the Kashmir freedom struggle to terrorism and has been able to make Western governments to believe its narrative on Kashmir. Pakistan has to deal with this issue by institutionalizing the Kashmir Conflict. International human rights institutions need to be approached on continuous basis and Kashmir’s true nature should be highlighted.
- The government as well as non-governmental organizations in Pakistan should devise a strategy to engage the influential think tanks and policy making bodies in other states to highlight violation of rights of religious minorities in India.
- India has not signed Convention against torture; Pakistan can highlight this issue under International law and link it to grave human rights violations in IHK.
New fascism in the form of Hindutva (RSS – ultra nationalist ideology) has emerged in India. Hatred is ingrained in political system of India. This challenged needs to be addressed by adopting dual policy – political as well as intellectual discourse. The rise of ultra-right not only in India but in other parts of developed world needs to identify social process in these states that which social forces are into play and how and why they are bringing social change. The rise of Hindu right and its policies towards minorities as well as human rights violations in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) has triggered civil society in India to raise their voices against injustices committed in a so-called secular state. It was identified in the roundtable that there is need to further research on the future of secularism in India. Think tanks and Academia should highlight the myth of Indian secularism.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.