France and India: Shared values?

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Daniel Pier / NurPhoto via AFP

During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France, he and French President Emmanuel Macron boasted of the "shared values" of both countries, namely human rights and democracy. This is a rather puzzling assessment, given the blatant attacks on democratic principles in India. It is high time that France publicly denounce the appalling human rights situation in India.

In the joint declaration issued at the end of a working meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 4 May 2022, France and India expressed their attachment "to the shared values of democracy, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

This reference to "shared values" has been repeated over and over like a mantra by France and its European partners for several years. In an April 2022 speech, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyden described India and the European Union (EU) as "dynamic democracies" that "share fundamental values and common interests". In May 2021, the leaders of the EU and India underlined their common "interests, principles and values in democracy, freedom, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

Democracy stifled
These statements ignore a much grimmer reality: since Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, human rights have come under systematic attack. Thousands of NGOs have been targeted by repressive foreign funding legislation. Many have been forced to close down. Human rights and environmental organisations such as Amnesty International India and Greenpeace India have had their permission to receive foreign funding revoked without just cause.

Human rights defenders and journalists have been targeted by sedition and anti-terrorism laws.

For example, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested in November 2021 for his work investigating torture and enforced disappearances in Kashmir. He has now been arbitrarily imprisoned for over 150 days.

Similarly, journalist Siddique Kappan and three of his colleagues were arrested and charged with anti-terrorism offences and sedition for exposing the gang rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Uttar Pradesh. Siddique Kappan is also accused of speaking out against the police crackdown on protests in Delhi in 2020 against the controversial Citizenship Act, which provides for a "fast-track" citizenship process that specifically excludes Muslims.

Violence against Muslims
Minorities, especially Muslims, are under constant attack by Hindu nationalists, supported by the BJP-led government. Violent, armed mobs regularly assault Muslims and openly call for their genocide, including the rape of Muslim women.
In the face of these alarming abuses, France and European governments continue to declare their support for the Indian government, including through trade and military cooperation agreements.

When democracy is curtailed in a country, it must be defended by all its stakeholders. Continuing to engage with the Modi government without publicly condemning his policy of repression of human rights is a betrayal of France’s and the European Union’s stated foreign policy values and objectives. It is time for France and its European partners to demand respect for human rights in India.

 Alice Mogwe, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
 Malik Salemkour, president of the Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH, France)

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