Human rights and Indian minorities

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, but this holding-back is the only suffering you could be able to avoid”
_ Frank Kafka…

“Minority” is such a vague term. The permanent court of International Justice (PCIJ) in 1930 said, “ a minority is a group of persons living in a given country or locality, having a race, religion, language, and tradition of their own and united by this tradition of race, religion, language, and sentiments of solidarity, with a view to preserving their traditions, maintaining their forms of worship, ensuring the instructions and upbringing their children in accordance with the spirit and traditions of their race and rendering mutual assistance to each other”. This judgment of PCIJ became a starting point for the definition of a minority put forward by Professor Capotori in his report on the protection of minorities in 1977.

Article 25 of the Constitution of India provides for freedom on Conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion “subject to public order, morality, and decency and other provisions of course”. It has guaranteed right to religious and cultural freedom to all persons and groups as “sections of citizen” having a distinct language, script or culture of its own and minorities based on ‘religion and culture”.

The right to cultural freedom again constitutes one of the cornerstones of minority rights under Article 27 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), under which Indian Govt is accountable to UN Human Rights Committee, to which it is required to submit periodic reports on its implementation.

The 1992 UN Declaration on Minority Rights goes beyond minority’s right to preserve its culture, language and script and puts the positive obligation on States to not only protect the national, ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities but also requires them to create favorable conditions to enable minorities to express their characteristics and to develop their culture, language, tradition and customs”.

In India, the word “minority” is mostly used in the context of religious communities—Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jews, and now Jains have also joined the fray. The Constitution of India has recognized religious minorities. Out of the total population of minorities, Muslims comprise the most percent, followed by Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and others. India has world’s second largest Muslim population, with 135-40 million Muslims, only next to Indonesia.

Though Indian constitution offers equal opportunities of education, employment, political representation, but still most of the minority communities are at loggerheads since a long time now with majority community and with the state. Punjab situation in early 90’s, Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute, belligerent onslaughts on Christian Missionaries and desecration of Churches are some of the unfortunate events of our times that have contributed a great deal in tarnishing the image of India as a secular, liberal nation.

In fact this minority related dilemma is for all nations in South Asia. Bangladesh with Chakamas of Buddhist origin, Pakistan with Hindu and Christian minorities, Sri Lanka with Tamil minorities and Bhutan with Nepalese so on. Kashmir continues to a major cause of worry, a nuclear flash point, and the source of turbulence in entire region. Terrorist incidents are on rise. The minorities’ issue in South Asia is becoming further problematic because of the increasingly violent dimension that it’s acquiring in certain parts of the sub-continent.

The facts responsible for the denial of minority rights could be broadly divided into four categories: The ideological foundations of the states that promoted and maintained ethnic, linguistic, or religious superiority of the majority groups; the communalization of politics and politicization of religion; lack of awareness among the minorities about human rights and democracy and the ideology at political and social level.

Exploitation of the rights of minorities goes on several fronts. The rights of religious minorities, ethnic minorities, dalits, tribal, women, and children, poor and disadvantaged are frequently violated with utter disdain. Despite run-of-the-mill commissions set up to look after the interest of these specific groups viz, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Minority Commission, National Commission for Women (NCW), besides enacting of laws like Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 to stop atrocities against Dalits and Tribal, and Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act, Sati Prevention Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, despite all that, crimes against weaker sections of society and women haven’t ceased.

The Human Rights Committee of ICCPR while commenting on the report that India submitted before it in 1997 had noted with concern the continued severe social and political discrimination against national minorities, ST’s, SC’s, and OBC’s. It regretted the de-facto perpetuation of the caste-system entrenching the social differences. Discussing the status of women, the committee noted—under-representation of women in public life, religion based personal laws violate the right to equality of women. The injustices perpetuated against lower caste people (Dalits) are not merely social but also economical. They have been victims of discrimination in the sphere of education and employment for centuries. Prime factors responsible for it are—socio-economic structure, various legal measures and to top it all, the lack of political will. The caste system is a social bane. NHRC has aptly termed it a “historic wrong”.

Newly emerging human rights groups have now raised another problem, namely the problem of the rights of Indigenous people. Indigenous people are also called ‘first people’, ‘tribal’, ‘aboriginals’, ‘autochthons’ etc.

They number around 300 million in over 70 countries on 5 planets. As per Human Rights Watch report, Dalits and Indigenous people (ST’s or Adivasis) continue to face discrimination, exclusion, acts of communal violence. It says laws and policies adopted by Indian Govt provide a strong basis for protection, but are not being faithfully implemented by local authorities (India Events of 2007—Human Rights Watch). Amnesty International in its report says, ‘it’s the responsibility of Indian Govt to fully enact and apply its legal provisions against discrimination on basis of caste and creed (India Unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 million victims of caste-system, 2005).

Notwithstanding Article 19 (5) of Indian Constitution giving them right to move about freely, settle in and acquire property, they are still a deprived lot. The forest dwelling tribal population has not only lost their land, but also their livelihood. It’s an irony that the rich natural resources and mineral wealth of tribal areas is prime cause of land alienation among tribal people. Govt on the pretext of development and modernization is displacing them from their lands, resulting in their starvation. Sarguja in M.P, Kalahandi in Orissa, Palamu in Bihar, Soubhadra in U.P, Dhulia in Maharashtra to name a few.

In Dec 1993, the United Nations Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women was adopted. It strictly prohibits violence against women, and calls for universal application of the rights and principles with regard to equality, security, liberty, integrity and dignity of all human beings. But despite that, women have been up against worst kind of hardships. They have been killed, tortured, raped, harassed, ill-treated, and taken hostage by groups representing extremist ideologies, and even those having official sanction.

Children are also the victims of rights violations. Child labour continues to be menacing concern in this country. The minimum age for child labour in Indian Child Labour Act is 14 years, slightly lower than ILO’s 15-year bar. But still innumerable children keep toiling hard below that age, forced to do demanding and backbreaking labour.

There is no agreement on the magnitude of child labour in India. The carpet industry in Mirzapur, glass factory in Firozabad, match and fireworks industry in Sivakasi, gem polishing in Jaipur and Surat, brassware units in Moradabad, carpet manufacturers in Kashmir, and lock industry in Aligarh are some sectors where the incidence of child labour is quite high.

It is caused by an inequitable economic system that ensures all does not share the benefits of economic growth. As Justice P.N Bhagwati says, “It’s not result of widespread poverty, but one of the factors which perpetuate poverty” (Gathia, Joseph 1992, “Analytical Study of Child Labour” Centre of Concern for Child Labour, New Delhi). Amnesty International have slammed India’s human rights record on following two grounds—First is the violation of human rights by troopers in so-called “disturbed areas” like Kashmir and North-east and secondly the widespread violation of children rights due to child labour.

Even Human Rights watch world report 2007 criticizes India saying, “The leading human rights concerns in India include the failure to implement policies that protect the rights of children”. But the problem for children doesn’t stop at child labour. Despite much hyped scheme launched two years ago to provide universal education, millions of children in India still have little or no access to education. India accounts for a significant proportion of the world’s dropouts. This is because most children belong to deprived communities, marginalized sections have to make choice: to work for living, or to die of starvation.
The serious issues of child trafficking are also on upswing. But more disturbing is how innocent, hapless children are being exploited by vested interests. It is pertinent to note that in Chattisgarh state, children are being made to participate in the violent activities. All parties to the conflict, including Indian Govt and the Naxalites in taking on each other in no-holds-barred clash, are using them as pawns.

A Human Rights Watch report on the Chattisgarh Conflict—“Dangerous Duty: Children and the Chattisgarh Conflict 2007” presents a clear picture as how the two parties in conflict are exploiting children, and how the conflict is taking toll on these children a and how it is adversely affecting their education. The report is based on information gathered from over 160 interviews with villagers, Salwa Judum camp residents, police SPO’s and former child Naxalites in Chattisgarh state. Joe Baker, a children rights activist for Human Rights Watch notes in the report, “A particular horror of Chattisgarh conflict is that children are participating in the violence. It’s shameful that both India’s govt and the Naxals are exploiting them in such a dangerous fashion”.

But when the topic veers to religious minorities in this country, human rights discourse turns on its head. By the definition given by UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment for the Crimes of Genocide, India is the only democracy in world of having treated its minorities to not one but four genocide killings in the time span of 18 years. Delhi (84), Bhagalpur (87), Bombay (92), Gujarat (02). Sikhs were the targets in first, and Muslims were the targets in rest of three. Now recently, Christians also came under the receiving end of ring-wing Hindutva fanaticism in Orissa, Karnataka and Kerala and M.P. So we can say, minorities in this country continue to live on the edge, even after 60 years of Independence.

But if we muse back into past, we see that the communal clashes in this country have been prevalent from around the time of independence. Among the oldest incidents of communal violence in India was Moplah rebellion, when suspected Muslim militants massacred Hindus in Kerala. During partition, worst communal riots broke out during which large numbers of people from either of communities were brutally mowed down in large-scale violence. Then after a brief lull, there was a storm again in 1984 in the shape of anti-Sikh riots, staged and sponsored by secular-centrist Congress Party of India, post Operation Bluestar and cold-blooded assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguard. In the 4-day period of riots, some estimates say around 2000 were killed (Nicholas Burns, ‘Politics of Assassination: Case Studies and Analysis’). The most affected regions were neighborhoods in Delhi.

There are serious allegations that it was organized by State and so Govt later destroyed evidence and shielded the guilty (Swadesh Bahadur Singh, ‘Cabinet berth for a Sikh’ Indian Express 3 Mar 96). The Asian Age carried a front-page story calling govt action “Mother of all Cover-ups” (Seema Mustafa, 03 May 96). Ten commissions and committees have so far inquired into the riots and many of the accused were acquitted or never charge-sheeted. Latest report of Nanavati Commission was submitted in Feb 2004. It claimed evidence against Congressmen Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, H.K.L Bhagat for instigating the mobs to violence. It also held then police commissioner S.C Tandon directly responsible for the riots. It was a gruesome carnage engineered against Sikhs. As India Today wrote, “Criminally led hoodlums killed Sikhs, looted or burnt homes and properties while the police twiddled their thumbs (Nov 15, 1984). Even noted author Khushwent Singh, a close confidante of Mrs Gandhi says that he felt “like a refugee in my own country, in fact like A Jew in Nazi Germany”.

Dev Dutt, a Delhi journalist recounts the gory scenes of that afternoon, when “communal riots flared through the capital. Mobs of young men on motor cycles burnt, raped and pillaged the pre-dominantly Sikh areas of city The shops run by Sikhs were razed to ground Police either did nothing or egged the protestors on” (mytholyoke.edu).

Harvinder Singh Pholka, man behind Citizens Justice Committee fighting for the 84 riot victims says the pitiable saga still continues, as “victims are victimized in courts too”. He believes judiciary actively supported a cover-up, saying “All cases were not registered; many of those registered were closed by the police and did not reach the courts… Also there has not been exhaustive inquiry on who is responsible and how all this happened” (Times of India archives 2004).

Josy Joseph writes, “The police looked the other way round as the politicians led marauding mobs into the city”, further adding that it was an “organized massacre of minority community by politicians and their supporters”. (TOI archives, 2004)

But the saga continued. It was followed by anti-Muslim riots in Bhagalpur (87) and Mumbai (91-92). The latter took place after the demolition of Babri Masjid and subsequent serial blasts. About 1000 people were killed during the course of riots, mostly Muslims. As a result, large number of Muslims was forced to migrate from Hindu-majority areas to Muslim-majority areas, drastically changing the demographics of city on religious lines. Lakhs of others migrated to other relatively safer states like UP.
Majority of victims fell prey to utterly atrocious acts like stabbing, mob brutality, physical assaults, loot, arson, and shootouts. Property worth crores was razed to pits. Farah Baria elaborates, “Not the cold, impersonal genocide of terrorism, but vindictive, visceral violence of loathing that turns neighbors into butchers and friends into murderers” (Indian Express 31 Aug 07).

Maharashtra police was literally given the free run, as Govt and law-enforcement agencies stood paralysed. Political bigwigs like Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, then CM Manohar Joshi, BJP leader Gopinath Munde, were fully throwing their weight behind the rioters, as Sri Krishna Commission report revealed. Farah says, “then to add insult to injury, the “Muslim” bomb trail was conducted in a high-profile TADA court, while the “Hindu” riot trail was quietly consigned to a commission of inquiry—that classical Indian euphemism for official stonewalling” (Indian Express 31 Aug 07).

Sri Krishna Commission report implicated Shiv Sena and its leadership for the bloody mayhem. It put blame squarely on its chief Bal Thackeray. Report says, “Thackeray like a veteran general commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organising attacks against Muslims”. But then CM and Thackeray’s ‘Man Friday’ Manohar Joshi had blatantly opted to resign than take action against his mentor. So expectedly, the report was swiftly shelved by the Govt and even later by successive govts, fearing the alienation of Hindu vote bank. Chaggan Bhugbal, who was the leader of opposition in Maharashtra when the report was tabled, had categorically refused to agitate on the report, recalls Jyoti Puniwani, “What do you expect? I punish every policeman, and make force my enemy?” Bhugbal had said. (Times of India 07 Aug 07).

When Congress govt came into power, it promised the implementation of the report and justice to riot victims, but it only proved eyewash. The report has been gathering dust for over a decade now. It’s amusing to note that while 100 “Muslim” accused were brought to book for the heinous murder of 257 in the Bombay riots case, not even a single person has been convicted in connection with Bombay riots case. Double standards indeed.

