Pakistan’s best-known human rights leader Asma Jahangir came to India early this month at the invitation of the Indian government on a fact-finding mission in her capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Jahangir expresses concerns about Hindu Exodus in Kashmir
Asma Jahangir is no stranger to India. She has been frequently visiting this country but this time her visit had a special significance. She arrived on the third of this month as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to make an assessment of the Indian situation.
Without mincing words, she articulated her fears that religious intolerance in India was on the rise. Addressing a press conference on Thursday at the United Nations Headquarters in New Delhi, Asma Jahangir said,“ in the last decade, I am told by everyone that I have met in India, religious intolerance has risen, and the concepts of secularism are dwindling.”
During her visit, Asma Jahangir met ministers of external affairs, minority affairs and culture as well as chief ministers of Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Kerala and Orissa. She also had discussions with the Solicitor General of India, several Supreme Court and High Court judges, leaders of religious communities, journalists, academics and members of civil society organisations.
Her meetings with Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik were of special interest as these states have witnessed anti-Hindu, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence respectively.
While paying rich tributes to Indian secularism, Jahangir noticed that the state’s law-enforcing agencies often displayed anti-minority biases. She said while Indians by and large respected religious diversity, groups organised on the basis of religious identity unleashed fears of mob violence.
The human rights leader expressed concern at the extended timeframe of investigations in cases involving communal riots, violence and massacres such as those that occurred in 1984 in Delhi, 1992 in Mumbai and 2002 in Gujarat.
Asma Jahangir said she was deeply touched to hear of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from Jammu and Kashmir following a campaign of threats and violence. Hindus are a minority in the state and their exodus coincided with the rise of militancy in the Kashmir valley.
She said while Muslims in Srinagar were realising their mistake, she did not see such a phenomenon in Gujarat: “There is remorse, I think, much more that I saw amongst people in Srinagar but I did not detect remorse within those sections in Gujarat that do matter.”
Jahangir also noticed that while the state did not take sides in Kashmir, it did in Gujarat.
“The complicity of the state was not there in the Kashmiri Pandits' case but it appears to be in the case of Gujarat.”
Asma Jahangir said the vast majority of Indians respect secular traditions and she had noticed encouraging signs in the fight against religious intolerance. She said she was impressed by the “outstanding degree of human rights activism in India.” She hopes to present her full report to the United Nations in three months.