Rutte discussed human rights with Modi. But he forgot to mention the Bhutanese refugees

A discussion with the Dutch over trade and commerce is the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s priority, but in the minds of Dutch politicians, the visit of Mr. Modi to The Netherlands gave ways to question about human rights and religious freedom, rather than to issues like trade co-operation or commercial entrepreneurship. This has a lot to do with the Mr. Modi’s political party, the BJP – under the cliché of ‘radical Hinduism’.

After about 13 years the prime minister of India is visiting The Netherlands. This time, on the 27th June, Mr. Narendra Modi met the Dutch royal family, prime minister Mark Rutte (along with the secretary for Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders) and a group of Dutch CEO’s.

‘Not everyone is enthusiastic about the policy of prime minister Modi and his Nationalistic Radical Hinduistic Party – BJP. Yet there is business to be done’, aired the Dutch National Radio NPO1 in the morning. Adding to this cliche, Mr. Peter van Dale, delegate for the Christenunie to the European Parliament and also to its India delegation, declared to hope that the Dutch ministers would raise the issue of India’s bad record for human rights and religious freedom to Mr. Modi. According to Van Dale, Mark Rutte and Bert Koenders have already prepared a dossier over the issue, to discuss with Modi at the Catshuis in The Hague today.

A dossier like this was apparently not prepared during the visit of the Indian Congress Party leader Man Mohan Singh in 2004, when he visited Holland as Prime Minister – however the record of human rights may have been known back then. Thus, pre-conceived notions upon political parties may play a bigger role at decision making than the real situation.

Alarming report

Last week, the delegate for India in the European Parliament, together with his Socialist Party counterpart, published a report on human rights and religious freedom worldwide. This report states that the situation in India is alarming. What seemes to be not palatable to the European politicians is the earlier reference of Mr. Modi to his hindu nationalistic agenda: that he wants ‘to see the position of Hindus, wherever they may be, is made better’.

In this approach, outsiders express that the situation of hindus is being improved at the cost of ‘christians and muslims’. Besides, allegations are that violence against the laboring citizens, the dalits, women and children is increasing. Also, earlier the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs was confronted with issues: helping the disadvantaged in India through NGO’s is getting more difficult, the Jubilee Campaign is not progressing and visa regulations are tightened.

Neglected issue

An issue that is totally neglected, not only by the Dutch, but also by Indians and the European Parliament: the prolonged Bhutanese refugee problems. More than one hundred thousand Bhutanese ethnic Lhotshampa minorities were forcibly exiled during the 1990’s, as part of the then monarchy’s drive to ethnic cleansing – a measure to reduce the population of the minorities (the Dutch would call them immigrants).

Supporting the Bhutanese Buddhist monarch, democratic India forced the fleeing Bhutanese refugees out of India and dumped them in Nepal. They are also hindus. If they had been christians or muslims, the monarchy could not have done this and world opinion would have condemned it and prevented the crisis. India did not allow these exiled Bhutanese to go back to Bhutan via its soil. After twenty years of stalemate, western countries including The Netherlands are bringing these refugees as third country resettlement; a form of forcible exile, of forced migration. But this issue was not in Mr. Rutte’s or Mr. Koenders’ agenda for the talk with Mr. Modi yesterday

A moral duty

There are more than 10,000 Bhutanese refugees in the UNHCR camps in Nepal. They want to go back home to Bhutan. But Bhutan doesn’t want them repatriated and no one, vis á vis international communities, could urge Bhutan to take them back. Even though Bhutan now has a democratic government and security is adequate. India has a moral duty to help carry the burden of this limbo, at least by allowing them to return to Bhutan and not block the border. Or it should grant them the status of ‘Person Of Indian Origin’, at par with the others – given that Modi wants to see the situation of hindus improve worldwide. As long as he is not doing this, it’s the duty of the Dutch government to encourage him, as part of the human rights providence. Are the rights and freedom of the exiled Bhutanese refugees not important?

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Journalist. MComn. from The Hague University. Masters Thesis on Media Relations. Professional Video Editor (Final Cut Pro Certified). Cameraman.