Gujarat was the next stop. Following the Godhra train fire that claimed 57 lives of Hindu pilgrims, over a thousand Muslims were mowed down in cold blood by angry mob (Human Rights Watch, 2006). And as Ashish Khetan says, “in its aftermath, more than 2000 people, many of them women and children were massacred and thousands rendered homeless in one of the Independent India’s worst communal pogroms” (Tehelka 11 Oct 08). Gujarat CM Narendra Modi had rather brazenly justified the bloodbath as a ‘natural’ reaction to the events at Godhra, thus confirming official sanction to the carnage. It was by all accounts and evidences a state-managed pogrom, executed by Saffron fanatics led by VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, at the behest of people in higher echelons of power led by C.M himself. Hence Modi govt had to do everything to bury the truth under layers of lie, obfuscation and fabricated evidence.

A one-member Commission of Justice K.G Shah formed by Gujarat Govt on 06 Mar 02 was later turned into two-member Commission with Justice G T Nanavati as its chairperson. Both of them had obviously got the briefs from Govt, and they acted accordingly. And little strange, its report released recently turned out to be a “bundle of lies”, giving a “clean chit” to Modi Govt for their connivance in riots. Tehelka investigation had already blown the lid off the entire thing. Its tapes raised serious questions over the impartiality of the Nanavati-Shah Commission and of its two members. In a disturbing statement, the Gujarat Govt’s special prosecutor Arvind Pandya had told Tehelka under-cover reporter that Justice Shah was “BJP Govt’s man” and Justice Nanavati “was only after money”. That explains everything.

Amusingly enough, while dishing out report, Commission neither summoned the report nor examined the Tehelka tapes and even failed to initiate inquiry into the revelations of the tapes.
In Sept 04, Railway Ministry instituted a second Commission of Inquiry under Justcie U C Banerjee, who in a speedily concluded report, stated that the fire in coach 6 was “accidental”. And, as noted human rights activist and Journalist Teesta Setalvad says, “It becomes a sordid justification for unleashing the post-Godhra carnage across Gujarat” (Tehelka 11 Oct 08).

“Once Gujarat happened, the reaction of the state govt was painfully slow. Was it slow or was it kept deliberately slow? It took no measures worth the name,” notes A N Dhar (Narendra Modi’s Gujarat in M L Sodhi and Apratim Mukherji ed “The Black book of Gujarat”). Justice J S Verma who headed NHRC during the Gujarat carnage says, ‘The very first intervention of NHRC in March 02 clearly suggested that both police and highest functionaries of state govt were inactive in protecting its people” (Tehelka 11 Oct 08). He says Vajpayee could have intervened but he didn’t. Gujarat, post-Godhra and protracted communal carnage that followed has become a place of deep communal polarization. Muslims in Gujarat continue to live in fear.

Furthermore, Muslims in this country allege discriminatory treatment both from Govt as well as from mainstream media. They have been stereotyped as anti-nationals and renegades by the media. Gen secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy, Javed Anand says, “When our investigation agencies say Pakistan’s ISI or LeT, Bangladesh’s Jihad-e-Islami, SIMI, or Indian Mujahideen is suspected of being responsible for blasts in one city or other, its considered (rightly so) and is displayed prominently on front pages. But when anti-terrorist squad of Maharashtra Police, not merely suspects but after investigation files charge sheet in court accusing “Bajrang Dal” activists of engaging in “terrorist acts” with covert logistical support from other wings of Sangh Parivar, that is not news” (Times of India 24 Sept 08).

The other minority community that has been in the line of fire is Christians. They have suffered equally worst in the course of history at par with Muslims or Sikhs. They have been called ‘traitors’, ‘thieves’, and ‘second class citizens’. (M S Golwalkar ‘We or our nationhood defined’ in A G Noorani “RSS and Christains” Frontile 1 Jan 99).

The hallmark of Christianity, contrary to widespread perception, is love-personified. Contrary to wild and cheap allegations levelled by Hindutva hoodlums, Church doesn’t engage in forced or mass conversions, rather its missions scattered across the country run orphanages, hospitals, schools, homes for old and disabled. But still they have been accused of brainwashing Hindus into converting to Christianity with monetary allurement—an outlandish and exaggerated charge of course. They have come under attack from Hindu extremists on several occasions.

It may be recalled how on Christmas Day in 1998, Christian institutions including 37 churches were brutally attacked by right-wing activists, ostensibly with the backing from power corridors. The Home ministry informed Lok Sabha on 28th Aug 2001 that there were 417 attacks on Christians in India since 1999 in which 33 were killed and 283 injured (Free Press Journal 2 Sept 02).

Very recently, Christians had to again relive the nightmare in Orissa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Since August 08, reports of attacks on Churches and Christians in different parts of these states have been flying flick. The rise of attacks especially in Karnataka has coincided with the coming to power of BJP Govt, which is ideologically aligned with RSS. K L Ashok, Secretary of Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum talking to Tehelka said, “The conversion debate and all questions of forceful conversion are unsustainable arguments. The constitution gives everyone the right to practice, profess, and propagate religion. Besides why doesn’t the law of land apply? Why not register police complaints against those who indulge in ‘forcible’ conversions? They have no evidence, nothing to hold against Christian community” (Tehelka 04 Oct 08).

The impact on Christian and Muslim minorities due to the spread of communal venom and rapid communalisation of politics is far glaring and perilous. If the wisdom doesn’t prevail now among those holding power and if the fanatics on prowl are not reined in, consequences can be ominous for India’s great age-old secular-liberal traditions.

As Martha Nussbaum notes, “In the case of India, the threat to democracy comes not from any clash between European and Non-European civilizations but from something much more sadly familiar: a romantic European conception of nationalism, based on ideas of blood, soil, purity and the Volksgeist” (The Clash Within, Permanent Black, 2007).

The show-stopper

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

On stage he is a super-charged animal, a show-stopper. But off it, he comes across as a boy-next-door, humble to fault.

Meet Ulrich, a young, dashing keyboard player of rock band Bandish. A talented musical star, who has literally crawled his way up the ladder of success. Ulrich has literally come a long way from being a “naughty child” in his native place Goa to becoming a recognized name in Delhi’s musical circles. Without any formal training, he has had more than his share of struggles and bumpy rides. “It has been a typical ‘deep-hole’ but somehow I managed to emerge unscathed and stronger,” he says with a broad grin. “I was almost direction-less, didn’t know what to do, and never really fancied my chances to come this far.” But as they say, lady luck favors brave. And it did in Ulrich’s case.

Born and brought up in Goa, Ulrich was always into music. Though his family scoffed at his preference, his mother went out of her way, pushing him to learn guitar in school. “Parental support is pre-requisite for an aspiring musician. I never got it,” he rues. But that didn’t stop this dreamer from moving on. He worked hard and literally made it on his own. “It was tough but I couldn’t have backed out anyway,” says Ulrich, who was incidentally a great “breaker dancer” in school.

