Elections in India: Sweden must safeguard the human rights of minorities

This week marks the end of the general election in India's largest democracy in India. With its 1,2 billion inhabitants, the country is home to people who belong to the major religions of the world. There is a tradition of religious tolerance, but the expected success of the Hindu nationalist party BJP is causing concern among the country's religious minorities. The Swedish government must be vigilant about what a change of government can mean. At the same time as Sweden has ended its bilateral aid to India, problems remain and in the continued contacts, the government must stand up for human rights. It is written by Eva Christina Nilsson and Yasri Khan

In our contacts with Christian organizations, concerns are expressed about what greater political power for the BJP can lead to for religious minorities. The BJP is often described as the political branch of the Hindu nationalist movement Sangh Parivar. Neighboring organizations within Sangh Parivar have for decades incited conflicts, for example by inciting Hindus to violently attack religious minorities. What a future BJP prime minister may say about minorities, especially religious ones, will affect the mood in the country. The experience of minorities is that violence and harassment increase when the BJP has power at the state or national level. It is feared that the BJP will introduce legislation that restricts the freedoms and rights of minorities.

When the pogrom against Muslims took place in Gujarat in 2002, Narendra Modi was, as now, the head of the state government. Modi is BJP's prime ministerial candidate in this year's election. Until recently, both the US and the EU were banned from entering Modi due to his alleged actions during the pogrom. For Muslims and other minorities, he is a source of great concern.

The caste system is alive despite the fact that discrimination on the grounds of caste is illegal. The losers of the system are the Dalits, who are called casteless and have traditionally been treated as untouchables. Dalits are discriminated against and often subjected to violence. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable, among other things, through rapes that are rarely punished. The majority of India's Christians and Muslims are Dalits, leading to a double, and for women triple, vulnerability. The Indian state also discriminates against Dalits belonging to "non-Indian" religions such as Christianity or Islam. As a Dalit, according to law, you have some access to government jobs and study places at government educational institutions. You lose these rights if you are a Dalit Christian or Muslim, in addition, discrimination continues because of caste regardless of religion. The BJP fears the introduction of new legislation that will make it difficult for people to change their religion.

In 2013, Sweden ended its bilateral development cooperation with India. In the future, the government's relationship with India will include political dialogue and the promotion of business contacts. We call on the Swedish government to clearly and forcefully in the dialogue with the Indian government, regardless of what its political composition will look like, mark that the rights of religious minorities must never be violated. That the giant country of India is a democracy and that people can go to the polls is something to rejoice over. The economic development that is taking place in the country is also positive. But discrimination and oppression of the human rights and freedoms of Dalits and religious minorities is still ongoing and feared to increase in India.

Sweden, together with other EU countries, must closely monitor how the situation for India's minorities changes, support vulnerable groups and never accept violations of human rights and freedoms.

Eva Christina Nilsson, Secretary General of the Swedish Mission Council

Yasri Khan, President of Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice

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