Press Statements

WE, who are members of the South Asian Community, are deeply disturbed by the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, and the impact that it will have on India’s well-established commitment to diversity and pluralism,  and to India’s constitutional tradition that has prioritised secularism, non-discrimination, equality  and social justice.

These traditions have kept India united and contributed to social cohesion. They were upheld as exemplars to us in the region as well as globally.

This law undermines these achievements that were built over several decades. It singles out religious persecution over other forms of persecution as warranting special treatment, thereby ignoring gender, ethnicity, caste, birth, and race (among others) that have been, and continue to be markers leading to persecution.  Furthermore, it privileges specified religious groups over other faith groups in similar circumstances. Its focus of attention is on the specified religious minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan only and demonstrates a disinterest in other SAARC countries such as Nepal, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, with whom India has historical ties.

The law does not recognise that some Muslim sects and atheists are subjected to persecution in countries where they are a minority, and even in countries where they are a majority sectarian differences have led to persecution. By resolutely excluding Muslims from the list of persecuted religious adherents, the law presents as discriminating on religious grounds and specifically discriminating against Muslims. 

When read in conjunction with the populist rhetoric endorsing concepts of Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra and Akhand Bharat, and the angst caused by the exclusion of names from the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) in Assam, the intent to undermine and dilute the Muslim presence in India through this Act is feared.

While it is to be applauded that India is providing an expedited pathway to citizenship for persecuted minorities through the CAA 2019, we urge that:

  • The two-track discriminatory process of naturalisation for undocumented migrants based on religion is repealed;
  • A transparent and well-understood process for registering citizens is established;
  • A fair process to appeal exclusion from the National Register of Citizens is established.;
  • International instruments – i.e. UN Refugee convention (1951) and UN Stateless Convention (1954) are ratified;
  •  A non- discriminatory refugee law is passed.

Such approaches will reassure all disadvantaged communities within India’s borders and in the region that they can continue to look upon India to uphold these special values.

On behalf of SAC members, including:

●      Civil Society & Human Rights Network (CSHRN), Kabul                                  ●      Development & Justice Initiative (DAJI), New Delhi
●     Law & Society Trust (LST), Colombo                                  ●      Misaal Foundation, New Delhi
●      Self-Help Association for Rural People through Education & Entrepreneurship (SHAREE), Dhaka ●      John Dayal, New Delhi
●      Muhammed Haider Imtiaz, Islamabad ●      Sahar Ahmed, Dublin

The South Asia Collective (SAC) welcomes the opening of the historic Kartarpur Corridor between India and Pakistan. The SAC, a collective of South Asian human rights activists and civil society organisations, believes that the opening of the Corridor is an important step in the right direction to realise their own dream of a peaceful and caring South Asia. 

As the final resting place of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, Kartarpur holds a special place in the hearts of Sikhs across the world, including 24 million in neighbouring India. However, over seven decades of distrust between India and Pakistan following the bloody Partition of 1947 had denied the Sikhs the right to visit one of the holiest sites in their religion. Just days ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the governments of India and Pakistan have come together and made this possible once again.

The Corridor, a 9 km stretch that connects the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan’s Narowal district to the Dera Baba Sahib in India’s Gurdaspur district, will, for the first time in the two nations’ independent history, allow around 5000 Sikh devotees to visit the holy shrine every day without a visa. The inaugural batch of visitors will be formally seen off by the Indian prime minister on one side, and received by the Pakistani prime minister on the other. On a day that marks a clear departure from a time when the Sikhs were forced to depend on binoculars and telescopes to catch a clear glimpse of the shrine, Indians and Pakistanis of all faiths have reason to share in their joy. 

It is not lost on us that this positive development has come at a time when relations between the two nations are perhaps at the lowest in decades. Religious minorities, including Sikhs, continue to face discrimination in both India and Pakistan. There are accusations of sinister political machinations being the reason behind the endeavour. However, the Corridor remains a rare example of the governments of the two countries prioritising centuries-old shared history over an arbitrary border that was drawn only 72 years ago. At the very least, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is a testament to what is possible if Indians and Pakistanis come together. As such, it is an occasion on which even the skeptics are allowed to hope.

The governments of India and Pakistan both deserve commendations, but it is imperative that this event marks an end to recent tensions that have had adverse ramifications across the region. All measures that restrict people-to-people relations must be rolled back immediately, and state actors in both nations must agree to resume formal talks in good faith. Only then can the dream of lasting peace in South Asia become a reality.

On behalf of SAC members, including:

●      Civil Society & Human Rights Network (CSHRN), Kabul                                  ●      Formation, Awareness & Community Empowerment Society (FACES) Pakistan, Lahore
●      Nagorik Uddyog, Dhaka ●      Misaal Foundation, New Delhi
●      Self-Help Association for Rural people through Education & Entrepreneurship (SHAREE), Dhaka ●      John Dayal, New Delhi
●      Muhammed Haider Imtiaz, Islamabad ●      Sahar Ahmed, Dublin

The South Asia Collective is a group of human rights activists and organisations that envisions a peaceful and progressive South Asia, where the rights of all human beings, particularly those belonging to minority communities, are fully protected and respected.