Propelled by the never-say-die spirit, Ulrich announced his arrival on big stage in 1990 with a band called Destiny. Then five years later, he took a decision that was perhaps to change his life forever. He shifted base to Delhi to “give shape to his dreams”. In Delhi, He formed a rock band called Tantrik with a bunch of like-minded amateurs in 1995. It was a giant stride ahead and helped him get noticed. After a decade-long stint with Tantrik, he was approached by rock band Bandish to play keyboard for them. “Though it was a tough call to choose between Tantrik and Bandish, I opted for latter,” says Ulrich. With that began his new musical journey with Bandsih. “It is a sheer privilege to play for Bandish, alongside bunch of deadly musicians, churning out mind-blowing music,” he says. The band has performed all across globe and commands a huge fan following. “Our much-awaited second album will be out soon,” informs Ulrich, who has been with with the band for last two years. “It has been awe-inspiring experience with all three bands I have played for, but then it’s my own hard work and devotion that has paid off,” he says. Adding that, “naughtiness on stage” has also helped a bit.

Besides Bandish, Ulrich also composes music for ad jingles, animation films, musical plays. “I like to experiment with every kind of music. It’s the satisfaction that matters for me.” Though, his first love remains stage shows. “Studio is bread and butter while stage is a challenge, it pushes you to limits,” he says. He is inspired by anything classical – retro, jazz, funk, Indian classical, and maintains that there is immense untapped potential in music industry.

He loves Indian and Western music equally, “as long as it comes from heart”. Ask him what gives him Goosebumps and he says when he gets down from stage and is mobbed by fans with autograph requests. For this passion-driven musician, success means “life”, and music is something which drives him towards that end.

Besides music, Ulrich is a travel freak. “I like to pack my bags and dash off to explore places.” He has a wonderful message for youth: “Don’t associate music addiction with drugs, alcohol or doping. Let’s not make it fashionable to play the music and down the shots,” he says.

Any immediate plans? “No, whatever comes my way.” “Live and let live” is the magic talisman of this young musician who has just started out to what promises to be a fantastic musical journey.

Institutionalising prejudice!

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Last week, ANHAD organized a well-attended conference “Being Muslim in contemporary India” here in capital city. It co-incidentally coincided with RD Tyagi, the former Mumbai chief, prime accused in infamous Sulaiman Bakery shootout during 92 Mumbai riots that killed nine innocent Muslims, being let off by courts.

Seventeen years post demolition of Babri Masjid and subsequent communal riots, many thorny questions remain unreciprocated. Why are the perpatrators still at large? Why have the likes of Advani, Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharati, Thackery, the masterminds, not been booked and punished for the horrendous crimes against humanity?

Soon after the demolition of Babri masjid, Bombay was rocked by serial bomb blasts, allegedly by Dawood gang. It followed the large-scale communal carnage of Muslims by Hindutva zealots led by Bal Thackery’s Shiv Sena. While the 100 accused for the heinous massacre of 257 innocent people in the Mumbai blasts are languishing behind bars now; the riots accused, all Hindus, are still at large, roaming around scot-free. On the other hand, the 1992-93 Mumbai riots victims are loitering around in what looks like endless quest for justice.

It’s pertinent to note that over 900 people, mostly Muslim minority, were ruthlessly mowed down in cold-blood on the streets of Mumbai, after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Dec 1992- Jan 1993. Majority of them fell prey to utterly atrocious and inhumane acts like stabbing, mob brutality, physical assaults, loot, arson, shootouts, and you name it. Property worth hundreds of crores was razed to pits. Farah Baria elaborates, “not the cold, impersonal genocide of terrorism, but vindictive, visceral violence of loathing, the kind that turns neighbors into butchers, and friends into murderers” (Indian Express, 31/8/7). If it was not enough, brutal Maharastra police, at the behest of political bigwigs like Shiv Sena supreme Bal Thackery, then CM Manohar Joshi, Gopinath Munde, then fired hundreds more, mostly Muslims, to death. Govt stood paralyzed, and law-enforcing agencies extended full support to these saffron zealots to target and terrorize Muslim populace. Farah adds, “then to add insult to injury, the ‘Muslim’ bomb trial was conducted in a high-profile TADA court, while the ‘Hindu’ riot trail was quietly consigned to a commission of inquiry – that classical Indian euphemism for official stone-walling”.

Commission was set up by then Congress govt of Maharastra in 93, and report was submitted to BJP-Sena govt in 98. In between, it was dissolved by BJP-Sena govt for fear of consequences. But following public uproar, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his first brief stint as PM ordered its reinstatement. The inquiry commission headed by Justice Sri Krishna did a commendable job, despite many hiccups. It took 5 long years, great deal of toil, braving all odds, intimidation and threats, in summoning witnesses, recording statements, documenting evidences, before finally tabling a 700-page report on February 16, 1998. The report squarely implicated Shiv Sena and its leadership for the riots and held its supremo Bal Thackery responsible, for triggering the mayhem. Report says, Thackery, “like a veteran general, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organizing attacks against Muslims”.

Then CM and Thackery’s “Man Friday”, Manohar Joshi, MP Madhukar Sarotdar also came under sword in the report for fanning the propaganda mills that blazed the riots. They had suggested that the terror unleashed by Sainiks was the only way to ensure protection of Hindus. BJP’s Gopinath Munde was also found guilty by the report. It also blamed NCP boss Sharad Pawar, and then defense Minister Sudhakar Roa. Congress party was charged with “vacillation” and “effete leadership” for permitting factional skirmishes to stock the carnage.

History is replete with cases when commissions were set up, reports submitted, but to no avail. Take for instance, Reddy commission report on Ahmedabad riots in 1969. Justice Reddy painstakingly put together the report, which implicated “big guns” for the communal bloodshed, but then state govt swiftly pushed it under the carpet. In 1970, Justice Madan Commission prepared report on Bhivandi-Jalgaon riots. It held Shiv Sena workers guilty for riots, and chastised police for exhorting to uncalled-for strong-arm tactics against Muslims. But this report too was put to cold storage. Gujarat pogrom cases are known to all.

Instead of providing justice to riot victims they have been traumatized over a period of time, and implicated in bogus cases for “daring to demand justice”. They continue to throng courts.

Sri Krishna report traces the roots of riots to LK Advani’s “rath yatra” to “celebrate” the demolition of Babri Masjid. But Shiv Sena and its supreme Bal Thackery are the prime targets. Thackery had made some provocative statements during that time in his party’s mouthpiece “Saamna”. On Dec 8, 1992, he predicted in advance what was in store was Muslims of state. He said “Muslims should draw a lesson from the demolition of Babri Masjid, otherwise they will meet same fate as Babri Masjid”. Then again on Jan 8, 1993, when mayhem was already on, he ordered his loyal Sainiks that “Muslims of Bhendi Bazar, Null Bazar, Dongri, Pydyoine, the areas we call mini-Pakistan … must be shot on target” (Saamna). Going by the law, it was binding on Maharatra govt to initiate legal proceedings against him under Sec 153 (A) of IPC for giving such communally sensitive statements.

