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German MPs demand respect for religious freedom in India

April 21, 2010

Following a visit to India earlier this month, the ruling Christian Democratic Union's Ute Granold and her colleague from the Free Democratic Party Pascal Kober said the country does not always uphold the rule of law.

Ute Granold is a German Christian Democrat
Ute Granold is a German Christian DemocratImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Not everyone in India is entitled to protection under the rule of law and to choose his religion freely. This was the impression gained by Ute Granold of the conservative Christian Democratic Union and her colleague Pascal Kober of the Free Democratic Party, who recently visited India. The trip was organized by a German catholic charity Missio.

Religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims in India suffer particularly from attacks from radical Hindu nationalists, says Granold.

"It is the emergence of the Hindu nationalists, who want to make India a country which has no religion other than the Hindus'," she says. "This is, of course, contrary to the constitution. India is a democracy only on paper, I would say, because it lacks an essential feature of democracy: the rule of law."

Pascal Kober is an MP from the Free Democratic Party
Pascal Kober is an MP from the Free Democratic PartyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Violence against minorities

Violence against minorities in India is not new. In 2002, the country's western state of Gujarat witnessed deadly religious riots, which claimed several thousand lives. More than 2,000 of those killed were Muslims. In 2008, the Christians in the eastern state of Orissa faced the anger of Hindu extremists, who accused Muslims and Christians of forceful religious conversion.

Following the violence thousands fled Orissa and Gujarat, where villages were burnt down, women raped and innocent people murdered.

The perpetrators have not been brought to justice and the victims complain of continued harassment and lack of help, says Pascal Kober.

"Both incidents have not been dealt with properly, according to our yardstick of law," he says. "We discussed this on the spot as well. One of the results of our trip has been that the chief minister of Orissa has already announced that he will investigate these allegations."

Several churches were torched by the hardline Hindus in Orissa in 2008
Several churches were torched by Hindu hardliners in Orissa in 2008Image: AP

Hindu extremists' political backing

The two politicians were accompanied by Otmar Oehring from the Catholic charity Missio. Oehring is sure that Hindu extremists in India also receive political backing.

"The major opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is virtually the political wing of Hindu nationalist ideology, which has certain connections to National Socialism and Fascism. It should be pointed out in Europe and across the West that one can not simply speak of a democratic, booming, economically prosperous India. One must also say that the country also has human rights problems."

During their trip, the German MPs claimed that the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi has been described as dictatorial. They endorsed the European Union decision to declare him a persona non grata and not to grant him a visa.

Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi
Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra ModiImage: AP

Outrage in India

This sparked outrage in Modi's party. The Bharatiya Janata Party staged a protest outside the German embassy and asked for a formal apology. The party also claimed that the German delegation was on an unofficial trip and that they had met with only a few people of their choice.

According to Indian media the German embassy in New Delhi told the party that the parliamentarians were in India in their personal capacity and expressed their personal views.

Meanwhile both the German MPs say they want to raise the issue of the freedom of India's religious minorities at the German parliamentary committee on human rights. They have called on the German government to bilaterally exert more pressure on New Delhi.

"Our foreign policy is value-oriented. In other words, good governance and human rights are for us a key condition for cooperation," says Granold. "If India is interested in good relations, which we expect – as India wants to play a role in world politics - then it must be measured by good governance and compliance with human rights."

She says by allowing radical Hindus and one sided justice to prevail, the Indian government will drive a wedge between different groups in the population. This, she says, must end. Both Granold and Kober are confident that India's many different religious communities can live peacefully together, provided they are allowed to do so.

Author: Samuel Jackisch / du

Editor: Grahame Lucas