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Ahead of Modi visit, US Senator Ben Cardin rakes up ‘religious intolerance’ and ‘human rights violations’ in India

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Washington: A key American senator was sharply critical of India on alleged human rights violations, extra-judicial killings and religious intolerance, and said these were “national challenges” that the country faces.

Senator Ben Cardin, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called upon the Indian government to address these issues which, he said, he would be raising with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for whom he is hosting a reception in Washington next week.

He made a specific reference to India’s anti-conversion laws and said these had been framed long ago but were being used in some parts of India to infringe on people’s right to religious freedom.

Cardin alleged that there were extra-judicial killings in different parts of India which cannot be allowed to continue.

Cardin also talked about alleged corruption, crime against women and human trafficking in India saying these challenges must be addressed by the government. The senator was delivering a talk on ‘Role of Good Governance in International Relations’.

Talking about “religious intolerance” in India, he said the “problem” has different dimension in different parts of the country and that there was an “greater and urgent need” to address it.

India must address challenge of “human rights violations, religious intolerance, trafficking, he said, adding India’s federal structure was creating impediment in effectiveness of various national policies to ensure good governance, he said “Good governance is challenged by India’s federal system. We believe in federalism. It can help the country with the right type of policies.

“However, the current federal system in India is challenging the effectiveness of national policies…There are extra-judicial killings in India. Its different in different areas of the country. That cannot be allowed to continue,” he said. On anti-conversion laws, he said “they are being used in some parts of India to infringe on people’s rights to religious freedom”.

“These are national challenges,” he said while enlisting the “problems” being faced by the country.

Referring to violence against women, he said the crime against them have been permitted to exist for “too long” and an aggressive national policy was need to deal with the issue. The crime against women should not be tolerated at any level, he added. Cardin said Modi has been invited to address the US Congress in his “capacity as Prime Minister of India”.

He said the US was trying to elevate standards of governance through implementation of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The TPP currently having around 12 countries is aimed a enhancing flow of goods, services and investments among them, and to strengthen the rules on labour standards among others.

Responding to a question that while Modi was a pariah in the US until recently, he is now being invited to address the joint session of the Congress, Cardin said, the relationship between the two countries is “not about one person”. “The Prime Minister was not invited to address the joint session of the Congress because of his name but because of his country,” he said, adding this is “representation of the importance of that relationship” between the two countries.

He said the relationship between India and the US will continue to go strong beyond the election of the next administration in the US. “It underscores by the fact that here we are in an election year in a Republican controlled Congress and PM is to speak before the joint session of the Congress,” Cardin said.

“The PM has presented a platform for India that brings our countries closer together and shares so may of our same visions, including the human rights, including on religious tolerance, dealing with human traffic and all the issues that we care about. He has presented a package that brings us close together and the one we want to work with the Prime Minister in dealing with that,” he added.

Cardin, however, denied that raising this issue will have any impact on Prime Minister’s visit to the US.

Ruling out that by raising these issues of corruption and religious tolerance could hamper the relations between the two countries, Cardin said, “its in context to which the relationship is only getting stronger between the two democratic countries.” Raising the issue of corruption, he said, “In the 2015 Human Rights Report, officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity and corruption was present at all levels of the government and this should be unacceptable to the people living in India and it cannot be allowed to continue in a democratic country.”

Cardin said that Modi has “acknowledged” the challenges he has in his own country about corruption and has taken steps to deal with these issues. Noting that a strong economic foundation in India will allow a greater capacity to deal with some of the human rights challenges, he said this will help in providing sanitation and drinking water facilities to a number of families in the country.

Cardin said he was “impressed” with Prime Minister Modi’s call for “zero tolerance” against corruption but it needs more strong laws. “The Modi administration has been speaking out against corruption. He is known to have a zero tolerance at least by language, but they need to act by strong laws and by enforcing those laws. That’s where we will find that India is making the right action,” Cardin said.

The US Senator said he is in India to raise human rights and corruption issues and have raised them with the government officials.

He added that sanitation and providing clean drinking water was a major human rights challenge in the country. Cardin said during his visit to India he has met Union Minister of state for Environment and Forest Prakash Javadekar and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar. Referring to a UN report, he said India has been named in the tier 2 list of countries in human trafficking and the issue was “troublesome”.

“The Global Slavery Index report states that India has 14 million people trapped as forced labour, which they called slaves,” he said, referring to a news report that the figure has now gone to 18 million, which 1.4 per cent of the population.

He said some “corrupt” officials protected suspected traffickers and “took bribe”.

PTI

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