Some people files an affidavit in High Court, but HC just “killed the time”, and then dismissed the petition stating that it was too late. Even apex court made no secret of its fondness for senior Thackeray, putting down the petition. Then CM Manohar joshi went on record saying he would prefer to resign than take action against his ‘mentor’ Thackery and other Shiv Sena workers.

Thus Thackery was let off both by High court and apex court for a “grave” offence. Thackeray also managed to get away because key witnesses couldn’t muster the courage to confess against him.

The role of police too has been seriously significant throughout the riots. Report says, “Evidence shows police personnel are found actively participating in riots, communal incidents, or incidents of loot, arson and so on. Commission strongly recommends govt to take strict action against them”. But we still are waiting. The report implicates 31 policemen for their role in riots. It hauls up 15 police officers of higher ranks, including joint Police Commisioner R.D Tyagi. Tyagi was charged with killing nine Muslim boys in “Suleiman Usman Bakery operation”. But still, Tyagi was later set free for “lack of substantial evidence”. Criminal cases lodged during the riots were abruptly closed down pending Commission report and action against police officers was also withheld on same grounds. Instead of taking them to task, Shiv Sena-BJP govt rewarded 10 of them with promotions, and one was bestowed with “hot seat” of Police Commissioner Mumbai. When report was tabled,

Bhugbal was leader in the opposition in Maharastra. He refused to agitate on report, fearing alienation of Hindu vote-bank. When he became Home Minister, recalls Jyoti Punwani, “he told the first delegation that met him, “What do you expect? I punish every policeman and make force my enemy?” (Times of India, 7/8/7).

That’s how policemen easily managed to get away from clutches of law, evidently with the blessings of their political “patrons” at helm. Jyoti Puniwani writes, “When Bhugbal prodded by the indignant Chief Justice A S Anand picked up a bunch of policemen to implement report- his directions were clear- get Sena leaders, clear policemen. Against former (Sena leaders), there was hardly any legal evidence. The mass of evidence against latter (policemen) was deliberately ignored. Naturally, no one was convicted”. When RR Patil replaced Bhughbal, hopes again went up, but only to crash down. He turned out to be no different.”

Congress-NCP govt in state had promised to implement the recommendations of the Srikrishna report. Sharad Pawar, NCP boss had categorically stated in his party manifesto, so had Congress. Signature campaign was launched by an organization called “Nirbhay Bano” (Be fearless) and duly submitted to CM office, but they remain unmoved till date. Several other petitions and pleas by various NGOs, rights activists, were also forwarded to people in higher echelons of power, but to no avail. Tushar Gandhi, grandson of MK Gandhi, also filed a public interest writ petition in Mumbai High Court, directing Maharastra government and DGP to register criminal cases against all accused for 92-93 riots, but nothing came out of it too.

Govt eventually found a novel way to wash off its hands from the case by handing over the case to Crime branch. One could make no sense of it. After all, what was the need that a report by an honest judge after a comprehensive investigation and scrutiny be shifted to Crime branch.

The truth is that for both BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP, the case was best, pushed under carpet. Former abandoned it as it could have spelt serious trouble for its leadership, while latter steered clear of it because it didn’t wish to alienate Hindu voters and more importantly powerful Maharastra police.

It’s been over a decade now since Sri Krishna Commission report was tabled, but its implementation remains a distant dream. As noted rights activist Teesta Setalvad says, “bomb terror should not be viewed differently from mob terror”.  But then, this is India.

Remembering the great revolutionary

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

As world observes the 20th death anniversary of the great architect of the Islamic revolution of Iran, the charismatic leader, champion of Islamic revival, Ruhullah Musavi Khomeini’s life remains a beacon of inspiration for all of us. As a western journalist Philip Shenon once observed, “even from the grave, Ayatollah Khomeini – so reviled and feared in the West, still so beloved by millions of the faithful here – is continuing to command influence in the nation that he led as its supreme spiritual leader for nearly 10 years.” (‘Khomeini’s Tomb Attracts Pilgrims’. The New York Times, 8 July 1990). Rightly so. And I would say, his appeal transcends the Persian borders, and runs through entire world.

On 24 September 1900, Imam took birth into a family in Khumayn with long tradition of religious scholarship. Noted biographer and writer Hamid Algar in Biography of Imam Khomeini traces his connection with India. He notes that “his (Imam’s) ancestors, the descendants of Imam Musa Kazim had migrated towards the end of 18th century from their original home in Nishapur to Lucknow. There they settled in the small town of Kintur and began devoting themselves to the religious instruction and guidance of the region’s predominant jafariya population”. He further adds that his grandfather Syed Ahmad had left Lucknow sometime in the middle of 19th century on pilgrimage to the tomb of Hazrat Ali in Najaf. In Najaf, he made acquaintance with a certain Yusuf Khan, a prominent citizen of Khumayn. Accepting his invitation, he decided to settle in Khumayn to assume the responsibility for the religious needs of people there. And thus, Imam became “Khomeini”.

However, his Kashmir connection also can never be ruled out. He had once penned down a letter to the highly revered Shia cleric Late Aga Syed Yusuf Almosvi, expressing his strong desire to pay visit to his ancestral land (with reference to Kashmir). The letter is still preserved with late Aga’s son and noted cleric Aga Syed Fazlullah.

Imam had a turbulent childhood, having had to face some tear jerking adversities much early in life. He lost his father as an infant, and was bereaved of his mother and aunt, who raised him, at the tender age of 15. But such hardships only made him more resolute and tough.

Imam was an inherently gifted and endowed child. He received his elementary education in Arabic grammar, logic and rudiments of other subjects from his elder brother Ayatullah Pasandedah. Then he went to Centre for Theological Studies in Araaq and studied literature there. When the Centre shifted to Qum, he joined Darushafa School. Gradually, Imam acquired great depth of knowledge in the key disciplines like philosophy, mysticism, and astronomy. He became an authority on theological and canon law, besides being well versed in intellectual and traditional sciences. Imam began teaching philosophy at the young age of 27, and wrote scores of books on a range of religious subjects. He tied nuptial knot with the daughter of a prominent clergyman at 30 and had two sons and three daughters.

Imam’s socio-political ideology was deeply rooted in Islam. In his book Kashaf-ul-Asrar, Imam writes, “Religion is the only thing that dissuades mankind from treachery and crime. Unfortunately those who take the helm of state in Iran either have a false faith or no faith at all (referring to Shah Regime of that time). These demagogues who speak fervently of safeguarding the interests of country really look after their own interests. After just few months in office, a minister would amass great wealth, so are they serving their country whole-heartedly”. Imam while condemning the hard-nosed policies of incumbent government then, always went out of his way to stand by oppressed and helpless people of Iran.

