Gurpreet Singh: Canada opens door to Asia Bibi while remaining silent over persecution of minorities in India

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      It’s a great day for those who were campaigning for safe exit of a Pakistani Christian woman who was facing death for alleged blasphemy.

      Asia Bibi, who was accused by the Islamic fundamentalists of insulting Prophet Mohammad, has finally arrived in Canada.

      She was convicted in 2010 under Pakistan's draconian antiblasphemy law following a fight with her neighbours in the Muslim-dominated country. Last year, she was on a death row until the Supreme Court overturned her conviction. Despite that, the Pakistan government couldn’t ensure her safety from Islamic extremists. And two of her daughters had already been granted asylum in Canada.

      Those raising their voice for Bibi in Canada argued that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has failed to protect Christian minority, who make 1.6 percent of the country’s population. They have also been demanding the scrapping of the antiblasphemy law in Pakistan.  

      The former governor of Pakistan's Punjab state, Salman Taseer, was assassinated in 2011 by religious extremists after advocating for mercy to Bibi.

      While Canada did the right thing by opening the door for her, the Liberal government owes an explanation for its studied silence over growing attacks on Christians and other religious minorities in the neighbouring country of India.

      A huge spike in violence against Christians and Muslims has been reported in India ever since the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.

      The BJP believes in turning India into a Hindu theocracy and considers Christianity and Islam as alien religious beliefs. The party has frequently accused Christian missionaries of converting poor Hindus and other marginalized communities, such as Dalits (so-called untouchables) and Adivasis (the Indigenous peoples of India).

      The BJP has also patronized Hindu fanatics involved in violence directed at Christians, who make up merely 2.3 percent of the national population.

      The governor of Pakistan's Punjab state, Salman Taseer, was murdered in 2011 after defending Asia Bibi.

      This year marks the 20th anniversary of the gruesome murders of an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two sons, aged 10 and 6. They were all burned alive by Hindu extremists in the state of Odisha in January 1999. Their ringleader, Ravinder Kumar Pal, alias Dara Singh, was convicted for the killings. And he was part of a group that has ties to the BJP.  

      Odisha witnessed its worst massacre of Christians in 2008 following the assassination of a controversial Hindu ascetic by Maoist insurgents. Even though Maoists had claimed responsibility for his murder, more than 50 Christians were killed in a well-organized pogrom by Hindu fundamentalists.   

      BJP supporters have often tried to rationalize such incidents by blaming Christian missionaries of conversions that are mostly prompted by caste-based discrimination against Dalits and Adivasis in a Hindu society.  

      Notably, the BJP ruled states that have passed stringent laws against conversions even though country’s constitution guarantees religious freedom. The matter does not end here. Christian prayers are frequently disrupted and churches remain under police surveillance.

      Muslims are much more viciously attacked by the Hindu extremists. The community continues to face allegations of being involved in terrorism and antinational activities. They are also roughed up and lynched with impunity on suspicions of consuming beef. As Hindus consider the cow a sacred animal, the self-styled "cow vigilantes"—with police protection—have been involved in series of attacks on Muslims who were suspected of being involved in the cattle trade.

      In spite of the fact that many Canada-based South Asian activists have been raising the issue of minorities being under attack in India, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never came out with a strong statement against his counterpart in New Delhi. It is difficult to understand the compulsions of Trudeau as he remained silent on these issues during his February 2018 visit to India.

      Justin Trudeau never publicly criticized India's human rights record when he visited the country last year and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

      While the Modi government pulled no punches in criticizing Trudeau for alleged activities by Sikh separatists in Canada, Trudeau couldn’t muster the courage to challenge the Indian government on its poor human rights record.

      This can be partly attributed to the fact that India’s garb of democracy has been taken for granted by many world leaders and Canada needs India as a trade partner. On the whole, it only reflects poorly on Canada, which claims to be a human rights leader in the world.

      If Canada can open its doors to Asia Bibi and Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan who recently escaped from the wrath of Taliban, it obviously has eyes set on the South Asian region. How come what is happening in India has not entered into its consciousness? That, of course, is not the case.

      Yes, we welcome Bibi, but Mr. Trudeau, that isn’t enough. The activists from Indian diaspora are not asking you to bring refugees from India. They are only asking you to speak out and stand up for the minorities being persecuted in that country. 

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan