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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman's response to a US diplomat's tweet criticizing India over the hijab issue in Karnataka was not unexpected or unusual. Rashad Hussain, the United States' International Ambassador at large for Religious Freedom, described the ban on the hijab as a violation of religious freedom and discrimination against women. Responding to questions from the media, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the matter was being considered by the court and that the democratic system and the constitution of India will handle the matter appropriately. He also pointed out that 'motivated statements' about internal issues of India are not welcome. As formal and official response, this is what would normally be said about the matter. At the same time, counter-arguments have been raised against the official spokesperson's response. The fact that singer Rihanna's tweet linked to the farmer uprising and a US official's tweet against sectarianism were taken up by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and of MEA spokesperson respectively indicates that more than the issues, it is the image that concerns them. Despite the argument that foreign intervention is inappropriate, we also have an obligation to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter, to which we are party, are not violated. Even as it is said that foreigners should not interfere in the internal affairs of the country, opinion and disagreement cannot be forbidden. Moreover, in the past, we have reacted to religious hatred and violence against Sikhs and Hindus in the United States.

At the same time, each country has a responsibility to ensure that its citizens are not discriminated against or treated unfairly. Care should be taken not to create a situation that calls for criticism – which is how criticism can be averted. Unfortunately when international media, friendly countries or national media speak up on issues in the country the government has resorted to belittling, insulting and trying to silence them instead of engaging in critical introspection. And this instead of not eliminating criticism, will only sharpen it and strengthens its basis. An example is the blocking of database sites about hate crimes in India. Although two websites that could have facilitated the administrative correction were eliminated, FBI in the United States released its own report. the U.S. Southern Poverty Law Center reported that hate crimes in India during 2020 was the highest in a decade; the Global Investigative Journalism Network in Maryland, USA also published statistics on hate attacks in India. When many organizations and movements, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and Genocide Watch, report on the situation in India, they cannot be countered by statements alone. Seventeen groups, including Amnesty International and Genocide Watch, came together to conduct a at the briefing for the U.S. Congress the other day; prominent figures, including Noam Chomsky, critiqued the situation in India with facts and figures.

Those who make such 'interventions' point out that India is undermining its own constitution and tradition. They say the goal is not to intervene, but to alert the conscience. Only we can convince any one that there is nothing to fear in India. It requires correction and administrative action. Rule of law is realized when at the time of injustice and violence, the victims are protected and the perpetrators are punished. When New York Times and the Washington Post point out that no minister or ruling party leader has come forward at the national level to condemn the genocide in Haridwar or the campaign against religious minorities, the MEA spokesperson's claim about our 'democratic ethos and policy' is also is questioned. Of course, our Constitution, the judiciary and other institutions have the capability for fair governance and required correction. The political leadership only needs to let them do that.

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TAGS:Hijab ban in Karnataka Rashad Hussain internal affairs Global Investigative Journalism Network 
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