The top EU human rights official said he raised a number of concerns during official meetings in New Delhi with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, including NGO funding restrictions, recent communal violence, the situation in Jammu & Kashmir and the condition of religious minorities.

However, the official minutes of the meetings published by the NHRC and the Ministry of Minority Affairs do not refer to the contentious issues raised.

The concerns were said to have been raised when the European Union’s special representative for human rights, Eamon Gilmore, who was a guest speaker at the MEA’s Raisina dialogue this week, met the Indian officials with his delegation. The talks took place just ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s European tour which begins on Monday, where he will visit Germany, Denmark and France.

In separate tweets posted ahead of his departure on Friday, Mr Gilmore said he had “also ‘discussed’ the role of the NHRC in relation to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), detentions, bail, sedition and anti-terrorism laws, UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act], minorities and individual cases”. Mr Gilmore linked the list to the NHRC’s version, which instead only said that the Chairman Justice Arun Mishra”[had asked] the visiting European Union delegation to work together to improve the cause of human rights throughout the world”.

“Apart from a brief overview of the functioning of the NHRC, various aspects of human rights were also discussed, including the issue of patent and affordability of life-saving medicines and issues of terrorism,” the statement said, posting photographs of delegation meetings, which included Members of the CNDH (retired) Judge MM Kumar; former Ministry of Foreign Affairs official DM Mulay; and the former director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Rajiv Jain.

According to sources at the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Mr Naqvi told the delegation that “no major communal riots have taken place in India since 2014”. Mr Naqvi also dismissed Mr Gilmore’s claims as ‘isolated incidents’ which were given a ‘common colour’. The whole attempt, he said, is to define the Narendra Modi government. Mr. Naqvi did not respond to Mr. Gilmore’s tweet.

Mr. Gilmore’s description of the meeting with Mr. Naqvi was also at odds with the official government version released. As the Minister of Minority Affairs tweeted that he “briefed the delegation on the effective results of social welfare programs carried out by Narendra Modi’s government for the socio-economic and educational empowerment of all sections of society, including minorities,” Mr. Gilmore’s response referring to the earlier statement, he said he discussed “the FCRA, the use of sedition and anti-terrorism laws, detentions , the situation of minorities, communal violence, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and individual cases”, with Mr. Naqvi.

According to sources at the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Mr Naqvi told the delegation that “no major communal riots have taken place in India since 2014”. Mr Naqvi also dismissed Mr Gilmore’s claims as “isolated incidents” that were given a “common colour”. The whole attempt, he said, is to define the Narendra Modi government. Mr. Naqvi did not respond to Mr. Gilmore’s tweet.

The MEA, NHRC and Ministry of Minority Affairs did not respond to requests for comment on the issues discussed at the meetings in Delhi, or the reason for the discrepancy between the two. Sources at the ministry said The Hindu that Mr. Gilmore’s remarks had been “strongly countered” during the meeting.

Although the EU did not respond to a specific question about the ‘individual’ cases mentioned, sources said Mr Gilmore, who had previously issued a harsh statement of concern over the death of Jesuit priest Stan Swamy in custody in July 2021, had also discussed the matter during his meeting. In a statement referring to concerns by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights that Mr. Swamy had been wrongfully charged with terrorism, Mr. Gilmore hailed Mr. Swamy as “a defender of the rights of indigenous peoples “.

An NHRC official, who did not confirm whether the Stan Swamy case was raised at the meeting, however said it was an individual case under court order. The NHRC had intervened by issuing a notice to the Maharashtra government on July 4, 2021 to ensure that “all possible medical treatment” was provided to him.

It is the first time that a senior dignitary visiting Delhi has publicly raised the issue of recent communal violence that has followed religious processions in seven states. The issue of approximately 6,000 NGOs that have lost their FCRA license to receive foreign funding, including several NGOs working on climate change and labor rights, has also not been raised at this level so far.

( With contributions from Damini Nath)