Addressing the monthly press conference, held here today at the JIH Headquarters, JIH Vice President Prof. Mohammad Salim Engineer has noted that many friends and trusted countries such as the US, Canada and Germany urged India to improve its human rights record and protect minority rights and freedom of speech, in the latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The UPR is held every four years as a mechanism to examine the human rights records of member states. He said, “there were calls to curb hate speech and hold accountable public officials who advocate religious hatred. Others hoped that India would review the design and implementation of the National Registry of Citizens (NRC) to avoid statelessness, deprivation or denial of nationality, arbitrary detentions or expulsions. Others urged India to ratify the UN Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).”
Noting that India has a history of supporting the cause of human rights and freedom however, Prof.Salim said that India’s track record in terms of protection of the human rights of its religious minorities, human rights activists, and journalists deteriorated significantly, in recent times. He said, “our international ratings on certain key indices related to human rights have declined significantly. India ranks 150 out of 180 countries in the 20th World Press Freedom Index 2022. In the 2022 World Justice Project (WJP) – “Rule of Law Index”, India was ranked 77 out of 140 countries. Our scores are particularly low in factors like fundamental rights, security, law and order and civil and criminal justice.”
The JIH Vice President urged the government to take the reports and advice from the friends and partner countries very seriously and sit with leading members of civil society and human rights activists to listen to their grievances. “All efforts through legislation and executive action should be initiated to make India a champion of human rights both at home and abroad. This should be endorsed by the international community and be in consonance with our internal assessments. By doing so, we will uphold our constitutional values as well as strengthen civil liberties and democracy,” he added.
Speaking on religious conversion, the JIH Vice President has welcomed the verdict of a two-judge bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which recently ruled that the authorities could not force citizens to declare their intention to convert their faith. In its recent order, the high court called it “ex-facie unconstitutional” to force citizens to notify the government about their desire or willingness to convert their religion. Prof. Salim said, “the verdict is in tune with Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which allows “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion. A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar, which is presently hearing a petition on ‘forced and fraudulent conversions’, correctly observes that ‘propagate, charity, everything welcome, but within the framework of the Constitution. The intention should be very clear. That is the first thing that needs to be considered.’”
The JIH Vice President said that petitions that allege mass conversions in which people were converted under duress seemed to be politically motivated as petitions were not backed by hard data. He said, “people changing the faith in which they were born have not reached numbers that may be termed alarming. Moreover, the existing provisions in our legal system are sufficient to take care of any such malpractices. There is no need to promulgate another new “anti-conversion” law by the states. What is paramount is to protect the constitutional guarantee of freedom to practice and propagate religion.”
JIH Markazi Taleemi Board’s (Education Board) secretary Syed Tanveer Ahmed has expressed grave concern over the decision of the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs to discontinue the Pre-Metric Scholarship for students of Classes 1 to 8 from the minority community. He said that the government was depriving the students belonging to the minority community of their legitimate rights in the name of Right to Education (RTE) and the objective of providing a level-playing field to all. Mr. Tanveer said that it would hamper the students of minorities in the crucial years of their early education and increase their dropout rate and further damage their prospects of securing a bright academic career. He observed that several surveys demonstrated that minorities, especially Muslims, lagged in both primary and higher education while the pre-matric scholarship supported the poor, underprivileged, and marginalised students both girls and boys, to access educational opportunities. Urging the government to restore the pre-matric scholarships once again for students of Class 1 to 8, he added, “the future of all such students now hangs in balance.”