Human rights advocacy in a world of interests: why the EU fell short at India’s Raisina Dialogue

India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, was recently asked how he saw the country’s role in defending free societies globally – a diplomatic way of confronting India on its failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

His answer was, if not reassuring to human rights proponents, certainly honest: “Countries evolve a combination of values, interests […] and all of us would like to find the right balance”.

This has always been the tension at the heart of foreign policy. And the European Union (EU) is no exception. Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty (which forms the constitutional basis for the bloc) reads: “In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests”.

In our interactions with the EU, human rights organisations repeatedly appeal to the Union’s stated values. Whilst, in general, the EU is a benevolent global actor on human rights, there are instances where an appeal to values alone is not sufficient to galvanise action.

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Scratching the wounds of the past: India’s disputes over mosques and temples are only increasing religious tensions

For decades, the city of Varanasi in Utter Pradesh was known for its syncretic culture, with Hindus and Muslims worshipping side by side in their respective places of worship. All that changed in May this year.

On 12 May, a district court in Varanasi ordered a videographic survey of the city’s Gyanvapi mosque which is located just metres away from the Kashi Vishwanath Hindu temple. The order followed a petition filed by a group of five Hindu women last year who sought permission to worship within the outer walls of the mosque.

In spite of the objections raised by the committee that manages the mosque, and in rejection of a stay order issued by the Allahabad High Court, the survey was completed on 16 May. The lawyer representing the Hindu petitioners subsequently claimed that a shivling (phallic symbol of the Hindu deity Shiva) was found in the compound of the mosque, which the Hindus argue should grant them a right to worship in the premises whilst barring Muslims from entering the area.

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The failure of the Karnataka authorities to stand against religious intolerance has yielded sad yet expected results

Incidents of communal violence have risen sharply in Karnataka state in recent months, and anti-Muslim sentiments are on the rise.

First there was the hijab controversy that began on 28 December 2021 when the authorities of an educational institution in Udipi, Karnataka banned six Muslim girls from entering with their hijabs (headscarves) on. Several other colleges followed suit with bans that were upheld by the Karnataka High Court on 15 March 2022.

State-sanctioned intolerance    

Ministers in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), meanwhile have not shied away from expressing their radical agenda. In February 2022 the senior BJP leader in Karnataka, K S Eshwarappa, said that a day would come when the ‘saffron’ flag (a symbol of Hindu nationalism) would become the national flag.

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‘Kashmir Files’ – A film used to fuel religious intolerance in India

The Indian film Kashmir Files has been mired in controversy since its release on 11 March. The 270-minute-long film, directed by Vivek Agnihotri, an open supporter of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), focuses on the brutal killings of estimates of between 30 and 80 Kashmiri Pandits or Kashmiri Hindus from 1988-1990 and their exodus from Indian Administered Kashmir.

The film revolves around a young student who finally discovers that his parents were killed by Muslim militants and not by accident, as his grandfather had told him. The student is caught between two conflicting narratives, that of his grandfather who is seeking justice for the exodus, and that of his mentor – a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor who tells him no such appeasement is necessary.

The historical events on which the film is based occurred in the 1990s, amidst a rising insurgency in Kashmir, when the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a militant separatist organisation comprising Muslims, targeted the state’s minority Hindus – Kashmiri Pandits – forcing an estimated 75% of the Hindu population to leave the state and seek refuge in other parts of India. Governments in power since then, including the BJP, have done little for their resettlement.

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A holistic response to forced migration

Displacement due to adverse circumstances has existed for as long as humankind has walked the earth. Yet in a stark contrast to those fleeing the violence in Ukraine, others genuinely seeking refuge in Europe from dangerous situations today are increasingly dismissed as economic migrants on the grounds of their ethnicity or religious identity. What, or rather who deserves to find refuge and make a country their home is continually being contested. 

Statistically speaking, the world is facing the largest displacement crisis since the Second World War, with close to three million people having fled the war in Ukraine in a matter of weeks. Other individuals and communities are fleeing from some of the most dangerous areas of the world in search of a new life – or to put it bluntly, life at all.

Western countries only host 14% of the world’s refugees

The vast majority of the world’s refugees flee to neighbouring countries, for example to Lebanon in the case of Syrians, or to Bangladesh in the case of Rohingyas from Myanmar/Burma. However, Western nations, where fears of ‘mass migration’ are exploited in populist ethnic and religion-laced politics and loom large on the media landscape, host just 14% of the world’s refugees.

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