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Britain to take up ‘persecution’ of religious minorities in India

British MPs cite details of alleged persecution of Christians and Sikhs in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere, and demand that ministers discuss it when Commonwealth leaders are in London for Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

india Updated: Mar 05, 2018 12:57 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
India minorities,Christians,Sikhs
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May appears on BBC television in London, March 2, 2018. (REUTERS)

Britain will raise the issue of alleged persecution of Christians and Sikhs in India during the April meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London and Windsor, following demands by MPs to take it up with Prime Minster Narendra Modi.

During a lengthy debate at the Westminster Hall of the House of Commons on ‘Freedom of religion or belief’ last week, MPs cited details of alleged persecution in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere, and demanded that ministers discuss it when Commonwealth leaders are here for CHOGM.

A ministry of external affairs officer in India said the ministry would need to see the transcript of the debate before making any comments on the issue.

Martin Docherty-Hughes (Scottish National Party) mentioned the detention in Punjab of his constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal, allegedly without charge, and claimed that “members of the Sikh community across the UK have become gravely concerned that they, too, may be detained on the simple premise of being a member of the Sikh faith”.

Both Docherty-Hughes and Fabian Hamilton (Labour) raised the issue of alleged persecution of Christians; the former recalled the ancient roots of Christianity in India, but mentioned reports alleging that India was one of the most dangerous countries to practise Christianity.

Responding to the debate, Foreign Office minister for Asia Mark Field said: “My frequent jousting partner, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), alluded to a consular case that we continue to work closely on.”

“He made some profound points about Prime Minister Modi and about Christian and Sikh minorities in India. We will do our best to raise some of those in an appropriate manner at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in mid-April, to ensure that Parliament’s voice is properly heard.”

“He will appreciate that diplomacy sometimes needs to be done behind closed doors, rather than with megaphones,” Field added, according to a transcript of the debate on Thursday that is now available.

Hamilton, who visited Kerala recently, mentioned alleged persecution of Christians, and said: “Of course, we must also remember the plight of the Sikhs in Punjab. Many of us represent strong Sikh communities. I recently had the privilege to be in Kerala… Kerala is home to the largest minority of Christians in India; many are from a Catholic background.”

Docherty-Hughes added: “The Republic of India, the world’s largest democracy, has a legal system based on common law, is a signatory to many UN declarations, including on human rights, and is a Commonwealth nation.”

“I hope that the Government, through the Foreign Secretary, will raise a few points with President (sic) Modi and his officials at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting here in London in April.”

Modi is scheduled to attend the CHOGM, when the United Kingdom, as the chair of the group for the next two years, is likely to task New Delhi with a greater role, particularly in the area of trade and business. A regional trade hub is likely to be set up in India.

As the largest country by population in the Commonwealth, India, which has played a key role in the group since its founding in 1949, is seen as vital to London’s plans to enhance trade revenue when the UK loses access to the European Single Market after Brexit in March 2019.

Bilateral meetings are also expected to be held between Modi and Prime Minister Theresa May when he is in London for the CHOGM from April 16 to 20. It will be his second visit to London as prime minster after the first in November 2015.

First Published: Mar 05, 2018 12:18 IST