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India – Is the G20 host failing to live up domestically to its own global vision?

Article by Rita Manchanda

September 4, 2023

India – Is the G20 host failing to live up domestically to its own global vision?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s projection as the Vishwaguru (global seer) finds the ideal occasion as India gets ready to host the G20 Summit. The ‘Modi moment’ envisages steering the G20 towards a collective inclusive global vision, with the host country having selected the theme “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (One Earth-One Family-One Future) for this year’s Summit.


Meanwhile, within India this motto has been cruelly undermined due to instances of violence that pull at the seams of both ethnic-religious-caste diversity as well as sexual chauvinism. It leaves Indian civil society wondering whether the distinguished participants of the Summit will care that in Manipur, in the country’s Northeast, an ethno-religious civil war has been raging for over three months? The conflict has left behind a wasteland of scorched houses and churches, raped women and brutally killed men, with 60,000 forcibly displaced women and children. All the while, the state has effectively gone into hiding, or worse become complicit. 


Towards the West of India, in the latest incident of anti-Muslim lynching, a Railway Protection guard on the Jaipur-Mumbai Express shot dead his senior and three bearded passengers. The guard carried out his actions while shouting a hate-filled rant against Muslims that he asked compliant passengers to record and share on social media. 


Up North, the country’s once sole Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, now divided and diminished to a centrally administered territory, is paraded as ‘normal’ to the point that its capital Srinagar is the venue for the G20 Tourism Working Group meeting. Conveniently ignored however are the reports of the 5,000 people arrested to quell any outcry against the Government’s action in August 2019, that watered down Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status. Detained under the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and PSA (Public Safety Act), getting bail has proved difficult.


Also overlooked is the iron grip on Kashmiri journalists and human rights defenders, many of whom have been arrested, while news platforms have been blocked and others have been stopped from travelling abroad. Central rule of Delhi prevails and an administration run by outsiders from J&K established, new service rules have unleashed a witch hunt against Kashmiri officials. Representative government has been dismantled and its restoration hanging fire for over four years. A massive security cover of an estimated 343,000 forces makes possible ‘normalcy’ but at a cost, attacks on central armed police forces have increased, Kashmiri Pandits and migrant workers continue to be intermittently targeted by home grown militants, and the mountainous districts of Rajouri and Poonch are now on the terrorist radar.


‘Women led development’ is a G20 sub-theme, and the populist commitment to women’s empowerment is much favoured and projected at home. Awkward then that the international media have run headlines regarding the expose of sexual terrorism in Manipur via a notable ‘viral video’ (which breached the blanket internet ban) as well as the surrounding immunity for mob lawlessness, and the nonchalance of the head of the administration who casually alluded to hundreds of such atrocities taking place. Will the world’s powerful take a pause during the Summit and remember the huge failing of the Indian judicial system that took place a mere year ago? In August 2022, Bilkis Bano, who against all odds fought to get justice for gang rape and the brutal murder of her family members in Gujarat 2002 violence, watched in fear as the 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment were released.


Lastly, this year’s G20 Summit is to be an opportunity for promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. Such anomalies as the Indian Government using its brute majority to fast track the Forest Conservation Act Amendment Bill (2023) and remove the checks to rapacious development, are easily overlooked. When the Indian arms and investment market is in the balance, evidence of laws and policies to discriminate and even disenfranchise own citizens are best ignored. Sadly it seems that India is in too ‘sweet’ a place multilaterally to bother with human rights.


Rita Manchanda is an independent Gender-Peace & Conflict Researcher and Human Rights Advocate.

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