Why is Australia afraid to call out rights violations in India?

Aug 18, 2023
International pressure fist on Indian scales of justice.

Last month, news emerged that two Indian women belonging to the minority Kuki tribe in Manipur had been raped and then paraded naked in public.

The rapes were said to have taken place in May in what is claimed to be the world’s biggest democracy, but which nowadays looks more like a dictatorship.

It took until July, when a video of the shameful act surfaced, for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to apologise, describing the act as having shamed the country and vowing to punish those behind it.

The Indian army has been in charge of Manipur for more than two months due to the fact that ethnic clashes have broken out there between the minority Kuki and the majority Meitei tribes. The latter are Hindus and the former Christians. About 150 people have been killed in the clashes between the two tribes and 60,000 others have been displaced.

Given the army’s control of Manipur, it is highly unlikely that the Indian government was unaware of the shaming of these women until it came to light in July.

But nobody has asked any questions of the government. Would Modi have said anything if the video had not come to light? Given his attitude towards people belonging to religions other than Hinduism, it is extremely doubtful.

Australia is a country which has lionised Modi a great deal, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese even describing the Indian leader as “the Boss” in likening him to the American singer Bruce Springsteen during his visit to Australia this year.

Albanese and his Foreign Minister Penny Wong often take aim at other countries for violations of human rights. Have either of them said a word to Modi or his ministers about the ultimate act of shame, against women? The silence from Australia is deafening.

Yet we see the Australian government call out many other countries – China, Iran and others – for rights violations. Why does India get a free pass? Is it because the US is trying to get India to act as some kind of bulwark against China?

The ugly events in India are not an isolated incident. Under Modi, there have been numerous assaults against Muslims and people of other faiths.

Recently, an ABC reporter, Avani Dias, faced a difficult situation when she was reporting on the increased tendency of India’s film industry, known as Bollywood, to make films that glorify Hinduism. Dias interviewed one film-maker, Vivek Agnihotri, who made a film titled Kashmir Files about what he claimed were the travails of Hindus in Kashmir, a majority Muslim state.

During the interview, Dias was interrupted by Agnihotri’s PR people who told her not to ask some questions. Later she was told not to use the interview in the program, Foreign Correspondent, which screened on the ABC in August. The ABC, one is glad to say, ignored this bid at censorship.

Dias could not obtain an interview with the government minister responsible for the film industry for the program.

She was working as the ABC’s South Asia correspondent at the time, and made mention of the atmosphere of fear in India among those who oppose Modi’s backing of Hinduism and opposition to other religions. She is now back in India, but one understands will only stay for another year.

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