‘India can help stop persecution of Baha’is’
By Gaurav Sharma
New Delhi – India can play a very important role in stopping the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, says international human rights lawyer Payam Akhavan.
Akhavan, 46, who has served with the UN in erstwhile Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Cambodia and teaches in Canada’s McGill University, was in the capital recently and spoke about the “misery” of Baha’is – Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority community – whose cause he has indefatigably advocated.
“India does not have to behave like a dominating American or European power. It can use its tremendous diplomatic leverage and moral credibility to urge the Iranian government to stop this sort of prosecution,” Akhavan, a Baha’i who was born in Tehran and moved to Canada when he was nine, told IANS in an interview.
With an estimated 30,000 practising Baha’is in Iran, its people have been subject to imprisonment, torture, arson, murders, religious persecution for decades for practising a faith that Iran considers “heretic”, according to a UN report. The Baha’i faith was founded by Prophet Baha’u’llah in the 19th century and believes in the oneness of religions.
India, which has always opened is doors to persecuted people from other faiths, has around two million Baha’is who have built an iconic temple, called the Lotus Temple because of its unique shape, that is a landmark in the Indian capital.
Akhavan has recounted the horrors of the 1980s when thousands of Baha’is were imprisoned and tortured and their cemeteries bulldozed soon after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. He says that hatred and persecution of Baha’is have become the “central platform” of the Islamic republic’s self-definition.
“They are portrayed as American spies,” he said.
Akhavan said it would be India’s “mistake” to ignore the human rights issue in Iran with which this country has ancient ties.
“I think it is a mistake for a country like India, in the name of narrow definition of national interest, not to discuss the human rights situation in Iran, not to vote in favour of UN resolutions because their only interest is in buying gas and oil and in trading.”
“It is a pity if India cannot exercise its moral leadership on the world stage,” Akahava said.