LONDON: Exactly one week after the House of Commons held a controversial debate on the safety of farmer protesters and press freedoms in India, the House of Lords decided to debate the stifling clampdown on universities, NGOs and civil society in India.
Eight peers took part in the debate in the main chamber on Monday regarding restrictions imposed on NGOs and academics. It included discussing the detention of Dalit activists, imprisonment of journalists, forced closure of Amnesty International, persecution of non-Hindus and the “damaging effect of the FCRA” on mainstream aid agencies.
“Does the UK government agree that it is not possible for India to claim to be the world’s largest democracy if they continue to restrict freedom of expression and freedom to organise?” asked Labour peer Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale. “Will the UK government make representations to India that they must, if they want to be part of the democratic nations of the world, stick to these values absolutely rigidly?”
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, minister for the Pacific at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), representing the UK government at the debate, stressed the UK does raise concerns at a ministerial level with India and said the UK had raised concerns about restrictions on NGOs, human rights activists, and universities with the Indian government several times.
Lord Hussain, a British-Pakistani Liberal Democrat peer, took the opportunity to claim that reputable human rights organisations had reported that the Indian army in Kashmir “was involved in illegal rapes and murder with complete impunity” and that thousands of political leaders were being held in Kashmir without trial owing to India’s “notorious” laws. “Will our PM make any representation to the government of India to withdraw these draconian laws and free all Kashmiri political prisoners?” he asked.
Baroness Northover, Liberal Democrat peer, said: “The government of India is reported to consider that human rights there are an internal matter. Does the noble lord agree that lessons, especially from the 20th century, show that it is vital that the world pays attention to human rights, even within borders?”
But not every peer was comfortable with the debate.
“Until recently India has broadly upheld the democratic principles and traditions she inherited from the UK. It is now observable that the Indian government has restructured some hitherto democratic freedoms. I question if it is the task of Her Majesty’s government to raise this with the Indian government where the possible response might be that the UK is following a similar trend. I also think it is quite likely the response will be it is none of our business,” Conservative peer Lord Flight said.