In 1960’s, the despot ruler of Iran, Raza Shah Pahlevi embarked on a mission to “westernize” the country. He was hell-bent on wiping off the distinct identity of Iranian Muslims and implementing the wicked designs of western forces, he had surrendered to. He became increasingly dependent on SAVAK (secret police) to control and suppress the resistance movement that was critical of his activities. Imam raucously resisted to his unholy plots. In 1962, a controversial bill was approved by Shah’s council of ministers, which called for “omitting” the “stipulation of Islam” clause in country’s constitution, even though constitution ordained all to believe in it. People who opposed the move were ruthlessly tortured, imprisoned and executed in cold blood to safeguard the petty interests of Zionist powers. Imam fought tooth and nail against it and managed to mobilize people for intense opposition to Shah’s west-sponsored move, which was nothing but an impious plot designed by Kennedy regime in US to make Iran subservient to US.

Imam in his address at Qum, on the occasion of Id-ul-fitr (1963) exhorted people to “stand firm against the illegal measures of the regime, never fear any showdown, if Govt resorts to force, don’t yield to it… we in the garb of Muslim clergy will fight for the cause of Islam. No force, however great, can silence us”. Imam’s fiery speech stirred the conscience of people and brought them out of their cozy comfort zone.

Imam’s massive popularity among Iranian masses was an eyesore to Shah’s regime. Shah’s secret police SAVAK threatened Imam to stop delivering speeches at Fareiyyah School, but Imam defied the warning and gave an even stronger speech one day. “We have come to the conclusion that they are against Islam and religious leadership. Israel wants to discredit Quran, our holy scripture, and wipe out religious leadership,” said Imam. This crushing speech left Shah in tizzy and he ordered his troops to arrest Imam and put him behind bars. Next day enraged people marched to streets in Iran and demanded, “Either death or Khomeini”. In these protest marches, some 2000 people were mowed down on the streets of Tehran and Qum alone. After Imam was released, he delivered a historic speech at Azam Mosque. “They call us reactionary people. The mullahs oppose the adversity of people suffering here (in reference to some pseudo-saints who had joined hands with Shah and US). We wish they were not humble servants of others. We do not, nor does Islam oppose civilization. You (govt) have violated all laws, whether divine or human. You have here military experts from Israel. You send Iranian students to Israel. This we oppose. We do not oppose freedom of woman, but we do not want woman to be made dolls, used for the lewd purposes of men. Your educational system is at the service of aliens”.

On night of Nov 4, 1964, Imam was detained and sent into exile to Turkey. Imam’s son Mustafa Khomeini was put behind bars, and after he too was sent into exile to Turkey. Turkish government acted tough on Imam, and later extradited him to Iraq. In Iraq, Imam resumed his activities. From Iraq, he continuously sent messages to people of Iran and Muslims world, enjoining them to practice Islam in letter and spirit and stand firm against machinations of imperialist forces.

During Imam’s exile, his son Mustafa Khomeini, 48, was poisoned to death. This didn’t deter Imam to surrender before powerful imperialist forces. While repressive and dictatorial measures taken by the despotic regime reached its peak in Iran, mass demonstrations persisted through entire country. Imam left Iraq to Kuwait, but government there didn’t accept him, as it didn’t wish to antagonize Shah of Iran. Imam then left for France. Protest movements back home intensified with each passing day. On 8 Sept, 1978, indiscriminate firing by Shah’s troops led to a massacre at Jaleh square, leaving around 5000 dead. The said square was later named as “the square of martyrs”. This followed unprecedented reaction from people. A resolution was passed demanding return of Imam Khomeini, and dethronement of Shah. This forced Shah to eventually flee the country. Then it was just the matter of time before Imam returned on Feb 1, 1979, amidst grand reception. It was the victory of ‘right’ before the ‘might’. Imam paved way for Islamic revolution through a movement that picked up in 1963 and culminated in great revolution in September 1979.

Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhiri pays rich tributes to his “mentor” in his book “Islamic movements in last 100 years”. “His name, memory, words, ardor of spirit, adamant will, firmness, clear-sightedness, and deep faith is spoken highly of by all people of all classes. He is the greatest and dearest of all heroes and pride of Iranian nation”. Indeed he is.

Imam himself was modest to core. Notwithstanding the fact that he was the chief architect of the Islamic revolution in Iran, he considered himself merely “a simple theologian” all his life. Today Iran is again at crossroads and there is a dire need of someone like Khomeini to assume the charge against the “arrogant empire” of West led by US and Israel.

Badi mushkil se hota hai chaman mein deedawar paida

Human rights and its abuses

Syed Zafar Mehdi

“I will not care whether truth is pleasant or unpleasant, and in consonance with or opposed to current views. I shall bear in patience the ridicule and slander of friends and foes, for speaking the truth”

… Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Eminent Historian

Most students of human rights trace the origins of the concept of human rights to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was closely tied to the doctrine of Stoics, who held that human conduct should be judged according to, and brought in harmony with, the law of nature.

Burns H Weston in “Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15 edtn, 2000”, emphasises that the expression “Human Rights” is relatively new, having come into everyday parlance only since World War 11, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the adoption of the UN General Assembly of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948.

Prof Panitkar, a human rights philosopher argues that the notion of human rights is western concept. Yet, he also argues that human rights are very necessary for a decent life in a modern world.
But it’s ironical that even after 50 years of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in most of the societies; we still find widespread discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, beliefs, etc. The incessant human rights violations despite several international conventions and treaties has emerged as a hot and burning topic of discussions and debates in academic forums.

The first World Conference on Human Rights was held in Tehran in 1968. Though the Tehran Conference affirmed the principles enshrined in UDHR 1948, it was not until World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna in 1993 that Human Rights assumed an authoritative meaning and force of implementation. The world plan of action was prepared called “Vienna Declaration” . Later as a follow-up, special attention was recommended for assessing the progress towards the goal of universal acceptance of International human rights treaties and protocols framed by UN.

The horizon of human rights is expanding rapidly. At the same time, crime rate is also on the upswing. One of the most challenging tasks today is to strike a delicate balance between the need of law enforcement on one hand and protection of citizens from oppression, injustice, rights violations at the hands of law enforcement machinery on the other.

In recent times, the increased awareness of human rights has led to many significant and sensitive issues coming under the purview and being framed as Human Rights questions. The blatantly overt attempts to gag the freedom of speech and expression, attack on women and child rights, caste-based discrimination against people from lower strata, incessant exploitation and subjugation of people from conflict ridden areas, targeted attacks on ethnic minorities have all been seen constituting the wider field of human rights breaches.

The forcible displacement of poor tribals from their land on the pretext of big booming development projects is also being articulated in the language of human rights . The excessive and unbridled use of force by security forces against innocent civilians after framing them under bogus charges also is a grave human rights concern. The right to dignified and peaceful life of minorities is also widely seen as threatened by endemic communal and sectarian violence under the benign eye of state.