The SAC stands in solidarity with Ms. Priya Saha as she faces criticism from various quarters over the remarks she made during an interaction with US President Donald Trump on the 17th of July. We are appalled by suggestions from various parties in positions of power that Ms. Saha’s public airing of her personal concerns in an international setting is tantamount to sedition against the Bangladeshi state. We are also dismayed by the vicious nature of the personal attacks that have been made against Ms. Saha, and those that have been extended against the Bangladeshi Hindu community as a whole.

The use of state machinery to muzzle dissent and perpetuate an atmosphere of fear in which human rights defenders are unable or unwilling to speak up has become a disturbingly common phenomenon in countries across South Asia. The threat of sedition charges is becoming a particularly potent weapon in the region to silence critics and dissenters, and has played a significant role in the continued weakening of democratic values in the region. The raids at the offices of senior lawyers Indra Jaising and Anand Grover, the registering of First Information Reports against Muslim ‘Miya’ poets in Assam speaking out against systematic discrimination against the community, and the enhanced muzzling of press and registering of sedition charges against civil society groups in Kashmir, are all recent examples of this disturbing trend in India. These are a continuation of past trends with registering of cases against Teesta Setalvad and Kanhaiya Kumar among other activists. Likewise, in Pakistan, the family of human rights activist Gulalai Ismail has recently been hounded with cases of sedition, defaming state institutions, and terror finance. Gulalai herself has been forced into hiding. This is in addition to several Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement activists who have been booked for sedition. Similar cases have been reported from the rest of the region.

The people of Bangladesh gave to themselves a Constitution that declared democracy and secularism as two of the fundamental principles upon which the republic would be built. The freedom to speak out and hold the state accountable is one of the hallmarks of any functioning democracy, and this should be protected under all circumstances. It is deeply troubling to see Bangladesh potentially travelling further down the path of intolerance and repression.

Ms. Saha is a human rights activist whose concerted efforts to provide support to disempowered minorities in Bangladesh have touched many lives. Her critics are advised to listen to her concerns and engage her in constructive debate, instead of attempting to browbeat her into silence. The merits and demerits of her argument and evidence may be up for questioning, but it is the duty of the Bangladeshi state to ensure her physical and mental well-being in the face of targeted harassment. Her safety – and the safety of other human rights defenders like her across the region – is of paramount importance for the deepening of freedom and democracy in South Asia.

The SAC reiterates that religious persecution remains an everyday reality for minority groups across the region. Attempts to silence civil society actors are completely counterproductive to the efforts to build a fairer and more equitable South Asia, where human rights should be sacrosanct regardless of religion, caste, creed, gender or ethnicity.

On behalf of SAC members, including:

●      Civil Society & Human Rights Network (CSHRN), Kabul                                  ●      Formation, Awareness & Community Empowerment Society (FACES) Pakistan, Lahore
●      Development & Justice Initiative (DAJI), New Delhi ●      Misaal Foundation, New Delhi
●      Law and Society Trust (LST), Colombo ●      John Dayal, New Delhi
●      Muhammed Haider Imtiaz, Islamabad ●      Sahar Ahmed, Dublin

The South Asia Collective is a group of research and advocacy organisations from across South Asia, which aims to contribute for the protection of minority rights in the region and for the establishment of South Asia-wide minority rights standards, instruments and mechanisms. The group has focused on galvanizing the region’s civil society around minority rights protection and promotion.

The members of the group express their deep concerns in relation to the latest hostilities between India and Pakistan, the two largest countries in the region, both nuclear powers, particularly the various acts of violence perpetrated by both countries against each other over the past weeks which had the potential to spiral into full-fledged war. The clouds of war may have receded for now, but the risks are ever present. We urge both countries to exercise restraint in the interest of the people of the whole region, who would be the foremost victims of the unimaginable death and destruction as a result of a possible nuclear conflict. We welcome all efforts made by the respective leaderships of both countries for ensuring peace and hope that they will resolve their issues in the future by engaging in dialogue instead of resorting to violence.

We urge the leaders of both countries to ensure protection of minorities from hate speech and violence. Similar targeting of minorities wherever they occur elsewhere in the region – incidents have recently been reported from Bangladesh – too must be acted upon by respective leaders.

Lastly, we want to reiterate our vision of a peaceful and progressive South Asia, free from violence, and focused on the development of its inhabitants, where the rights of all human beings, particularly those belonging to minority communities, are fully protected and respected.

For the South Asia Collective:

●      Sahar Ahmed, Lahore/Dublin ●      Development and Justice Initiative, New Delhi
●      Elaine Alam, Lahore ●      Misaal Foundation, New Delhi
●      John Dayal, New Delhi ●      Law & Society Trust, Colombo
●      Saroj K. Nepal, Thimpu ●      Nagorik Uddyog, Dhaka
●      Haider Imtiaz, Islamabad ●      Self-Help Association for Rural People through Education & Entrepreneurship (SHAREE), Dhaka

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