Global pressure over CAA-driven violence in India
India on Thursday faced criticism and calls to protect religious freedom and the safety of its citizens from across the world, including two US presidential candidates and the UN human rights chief, following the communal violence in New Delhi.
The government pushed back against the criticism, with external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar describing the comments by organisations and individuals as “inaccurate and misleading” and aimed at politicising the situation.
There was also condemnation from quarters that have been inimical to India in recent months, such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was dismissed by New Delhi.
“Our law enforcement agencies are working on the ground to prevent violence and ensure restoration of confidence and normalcy. Senior representatives of the government have been involved in that process. The prime minister has publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood,” Kumar said.
Communal violence linked to protests in New Delhi against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) flared up as US President Donald Trump began a visit to India on Monday, claiming 38 lives and injuring almost 350 people this week. The violence received widespread coverage in the international media as it coincided with the visit.
Bernie Sanders, a leading Democratic Party candidate in the US presidential race, tweeted: “Over 200 million Muslims call India home. Widespread anti-Muslim mob violence has killed at least 27 and injured many more. Trump responds by saying, ‘That’s up to India.’ This is a failure of leadership on human rights.”
Elizabeth Warren, another Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted that it is “important to strengthen relationships with democratic partners like India”, but the US “must be able to speak truthfully about our values, including religious freedom and freedom of expression – and violence against peaceful protesters is never acceptable”.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed grave concern at the violence, including reports of mobs specifically targeting Muslims. “The brutal and unchecked violence growing across Delhi cannot continue,” said USCIRF commissioner Anurima Bhargava.
“The Indian government must take swift action to ensure the safety of all of its citizens. Instead, reports are mounting that the Delhi police have not intervened in violent attacks against Muslims, and the government is failing in its duty to protect its citizens. These incidents are even more concerning in the context of efforts within India to target and potentially disenfranchise Muslims across the country, in clear violation of international human rights standards.”
The USCIRF has already convened a hearing in Washington on March 4 to discuss how the citizenship law is being “used to target religious minorities” in India.
The Trump administration’s pointperson for South Asia, Alice Wells, also said in a tweet that the US echoes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for calm and normalcy and “urges all parties to maintain peace, refrain from violence, and respect the right of peaceful assembly”.
In the UK, the Boris Johnson government told Parliament it believes the CAA is divisive and that it has raised concerns over the law’s impact with Indian authorities. The issue was discussed in the House of Lords on Tuesday evening, with contributions from several members such as Meghnad Desai, Raj Loomba and Indarjit Singh.
The CAA has also been divisive in the 1.5 million-strong Indian community in the UK, the government said. Elizabeth Sugg, junior minister in the Foreign Office, said: “To conclude, the CAA has clearly been divisive in India. Its full impact remains unclear. We hope and trust the government of India will address the concerns and protect the rights of people of all religions, in keeping with India’s constitution, its democratic values and its inclusive traditions.”
Addressing a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was concerned by reports of “police inaction in the face of attacks against Muslims by other groups” and previous reports of excessive use of force by police against peaceful protesters opposed to the CAA.
The issue had “widened into broader inter-communal attacks”, Bachelet said, appealing to “all political leaders to prevent violence”. She also criticised the continuing detention of political leaders and activists and “excessive restrictions on the use of social media” in Kashmir. She added large numbers of Indians had opposed the CAA and supported the country’s long tradition of secularism.
The OIC condemned the “alarming violence against Muslims” and called on Indian authorities to bring “instigators and perpetrators of these acts of anti-Muslim violence to justice”.
In a speech in Ankara, Turkish President Erdogan condemned what he called “massacres” of Muslims in New Delhi. “India right now has become a country where massacres are widespread...Massacres of Muslims. By who? Hindus,” he said.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Kumar said the violence in New Delhi is currently a “matter of investigation” and law enforcement agencies have said the situation is “fast returning to normal”. He added, “We would urge that this sensitive time is not the right time to make irresponsible comments because it would create more problems than it would solve.”
India also exercised its right to reply to UN human rights chief Bachelet’s speech and said its Constitution provides extensive collective and individual fundamental rights and freedoms and the country recently enacted legislative measures to address “historical grievances of a group of persecuted persons to ensure that they…are not pushed into statelessness”.
The reply added: “Peaceful protests and demonstrations are part of India’s democratic traditions. However, at the same time, violence has no place in the democratic ethos of India. We have taken all measures and restored peace and normalcy in the affected areas in Delhi.”