The European Parliament is discussing human rights in India with a focus on the violence in the North Eastern Indian State of Manipur.


The EU Parliament’s resolution on India says that minorities, civil society, human rights defenders and journalists regularly face harassment in India. Women, in particular, face severe challenges and violations of their rights including sexual violence and harassment, often related to tribal and religious backgrounds.


In October 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, appealed to India to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders, raising concerns over the shrinking space for civil society, detentions and harassment of those exercising their legitimate rights, and the use of laws to stifle dissent.


The resolution says that violence in India’s Manipur state has erupted along ethnic and religious lines between the mainly Hindu Meitei community and the Christian Kuki tribe, leading to a cycle of violence with over 100 people killed, over 40,000 displaced and the destruction of property and places of worship.


Manipur has previously faced secessionist insurgencies in which serious human rights abuses were committed. In the latest round of violence, human rights groups have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Manipur and nationally, of implementing divisive ethno-nationalistic policies which oppress, in particular, religious minorities, the resolution said.


The resolution said that the EU parliament strongly condemns the acts of violence, loss of life and destruction of property in Manipur. It denounces in the “strongest terms” nationalistic rhetoric deployed by leading members of the BJP party. It calls on the government of India and local authorities to allow unhindered humanitarian aid to those affected, and for independent monitors to carry out investigations.


In this context, what the US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti said about Manipur assumes importance. “We stand ready to assist in any way if asked. We know it’s an Indian matter and we pray for peace and that it may come quickly,” the U.S. envoy said in Kolkata.


“Let me speak about Manipur first. We pray for peace there. When you ask us about the concern of the United States, I don’t think it’s a strategic concern. I think it’s about human concern… You don’t have to be Indian to care when you see children and individuals die in the sort of violence that we see [in Manipur] and we know that peace is the precedent for so many other good things,” Garcetti said.


Be that as it may, the EU parliament calls on all sides to exercise restraint and for political leaders to cease inflammatory statements in order to re-establish trust and play an impartial role to mediate the tensions. It calls on the national and state governments to start mediation efforts with all stakeholders for a just settlement upholding the rights of all communities.


Withdraw AFSPA


The EU parliament notes that the use of the “unlawful” Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and internet shutdowns. It denounces in the “strongest terms” nationalistic rhetoric deployed by leading members of the BJP party. It calls on the central government to repeal the AFSPA, in line with UPR recommendations as well as those of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and calls for unimpeded internet access to be re-established.


The EU parliament calls on member countries to place human rights and democratic values at the heart of their engagement with India, and jointly develop a strategy to address human rights issues, particularly those concerning ethnic and religious minorities and freedom of religion and belief.


The EU parliament calls for the need for a regular EU-India Human Rights Dialogue at the highest level establishing firm criteria and benchmarks for progress, and requests that the European Parliament is regularly informed of progress.


The EU parliament instructs its President to forward this resolution to the EU institutions, Member States, and the Indian authorities.


Bid To Stall Resolution


India had tried to persuade EU parliamentarians to reconsider their decision to submit resolutions for a discussion on Manipur.


“The Manipur question is a matter totally internal to India. We have made a reach out to the concerned EU parliamentarians. We have made it very clear to them this is a matter totally and absolutely internal to India,” Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said.


He sidestepped a question on whether India had engaged the political lobbying agency Alber & Geiger to persuade the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to reconsider their resolutions, which are to be followed by a vote. He sidestepped a question on whether India had engaged the political lobbying agency Alber & Geiger to persuade the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to reconsider their resolutions, which are to be followed by a vote.


Six resolutions, across the political spectrum, had been listed for discussion on Wednesday evening under the head “India, the Manipur situation”. In all, 14 MEPs were listed to intervene in the discussion.


The European Parliament’s resolutions are not binding on member states but they act as recommendations and send a message to governments across Europe that parties from the entire political spectrum are supportive of this process.


In 2020, India managed to get a vote on a joint resolution on the Citizenship Amendment Act postponed on the plea that the matter was sub-judice.


Why is the West pursuing India?


Two streams are running in parallel in the foreign policies of Western nations: (1) geopolitical interests and (2) a deep concern for human rights and democracy.Both streams are equally important in the context of the West’s attempts to distinguish itself from illiberal and authoritarian countries like China and Russia.


The West is trying to cultivate India in the hope that it can be shown as an alternative model to China in the Asian context.


It is in the interest of Western countries to see that India lives up to their expectation as a democratic alternative to China protecting human rights and democratic institutions.


This is the reason why in the West, the media acts as the watchdog of human rights and democracy in India with the Establishment giving it covert, if not open, support.


Therefore, India cannot draw comfort from imagining a dichotomy between the State and the liberal institutions in the West.


In the long term, it will be difficult for India and other developing countries to oppose the voicing of human rights concerns in the West branding them as unwarranted interference or an assault on their sovereignty. Nor can they get away by finger-pointing at the West on their none-too-clean rights record. So long as the balance of power is in the West’s favour, whataboutery will come unstuck.