The President of the Conservative Muslim Forum, Lord Sheikh, speaks frequently in the House of Lords. While the full text of all Parliamentary speeches can be found in Hansard, we have collected some of his speeches on this website to make them easier to access.

17 MAR 2016

India: Freedom of Religion

The House of Lords held a short debate on the following question asked by Lord Singh of Wimbledon:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the extent to which Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, relating to freedom of religion, is being upheld in India.

The full debate can be read at this link. Lord Sheikh spoke at 5.25pm and his speech is copied below.

Lord Sheikh

My Lords, I was born and raised in east Africa, but my father originated from the Punjab region of India. I am proud of my Indian roots. I have traced my family history back to 1812 and found out that one of my forefathers was a Minister in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Government. I have just finished a book on the life of the Maharaja that will be published shortly. I mention this for a reason, as the Maharaja treated all his subjects equally and, irrespective of their racial or religious beliefs, they were treated very well. India has one of the oldest civilisations in the world and throughout its long history there has been an influx of different classes of people. As a result, India is a rich and diverse nation.

When India attained its independence, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and other leaders made it very clear that India would be a secular state. As a Muslim, I would like to say that Maulana Azad was a man of vision and a very able First Minister of Education when India gained its independence. India is home to 1.3 billion people, who belong to all the major religions of the world. More than 780 languages are spoken there. We must recognise and appreciate the institutions that have developed within the country to support the rights of all citizens. It must be remembered that India has no state religion and that the state does not discriminate between religions. Additionally, the state cannot impose any tax to promote a religion or to maintain a religious institution.

The Indian constitution ensures that every citizen of India has the freedom to profess, practise and propagate his own religion. Therefore, citizens can follow their own religions and beliefs. We should all remember that India took an active role and was originally instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that we are discussing here today. India is fully committed to the rights laid out in the universal declaration, being a party to the six core human rights conventions. In India, every citizen has a right to invoke the highest court of the land directly where violation of fundamental rights is concerned, under Article 32 of the constitution. Furthermore, discrimination in public employment on grounds of religion is prohibited under the constitution.

India has its own National Commission for Minorities, which is mandated to recommend effective implementation to protect the interests of minorities by the central and state Governments. Since 1993, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians have been noted as minority communities. I stand here as a Muslim of Indian origin. Approximately 15% of the country is Muslim, totalling about 180 million people. I stress ‚Äčthat recent terrorist attacks that have taken place within India, such as the Mumbai attacks, were not perpetrated by Indian Muslims.

Yesterday, I attended a function at the residence of his Excellency, the High Commissioner for India, to celebrate the presentation of his credentials to Her Majesty the Queen. The present High Commissioner of India, his Excellency Mr Navtej Sarna, is a Sikh. In a country such as India, it must be appreciated that in recent years there was at one time an Italian lady who was leader of the Congress Party, a Sikh Prime Minister, a Muslim President and a Hindu Vice-President. We must all appreciate that anyone can reach the top in India irrespective of their religious beliefs. However, we must also accept that there have been some aberrations on human rights, which we all abhor. I am sure that, with the will of the majority of Indians and the Government, these undesirable blips will be ironed out. I am confident of this. India is a great country and I am sure that it will overcome the occasional prejudicial and undesirable practices.

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