The picture and overall human rights scenario in this country, the largest democracy in world is seriously grim. India is a multi-ethnic, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament and a population of around 1.1 billion. But arguably, there are some serious loopholes in functioning of this democracy at many levels, which have constrained ns from exercising their constitutional rights to their full potential. It may perhaps not be exaggeration to state that human rights record in this country id far from admirable, and under threat on many fronts.

Under Article 40 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the ratifying states of Covenant are obliged to submit periodic reports to HRC. India being a signatory has submitted three reports under ICCPR, though its been regular defaulter in submitting them on time. It submitted its first report in 1983. Second and third reports were submitted in 1989 and 1995 respectively. Third report was considered by HRC in1997. The committees’ comments and observations on the third report explicitly indicated that human rights situation in this country is far from satisfactory. Ever since, it may well be said, that situation has only turned worse.

The brazen violation of human rights by terrorist outfits across the country is well-known, so is the ominous threat posed by insurgents, Fundamentalist groups, which are sectarian, authoritarian, and totalitarian in nature. Insurgency refers to a situation of a largescale violent resistance by a group of people belonging to a region of the country. The deliberate targeting of innocent people to create terror in the public at large distinguishes the terror group. The term fundamentalist group refers to such minority, orthodox group which want to establish the domination of old scriptural norms of behaviour. All these groups are becoming serious threats to human rights, denying security of life, freedom of speech and expression, of religion, of property and others to the general public at large.
Threat to life is inherent in the terrorist method and logic, which involves surprise targeting and killing of mostly the unarmed and innocent people The well-known incidents of 110 passengers aboard a train in Punjab in Punjab by indiscriminate gunfire, spraying of bullets on sleeping immigrant labourers, hostile attacks on historic heritage sites, national monuments, and top-notch hotels, bomb blasts in country’s buzzing biz hubs which throw life out of gear.

The terrorist groups also identify the “other” as the hated enemy, not only the agents of State but also a community or a group of people. The UNFA targeted Muslims as “foreigners”, Bodos killed Chakmas in particular, the Khalistani terrosrists targeted teh people belonging to Hindu Community.
But far greater and hitherto least highlighted threat comes from those who are supposed to be our own custodians. They pose no less threat through the extreme measures adopted by State machinery in combating terrorism and fundamentalism. Dealing with these forces requires large scale effort for prevention, and addressing seriously to the causes and conditions that provide a climate to the birth and growth of unrest in society.

But over the years the succeeding governments both at centre and in the states have begun to curtail the citizens’ freedom through various repressive legislations. Although there are numerous laws protecting the human rights but enforcement has been awfully inadequate and convictions almost rare.
It’s not easy to pin-down, arrest and prosecute the terrorists according to the book of law. But far more important is the mindset of the functionaries of state. Security forces are not equipped well enough to demarcate between civilians and terrorists because suspicion of local people is intrusive to their operation. So in dealing with menace of terrorism and insurgency and related evils, they develop a rationale which is intrinsically blind to human rights.

We have seen how a poor slum dweller from New Seemapuri in Delhi became a hapless target for police and ended up being brutally killed after victimisation. (Capital Crimes: Deaths in police custody, Delhi 1980-97. “Peoples Union for Democratic Rights” (PUDR) March 1998). We have been seeing the extent to deaths in police custody and the number of tragedies suffered by women prisoners in jails. Add to it the cases of extrajudicial killings of persons in lockup, enforced disappearances, arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life, arrests, detentions, abductions, fake encounters, torture, rape etc.

We also witness brazen human rights abuses committed by the Executive against the codes, manuals and recommendations of different committees. The judiciary’s expanding role which reflects elitison notice than concern for poor, weak or needy. All these have a common thread— that’s is in the name of protecting the interests of state or a group of people, larger interests of people, mostly of the poorer sections of society and the underprivileged have become seriously compromised. On one hand we have the civil liberty organisations expanding but on the other there is unremitting increase in violation of rights by both state and its agencies.

The constitution itself gives the Executive and the Legislature enough opportunities to limit, suspend, and annul the individual’s rights notwithstanding the existence of fundamental rights.

One of the major ways in which rights of individual can be annulled is through the provision of Preventive Detention. According to the “State of Human Rights in India 1996”, about forty preventive detention laws exist in the statue books in India. The first of these was the “Preventive Detention Act 1950”, which was in force till 1969. “The Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958” has been used extensively in seven states of North-east and J&K. “The Maintenance of Internal Security Act 1971” was in force till 1978 and was used extensively against the political opponents of the then existing regime. Laws like the “Defence of India Act” were enacted after promulgation of internal emergency in June 1975. J&K Public Safety Act came into force in 1978, the Assam Preventive Detention Act and the National Security Act 1980 were both instituted in 1980 and the latter still continues to be in the statue book.

The full decade after the Emergency, probably the most notorious of them all- the TADA or Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985 came into force. This one created new procedures, new hierarchies, new restrictions on the life and liberties of people. An individual can be kept under detention for two years and this period can be indefinitely extended on same grounds, any number of times. It shifted the onus of proof on to the accused completely, upturning the fundamental norms of justice. The J&K Disturbed Areas Act 1990 also vests armed forces with huge arbitrary powers to arrest and abrogate the civil liberties of individual.

It is pertinent to note that in the years since it came into force, over 400 writ petitions, special leave petitions challenging the Constitutionality of TADA were filed in the apex court. The National Commission on Human Rights also actively campaigned for the repeal of the law. The appeals were finally heard by a constitution bench of Supreme Court in Feb 1994 after what has been termed as “Nine years of legislated violence” (Striking terror-The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Terrorist Activities Bill and its implementation, PUDR Delhi June 98). The main judgement noted that the business of notifying entire states as “terrorist affected” areas and of never de-notifying was wrong and could only be done on the recommendations of a review committee.

The judgement of apex court gives us indication of how the preventive detention provisions are used or misused. How without filing of charge sheets, the accused are kept in detention, refused bail and how definitions of “abetment” are so wide, that there may actually be more people behind bars, who may have nothing to do with terrorist activities.

Later came, another draconian preventive detention law, the most ruthless – Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). It was introduced by state govt, even though it was legally incompetent to do so. It may have been repealed but the law which replaced it— UAPA; it was a sort of repeat show. Now the latest anti-terrorism law in the garb of National Investigating Agency which has come into force in the wake of recent serial terror attacks across country and Mumbai attack has raised more questions than answers.
Smita Kothari and Harsh Sethi in their work “Rethinking Human Rights, Loykayan, Delhi 1993” say, “The emerging scenario of the politics of human rights in India is increasingly becoming complicated and problem-ridden. On balance, it does not appear too encouraging at this point in time in history, given the growing brutalisation of the state in its relationship to civil society as well as the increasing apparatus of the state to dominant interests keen on maintaining and augmenting the levels of oppression and terror”.

