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Monday, October 26, 2009

Human Rights in India and Pakistan

At a side-event during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council in October this year, several panelists sought to provide a comprehensive picture on human rights in India and Pakistan.

One panelist focused on human rights in Orissa, India. In Orissa, 2.3% of the population is Christians, half of which is Roman Catholic. During Christmas 2007 and August-September 2008, planned and systematic attacks were carried out against Christians by the Hindu nationalist organization led by the BHP. During the 2008 attacks, more than 100 Christians were slaughtered, resulting in the largest persecution of Christians in India since independence. The excuse was the previous murder of the BHP activist/leader; Christians, however, see these actions as part of the ‘Hinduization’. By mid-October, the State arrived at some sort of peace. That said, the BHP imposed clear conditions on the returnees (those Christians who had fled), stating that the Christians could return provided they convert to Hinduism and did not initiate any course cases against the attackers. Given these conditions, despite the miserable conditions, many Christians chose to stay in the camps, which had been formed after the attacks, because they felt threatened. Many of the Christians filed reports with the police, however the police refused to register the reports, and, those petitions that were actually filed, were also registered as one. The Christians, who were targeted in these attacks, demanded that the state pay for damages/ due compensation; this, however, has been strongly opposed by the BHP. Many of the Christians cannot return due to the culture of impunity.

Another panelist conveyed the circumstances in Gujurat, a state in India, suggesting that the lessons learned from the violence in Gujuart in 2002 should be applied to Orissa. In 2002, nearly 2,000 people were killed, 107 of which were burned alive, and 205 families were permanently displaced. Following the events, the government did not offer to conduct investigations, nor the chance for dialogue or something along these lines. Moreover, only 59 postmortems have taken place so far. Even human rights organizations have been shying away from responsibility. Even if individuals and/or families can afford to rebuild, companies will not sell to them. Furthermore, witnesses are killed if they are willing to help, so almost always they will not present themselves as witnesses to the court. On the whole, the picture is one of social and economic disparity/disproportion. How can we strengthen the democratic institutions in India? How can we work with the youth? How can we create awareness? “We need to strengthen democratic structures and the democratic system.” India was founded on secularism and democracy. These are still there, however, in the last few years there has been a systematic movement to break this. At present, India is approximately 80% Hindu, within which are various castes and cultures. Despite this there seems to be a “uniting factor” under the desire to build a kind of Hundu nation. Wherever there is a sizable situation, there will be a movement against minorities, like Christians or Muslims for example, where hate campaigns are systematically carried out.

Another panelist presented us with the human rights environment in Pakistan. He spoke of recent attacks against minorities, stating that violence has been allowed because the government and society have different manifestations. We see much communal violence in Pakistan. This is largely because Pakistani blasphemy laws allow for violence to go unchecked. On the whole, we see much organized violence. For instance, terrorist attacks as well as a pattern of using and abusing blasphemy laws. These laws were inducted into the Penal law between 1980 and 1986 by the previous military dictator as a form of protecting the honor of the Prophet and the Koran. They are problematic because they are religion specific, whereas Pakistan is multi-religious. In addition, on technical grounds, these laws are not complementary to international laws and justice. Moreover, they do not define the very crime. Successive governments have failed to take a stand on this. Consequently, about 966 individuals have been victimized by these laws, nearly half of which were religious minorities; 33%, 15% of which were Christian and 15% Hindu. Effectively, Pakistan is a struggling democracy. In order to make it successful, it is necessary to repeal these laws. The fight against extremism should include an ideological stand against the abuse of religion. On the whole there is an appetite against religious minorities in laws, the constitution, and policies; non-Muslims are also barred from certain offices. During UN Universal Periodic Reviews criticisms are denied. In this way, we are in need of reports on the status in Pakistan, like in other countries, in order to create awareness. The last report on religious tolerance was in 1995. Since then, none have been invited. in Pakistan, an extreme form of which is perpetrated and aimed at specific communities. In Pakistan minorities equate to about 3% of the population; 1.6% is Hindu and 1.5% is Christian. In this way, Pakistan is “sitting on many flashpoints” as well.

A fourth panelist spoke about the role of the World Council of Churches (WCC). While the 20th century was a century of religion, the 21st century is one about politics of identity. The fundamental question is single identity versus dynamic identities. The people being attacked are not just Christians, they are also people who are poor, tribal, and dalit; they are attacked because of a variety of reasons. The main issue behind all of this is: how do you keep a static identity and commit people to one? A second observation is that together with the growth of fundamentalism, there is the loss of democratic space. As a result, individuals are taking laws into their own hands. How can we proceed? Government agencies don’t necessarily need to act upon pressure from below. There needs to be a space where we can put pressure on governments and they will feel lit. Minorities can come together, or, perhaps the Human Rights Council, the UN, or other governments can put pressure externally. The WCC is trying to respond to some of these challenges faced by minorities in India and Pakistan, but it cannot do so alone.


Human Rights Nexus said...

(19 November 2009) Note: Nine people were convicted and imprisoned in connection with anti-Christian riots in Orissa; though the local court acquitted five others, one of which was a legislator from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Jana Party (BJP), who were accused of rioting. The violence in Kandhamal district, which followed the killing of a Hindu religious leader and four others, left at least 40 people dead and more than 25,000 homeless. Kandhamal district witnessed weeks of anti-Christian violence after the religious leader was shot dead. Clashes erupted after hardline Hindu groups blamed Christians for the killing. The government set up two fast-track courts to deal with the cases relating to the riots.

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