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UK Foreign Office Needs to Join the US and Other Countries to Publicly Challenge India about Freedom of Religion

December 19, 2018 | By

London: Last week the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief released a report highlighting 27 countries.

These countries included India and were chosen in the light of the significant denials of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) that occur within their borders.

This report supports the UK Government’s prioritisation of FoRB.  Earlier this year the FCO Minister of State for the UN and Commonwealth, and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB, Lord Ahmad stated:

“The connection between religious tolerance and stable societies is another reason why we think promoting freedom of religion or belief is so important. There is clear evidence to suggest that tolerant and inclusive societies are better equipped to resist extremism. And most importantly, by ensuring that everyone can contribute, it makes society as a whole better.”

Because of the scale and intensity of violations, FoRB has emerged as a critical issue and countries including the UK, USA, Canada, Germany and Denmark have started to prioritise FoRB in their work and the EU has created a new mandate on FoRB alongside the Special Rapporteur at the UN.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief has written the foreword to the report released last week. 

Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said:

“The 2018 report by the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief for the first time ever highlights the 1984 Sikh Genocide and the detention, torture and killings of 250,000 Sikhs in the decade that followed.”

“The report continues by drawing attention to the regular desecration of Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the torture and imprisonment of Jagtar Singh Johal that has been raised with India by three UN rapporteurs.”

“The report has also highlighted the extreme discrimination Sikhs face in Afghanistan with specific reference to the suicide bombing in July 2018 in Jalalabad that wiped out much of eth Sikh leadership in Afghanistan.”

“The harsh truth is these changes have only been made possible as Preet Kaur Gill MP is now the co-chair of the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and has pushed for historic injustices and ongoing issues to be mentioned.  Previously Lord Singh has been the Vice-Chair and remained silent on the treatment of Sikhs in India and Afghanistan.”

Bhai Amrik Singh Gill [File Photo]

The report with regards to Sikhs and India states:

“Sikhs have both historic and current issues affecting their religious freedoms and equality as a minority community within India. There are long-standing issues and grievances between the Sikhs and the Indian government. The most recent traumatic events are the wide-scale systematic and deliberate killing of an estimated 30,000 Sikhs (most burnt alive) in November 1984 in 18 states and over 130 cities across India.”

“The 10 years following the 1984 genocides saw over 250,000 Sikhs illegally detained, tortured, disappeared and killed in extrajudicial killings and fake encounters by the Punjab Police. 34 years later there have been no independent inquiries in India – including into Operation Bluestar and Woodrose led by the Indian military in 1984 – or what has followed. It was only on 28 November 2018 that the Delhi High Court pronounced the Sikh pogrom in 1984 a “genocide” and brought punishment to 89 arsonists involved in the killings. No senior members involved in the 1984 killings have been brought to justice.”

“The passage of time has done little to heal wounds and issues for the Sikh community continue. Routine cases of torture carried out on the Sikh community by the Indian police, targeted arrests and torture towards human rights activists, and a failure to respond to regular acts of desecration of the Sikh holy scriptures and the Guru Granth Sahib has been reported.”

“In November 2017, British-born Sikh activist Scot Jagtar Singh Johal was taken by plainclothes officers 2 weeks after his wedding in India. His lawyer states that he has been subject to torture while imprisoned but a medical assessment has been denied and he has still not been charged despite 3 UN rapporteurs writing to the State of India.”

The report with regards to Sikhs and Afghanistan states:

“The indigenous Christian community remains invariably out of sight, while the Sikh and Hindu community are more visible but still at risk of extreme discrimination.”

“Sikhs and Hindus also report pressure to convert from their faiths, and face disruption to funeral and cremation ceremonies by local officials. Sikhs living in Kabul experience social ostracism and economic hardship, with many non-Sikhs refusing to conduct business with them. ‘Land grabbing’ in areas where Sikhs have historically resided are also reported.”

“The dangers facing the Sikh community were further illustrated in July 2018 when a suicide bomber attacked a bus on its way through Jalalabad. Most of those killed were Sikhs on their way to meet President Ashraf Ghani. Among those killed was the only Sikh candidate who had planned to contest the October 2018 parliamentary elections. Responsibility for this attack has since been claimed by Daesh.”

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