Expressing their their concerns over human rights abuses in India, Australian Senators Jordon Steele-John, David Shoebridge, and Mehreen Faruqi have written a strong joint letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong. They urge both leaders to discuss these pressing issues during the forthcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Australia.
The senators, representing the Australian Greens and with portfolios in foreign affairs, peace, and nuclear disarmament, voiced their deep concern for the situation of several minority groups in India. The letter highlights grievances from a broad cross-section of the Indian diaspora, including Punjabis, Kashmiris, and the Muslim and Sikh communities. These groups have shared their worries about the safety and freedoms of their relatives in India amidst an increasingly aggressive right-wing nationalist agenda.
The trio pointed out the decline in press freedom and freedom of speech under the Modi government as a grave issue. They reference the 2022 Press Freedom Index, which shows India at its lowest-ever ranking, indicating an alarming trend. Instances of censorship and harassment of journalists were also mentioned, including the Indian government’s move to ban a BBC documentary about PM Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party using emergency laws.
The Senators’ letter also draws attention to a report from the US-based Early Warning Project, established by the US Holocaust Memorial, which ranks India as eighth among countries that are at the highest risk of mass killings in 2022 and 2023. They shared the report’s assertion that India’s Hindu nationalist-led government has been systematically discriminating against the country’s Muslim minority with mounting reports of violence and hate speech met with impunity.
The letter shared an excerpt of the report that said, “In 2022, the Hindu nationalist-led government’s systematic discrimination against the country’s Muslim minority has continued to intensify amid mounting reports of violence-met with impunity- and efforts to restrict Muslim rights. Hindu nationalist leaders have continued to propagate hate speech, including religious leaders’ calls for mass killings of Muslims in December 2021.”
“Several states saw large-scale and violent incidents targeting Muslims in recent months, which involved Hindu nationalist processions engaging in derogatory anti-Muslim chants and the desecration of mosques. In response to these violent provocations, local authorities bulldozed Muslim-owned property across several states, which rights groups cited as an apparent attempt at collective punishment,” the report further mentioned.
The letter draws upon the views of human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, which advocates for Australia to use its diplomatic relationship with India to raise these concerns. According to these organisations, quiet diplomacy has not been effective thus far.
While acknowledging PM Modi as one of Australia’s closest friends and allies, the senators emphasise the importance of ensuring internationally recognised democratic and free values are upheld. They argue that true friendship includes speaking truthfully about the risks to the long-term relationship if India’s civil society and democracy continue to be undermined.
The senators urge the Australian government to maintain a consistent approach to condemning human rights abuses internationally. They stress the need for the government to show its solidarity with the Indian diaspora in Australia and overseas by acknowledging and addressing the actions of PM Modi’s government, which could potentially have a detrimental impact on the future of India and the region.
They expressed their anticipation for the Australian government’s public advocacy on behalf of minority groups across India, and are keen to hear the further actions that will be taken to express Australia’s concerns during PM Modi’s visit.
The letter underlines Australia’s global role in standing against human rights abuses and advocates for consistent diplomacy that upholds the principles of democracy and freedom. With PM Modi’s visit to Australia imminent, this letter is expected to fuel discussions and shape the diplomatic conversations that are to take place.