Although India has been following the tradition of AMBHAB since the inception of humanity, but its ironical that even after 50 years of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), in most of the societies, we still find widespread discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, etc. Actually, the issue of unabated human rights abuses despite several international conventions and treaties has become a subject of hot discussions in academic forums. India passed the Protection of Human Rights Act in 1993. In spite of this and the fact that India is a signatory to IBR, people of particular caste, creed and religion have been up against hell lot of hardships at the hands of some hate-driven extremist groups, most of times enjoying patronage of state and its agencies.

Justice Krishna Iyer in his much acclaimed book “Human Rights, Inhumane Wrongs” rues the fact that “India of Mahatma Gandhi has failed in the field of human rights in many ways… Amnesty International, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, Citizens for Democracy have condemned state and central govt for disregard of fundamental freedoms and human dignity. Its unfortunate that violations escalate and the executive are among the macro-violators”.
He asks with touch of helplessness, “India is free but are Indians– all Indians free?” and hastens to add that “While terrorism by extremists must be condemned and political solutions through discussions and popular mobilisation sought, military methodology with hopes of suppression through state terrorism and occupation army vices is volatile of our human rights commitment- and AFSPA is too harsh for peaceful co-existence with human rights”.

It is often heart-rending to note that everyday we come across the news of blood-curtailing incidents of police brutality and barbarism, alleged to have been committed in utter disregard of humanitarian law and universal human rights as well as total negation of the constitutional guarantees and human decency.

Indian police has become unruly and turbulent, carrying the dreadful image of terror and torture. The violence by police seems to be institutionalised in police set-up. Without policing the police, it’s near impossible to expect protection and promotion of human rights.

This however doesn’t mean that human rights are a static category. The history of human rights as a system of equality against hierarchical and accretive inequalities has shown that rights are substantiated by people’s struggles. Workers movement worldwide has contributed towards regulation of work hours, amelioration of work conditions and welfare measures for industrial workers. Popular movements and struggles to redefine and enlarge the frontiers of human rights have also occurred in India. The women’s movement, Dalits movement, environmental movement, peasant movement, has had important bearings on the definition of the nature and substance of rights. The struggles by the people of Narmada valley against the building of Sardar Sarovar Dam, for example, highlights the rights of the people of valley to protest against their displacement and their refusal to give up their identity, history, culture and means of livelihood.

Human rights movement have come a long way from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1946 to the stage where the Nation states collectively enforce these ideals through multi-lateral action. The Tehran Declaration emphasises the objective. No one can dispute the fact that human rights movements have made Nation-states to behave with restraint be accountable and exhibit responsible conduct while faced with threats to internal order.

But in this country, which prides itself for being the largest democratic republic, with liberal, egalitarian society, lot needs to be done to check the gross human rights abuses with impunity, especially on part State and law enforcement agencies.

Food Review: Forgetful Elephant, Greater Kailash

Syed Zafar Mehdi

M-25, M Block Market, Greater Kailash 1, Delhi

Thrown open recently, it happens to be the city’s first all-day bistro and evening bar, also offering exquisite British food and drinks. With the combination of a hassle-free, easy-meal bistro on one floor, and a British pub to drink away your blues on the second, there is enough room to chill, unwind and eat. For some breezy air and pleasant weather, the grill menu and open terrace are the deadly combination to make your day feel complete.

Located amidst the hustle and bustle of M Block market, Forgetful Elephant boasts of a nice ambience and hushed interiors. The bistro hall is spacious, decked up with nice motifs and embellishments. There is a wide array of grills and drinks to go with the food. The menu is intimidating.

Starting with chicken velvet soup that sets the mood for afternoon of high-dining. In starters, chicken wings are a must-try, or if you are a vegetarian, have a bite of chilly curry cheese toast. For the main course, oven roast chicken is decent. But don’t order full, even the half of it is more than enough. Kingfish served with salad and chips is also a nice option. For veggies, cheese and mushroom pie is comparatively better. In desserts, hazelnut and banofee pie is too irresistible, so is the qwark cheese cake.

Owner Gunveen Singh, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs, is elated with the response the restaurant has got. “Delhi is known for an interesting combination of fast paced, hardworking people who also love to have a good time. Forgetful Elephant aims at capturing exactly that element of the hard working horse, or rather the ‘elephant’,” says Singh.
Forgetful Elephant is just the right place, if you want to escape the chaos of city and look for forgetfulness. Food is decently good and the place is better.

Fashionista and Trendsetter

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

The name surely rings a bell. A lady who has revolutionised the fashion choreography scene in the country’s fashion circuit and someone who is known to add a distinct flavour and dynamism to her creations that sets her works apart. Rashmi Virmani’s tenure as a fashion choreographer has already seen her rubbing shoulders with some of the prominent fashion designers like Varun Bahl, Rohit Khosla, Rina Dhaka, Rohit Bal, JJ Valaya, Manish Arora, Shantanu and Nikhil etc. She has also been associated with some top-line brands like Skin Sin fashion, L’Oreal plum mystique and some international names like Jasper Conran, Betty Jackson, Nigel Cabourn and Mathew Williamson to name a few.  Her work with the famous Italian jewellery house Gruppo Graziela has been a class apart. But for her, “the journey has just begun”.

Virmani has been at the forefront of launching heavyweight brands like Tony n Guy, Body Shop, Nike, Timex, Enamor, and Puma. She established The Ramp Model Management, one of the respected modelling agenciesin India, in 1989. The Ramp has worked with some of India’s best advertising agencies, production houses, photographers and art directors in model castings and productions. It is also the factory which has churned out stars like Sushmita Sen, Rajneesh Duggal, Neha Dhupia, Udita Goswami and Aditya Bal to name a few. “I always wanted to groom budding models. The interest for it developed at college itself, and then there was no looking back,” says this ex student of Jesus and Mary College.

Adding to her list of achievements, she has launched The Ramp School of Fashion Management in New Delhiin association with London-based Wigan and Leigh College. The school trains its students in picture posing, television commercials and personal presentation. Virmani takes up the charge to provide professional expertise to the youth who want to opt for a career in modelling, as she believes fashion has evolved into a serious business now. “Currently, we have taken a break, as I am not able to devote much time to it,” says she.

Since her husband is into world of television, Virmani also has of late made a foray into world of television too, as a creative director on fashion and lifestyle shows like “maximum style” on Zoom TV, which recently bagged “the best fashion and lifestyle award” at The Indian Telly awards, besides Man’s world on AXN, Mtv Style Check, Khoobsoorat on Zee and Meri saheli on Star Plus. This transition from fashion to television was intuitive. 

Her success mantra is simple. She believes “achievement is not the end in itself; Its the spirit in which you act that puts the seal of beauty upon your life.” Styling, choreography, events, television programmes, fashion school- Virmani has already been there and done that. But sky is the limit for her as she looks forward to each day with renewed zest and enthusiasm. “Every day is a new day,” opines this woman of substance.