On 1 April, the German parliament published answers by the government to questions raised by the parliamentary group of Die Linke, a German political party, on human rights in India. Members of Die Linke—which literally translates to “The Left”—had asked the federal government 45 broad questions on its views and actions on several issues about India. These included questions concerning the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019; the impact of last year’s lockdown to contain COVID-19 on Adivasi, Dalit and Muslim communities; the arbitrary arrests of human-rights defenders; the weakening of labour laws; the 2020 farm laws; and the growth of Hindu-nationalist organisations in Germany. In response to several questions, the German government said it was monitoring the situation in India closely and raising issues with the Indian government. The German government acknowledged that some issues raised by the Die Linke members were valid, but stopped short of condemning the Indian government.
“In the opinion of the questioners, things are bad for democracy and rule of law in India,” members of Die Linke wrote in a strongly-worded introduction to their questions. On 1 April, the Bundestag, the German parliament, published the introduction along with Die Linke’s questions followed by the answers in the same document. Michel Brandt, a member of the German parliament and a signatory to the questionnaire, told me, “India is seen as a strategic partner and as a major market for Germany, so they always think twice before admitting there has been a severe backslide in terms of democracy in the country.”
The 1 April report was signed by Die Linke’s parliamentary group. It specifically mentioned the names of nine signatories from the group as well, including Brandt. Brandt is in charge of India’s affairs as a part of the German Parliament Human Rights Committee. To substantiate their questions, the Die Linke members cited articles—by publications such as The Guardian, The Scroll, The Wire, The Caravan—and reports by advocacy groups and research organisations including CIVICUS, Project Polis and Amnesty International. They also quoted reports by Collective Against the Violation and Abuse of Civil and Human Rights, or CAVACH, a Germany-based activist group.
The introduction to the questions elaborated on the concerns of the Die Linke members about the political situation in India. They said that according to CIVICUS, which defines itself as a global civil-society alliance, “the civil society space continues to close and the quality of democratic processes has been decreasing” since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in 2014. It noted that when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, he was “partly to blame for the escalation” of the anti-Muslim riots that took place in the state in 2002. Following the violence, the Die Linke MPs noted, Modi was unwelcome in the United States and some European countries for a few years.
The Die Linke members noted an escalation in authoritarian behaviour after Modi’s re-election in 2019. “The police and the military violently oppose activists and protesters, human rights defenders,” they wrote in the introduction. “Human rights defenders are being … searched and harassed. Freedom of the press is increasingly restricted, and arbitrary arrests, violence, and torture and extrajudicial killings are common. The Indian Government uses a variety of draconian laws to operate under the guise of national security to silence government critics and human rights defenders.” The document specifically mentioned the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 2019, the National Security Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act of 1978 as tools to restrict the civil spaces in India.
The German government responded to five questions about the deterioration of civic space and attacks on human-rights activists in India in one answer. The government said that it was observing the developments in India, which it identified as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious parliamentary democracy. “At the same time, poverty, traditional caste thinking and religious or ethnic prejudices can fuel human rights abuses,” the German government noted. “The indigenous people (Adivasi), casteless people (Dalits), women and children as well as religious minorities (among others Christians and Muslims) are most often disadvantaged and are most often victims of human rights violations.”