AHMEDABAD – Christian and Muslim groups in Gujarat have told a UN official that their government harasses them for standing up for the rights of the poor. UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya visited Ahmedabad Jan. 17 to hear human rights defenders from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan states. She met the activists after meeting with state officials. Christian groups in Gujarat told the visitor that the government treats them as “second class citizens” when they try to protect the rights of tribal and dalit people.
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people’s party) led by Narendra Modi has ruled Gujarat since 1995. Jesuit activist Father Cedric Prakash told the UN official that in 2004 the Gujarat government labeled him anti-national, registered a case against him and sought to seize his passport. The priest was among the few to protest when Hindu radicals attacked Muslims in 2002. Three-month long Hindu-Muslim riots killed more than 2,000 persons, mostly Muslims. “Because of my stand on human rights violations, several Church personnel and institutions are denied of what is lawfully theirs,” Father Prakash said in a written submission to the UN official.
Father Prakash now directs a human rights center in Ahmedabad and represents the Gujarat United Christian Forum for Human Rights. Suhel Tirmizi, a Muslim, said the government tried unsuccessfully to cancel the license of five lawyers who defended the 2002 riot victims. R. B. Sreekumar, the state’s former director general of police, said that the government punishes its officials who try to defend religious minorities. The Hindu official was denied promotion by the government for not toeing its line. Mallika Sarabhai, another Hindu human rights activist, said the government forced her staff to file false case against her when she moved the Supreme Court to hold Modi responsible for the 2002 anti-Muslim violence.