World Sikh Organization calls on Harper to raise human rights concerns with India

Dr. Amritpal Singh Shergill

THE World Sikh Organization of Canada has called upon the Government of Canada to raise concerns with respect to human rights and freedom of religion with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Canada next week.

India is the world’s most populous democracy.  And while having a strong economy, energetic media, and a robust judiciary, India continues to be confronted with serious human rights challenges.

The WSO has submitted a brief to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson outlining issues of concern in light of the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Modi.  Specifically, the WSO has expressed concern over: (1) escalating attacks on minority communities in India, particularly Christians and Muslims; (2) continued attempts to marginalize the Canadian Sikh community by members of the Government of India through baseless claims alleging a rise in “Sikh extremism”; and (3) the intimidation and coercion of Canadian Sikhs by Indian officials in Canada with respect to the granting of Indian visas.

The WSO has called on the Government of Canada to follow the recent example of US President Barack Obama in insisting that India uphold freedom of religion for all its citizens, including religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims, who have come under increased attacks since Prime Minister Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the BJP (the Bharatiya Janata Party) came into power last year.

The WSO brief also rejects Indian claims of rising “Sikh extremism” as unsubstantiated and hails Harper’s comments during his November 2012 trip to India, clarifying that violence or terrorism cannot be confused with the right of Sikh Canadians to hold and promote political views, including those that governments may find disagreeable.

Finally the WSO has expressed concern over members of the Canadian Sikh community facing ongoing pressure and coercion by Indian consular officials in Canada with respect to the issuance of Indian visitor visas. Several Canadian Sikhs, including prominent community leaders, media personalities and politicians have faced harassment and denial of visas to India due to their criticism of India’s human rights record.

WSO President Dr. Amritpal Singh Shergill said on Thursday: “Actions speak louder than words. While India proudly claims to be the largest democracy in the world, its human rights record requires substantial improvement. We are concerned by the increasing number of attacks on Christians and Muslims across India over the past several months. Prime Minister Modi must take steps to ensure that these attacks are stopped.”

Shergill added: “Increased trade and economic ties between Canada and India are important for the prosperity of both countries.  However, Canada has a paramount duty as an international defender of human rights to encourage India to protect its religious minorities and to uphold freedom of religion. Silence is the greatest enemy of human rights, and our government has an obligation to ensure that it raises these concerns with world leaders whenever possible.”