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Canadian civil society urges Trudeau to act on human rights violations in India

Dozens of groups are demanding diplomatic measures be taken and cautioned against Hindu right-wing influence in Canada
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shake hands at Elmau Castle, southern Germany, in June 2022 [AFP]

The Canadian government must take a definitive stance against mounting human rights violations in India as well as against the rise of far-right Hindu nationalist groups in Canada itself, dozens of civil society organisations have said.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, the coalition of organisations made up of 80 groups from across the religious and political spectrum in Canada said it was necessary for authorities to take action, as conditions for minorities continue to deteriorate at a rapid rate in India. 

"As individuals and organizations dedicated to upholding Canada’s international legal obligations and human rights globally, we urge the Prime Minister’s Office to address the pressing issues outlined below and take diplomatic measures in response to the systematic discrimination and violence inflicted upon vulnerable minorities in India," the letter read.

The letter, signed by groups like the South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network Canada and
the South Asian Diaspora Action Collective, among others, also cautioned Trudeau's government to take note of the influence of Hindu right-wing groups, in particular, those affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is increasingly operating in the country.

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The RSS is a nationalist paramilitary organisation founded in 1925, and serves as the ideological parent of India's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"RSS groups should be banned under Canada’s hate speech laws, due to the safety and discrimination issues they pose for Canadian Muslims and Indo-Canadians," the letter stated.

"This ideology fuels a climate of hostility and animosity, leading to violence and widespread denigration of Muslims.

"Allowing these groups to operate in Canada not only endangers the safety of Canadian Muslims but also contradicts the fundamental values of equality and respect for all individuals, regardless of their religious background," the letter added.

The Indian consulate general in Toronto, Canada, did not immediately respond to MEE's request for comment.

Human rights violations 

Several indicators show that the country's democratic credentials have suffered since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014.

Over the past five years in particular, India has seen its democracy described as either "flawed""partially free" or as the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute called it: an “electoral autocracy”. The unrelenting attacks on minorities have prompted the US Commission of International Religious Freedom to urge the US government to recharacterise Delhi as a "a country of particular concern" or CPC, over its "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom in the country".

The US State Department has so far declined to change Delhi's status.

Meanwhile, a combination of internet shutdowns and attacks on the media has seen its ranking on the World Press Freedom Index drop from 150 to 161 out of 200 countries.

Exclusive: Hindu nationalist groups to assemble at India Day rally in New Jersey
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In Kashmir, activists and scholars have spoken of an unprecedented crackdown on the media and civil society, with authorities using punitive measures such as cancelling passports or arbitrarily raiding homes to quell any dissent.

Taha Ghayyur, executive director of Justice For All Canada, who helped draft the letter, said signatories believed it was crucial for the Canadian government to move beyond condemnations and towards taking action against those culpable for crimes.

Ghayyur told Middle East Eye that it was especially important, given the rise in trade between the two countries.  

"Canada’s silence today justifies the escalating injustice in India against minority communities.

"Over the past several years, we've seen a disturbing trajectory in India: from marginalisation, to discrimination, and now, to violent, overt acts of hostility against vulnerable communities," Ghayyur said.

"Witnessing the alarming trends in India and their growing shadows here in Canada, it's imperative for our government to act."

Monday's effort by Canadian civil society comes as activists in the neighbouring US expressed alarm over the participation of several overseas affiliates of the RSS during an India Day rally in two towns in central New Jersey over the weekend.

Activists said that while the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America took part in the rally with the explicit permission of organisers and the towns' mayors, a third group, the Bajrang Dal, also arrived to take part in the event.

The Bajrang Dal, known as the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, were seen chanting slogans and raising their group's flag.

According to the Indian American Muslim Council, the police intervened after receiving several complaints, and the group was asked to leave.

“Waving a Bajrang Dal flag at an Indian Independence Day Parade is just like waving a KKK flag on July 4th: absolutely unacceptable,” Niyaz Khan, vice president of the New Jersey chapter of the IAMC, said in a statement.

“Such actions not only tarnish the significance of the parade, but also promote divisiveness and intolerance within the community and celebrate a group involved in numerous acts of brutal violence against India’s minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians," Khan added.

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