I am going to explain why Australia should worry about India’s assault on minorities, dissent, human rights and free speech. But let us first quickly look at what the world is saying about India.
The US Department of State has recorded what they call “mob attacks by violent Hindu groups against minority communities, including Muslims,” and “religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice and speak about their religious beliefs.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that the US designate India as a Country of Particular Concern for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations,” alongside the likes of China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Myanmar. It has said that Indian Prime Minister Modi had instituted “national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims.”
The UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and various UN Special Rapporteurs have expressed deep concern at India’s democratic decline. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has even joined litigation at India’s Supreme Court against a new citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims, which has triggered mass protests.
India is integral to the success of the Quad Alliance. On 13 March 2021, Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison has co-authored an OpEd in the Washington Post with US President Biden, PM Modi and Japan’s prime minister, who make up the Quad. But the Quad will only succeed if the partners have a shared belief in “the rule of law and standards of good governance,” according to Lavina Lee of Sydney’s Macquarie University.
Lee says that “a region that becomes inhospitable to liberal democratic values at a domestic level is much less likely to support and reflect the principles of a free, open and inclusive international order.” That description fits India.
Last month, reputed US watchdog Freedom House downgraded India from “Free” to “Partly Free” saying that Mr Modi was “tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism.”
Last week, a Swedish think-tank V-Dem called India an “electoral autocracy” and said the country was “on the verge of losing its status as a democracy.”
A xenophobic and bigoted India would destabilize the Quad and Australia’s interests. Our silence on India’s human rights violations, suppression of dissent and free speech legitimize its autocratic authoritarianism. PM Morrison’s laudatory statements about Mr Modi would be counterproductive.
Now, violent Hindu nationalism has arrived in Australia. Two weeks ago, Hindu nationalists armed with baseball bats and hammers attacked Sikhs in Sydney. The Sydney Police are painting it as inter-community trouble. This emboldens these extremists and puts fear in Indian minorities in Australia.
Raising the issue in the New South Wales Parliament, David Shoebridge MLC questioned why the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which the CIA has categorized as a “religious militant organization,” was providing religious education in the public schools of New South Wales.
Amnesty International had to shut its office last year amid raids, frozen bank accounts, and threats of imprisonment in India.
India’s economy is crashing. Its GDP has fallen 24%, industrial output 38%, services 20% and manufacturing 39% in the past year. Unemployment was already at a 45-year high before COVID.
Mr Modi has brought India to its knees socially, politically and economically.
Mr Modi has diluted land and forest rights and environmental norms. Hate speech is rife, peaceful protest criminalized, and the jails filled with political prisoners.
Australia cannot pretend India will be an able and stable partner in the face of all-round democratic and economic decline. In her own interest, Australia must push India to modify its behaviour.
Here is what Members of the Australian Parliament can do:
● Speak in Australian Parliament of India’s democratic decline
● Demand an investigation into the threat Hindu extremism poses to Australia’s social cohesion and the infiltration of Hindu extremist groups in Australian education, multicultural media and politics
● Urge PM Morrison to speak to Mr Modi and raise the issue of democratic decline in India
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views or position of NRI Affairs.