Friday, March 21, 2008

Religious minorities in India feel unsafe: Asma

By Jawed Naqvi
(Courtesy DAWN)
21st March 2008
NEW DELHI, March 20: Unacceptable delays in delivering justice to victims of communal violence across India, the state’s occasional culpability in fomenting intolerance and exploitation of religious fault lines for politics were some of the issues listed on Thursday by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Asma Jehangir that she said required immediate attention.
“By and large, the Indians respect the diversity of religions and beliefs. At the same time, organised groups based on religious ideologies have unleashed the fear of mob violence in many parts of the country,” Ms Jehangir told a news conference at the end of a rare 18-day visit as the UN rapporteur. “All individuals I met recognised that a comprehensive legal framework to protect their rights exists, yet many of them -– especially from religious minorities -– remained dissatisfied with its implementation.”
Ms Jehangir’s mission follows a similar one undertaken by her predecessor in 1996. “My forthcoming report will also be a follow-up on developments during the past twelve years, in order to analyse what has changed and why.”She said she was concerned at the extended timeframe of investigations in cases of communal riots, violence and massacres such as those which targeted the Sikhs in 1984, or the ones that followed the demolition of the Babri mosque and the most recent one in Gujarat in 2002.
“Any inquiry should not be done in indecent haste but it should be accorded the highest priority both from the investigation, the judiciary and any commission appointed to study the situation. Unreasonable protraction of the inquiry only keeps tensions simmering and devalues justice."
“I was astonished to learn that just before I arrived in India, the Liberhan Commission -– probing the circumstances leading to the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya – got the 44th extension to conclude its inquiry,” she said.
The level of action of the government to protect its citizens in terms of freedom of religion or belief varies according to the states concerned. It was thus that the potential for greater harm to Kashmiri Pundits when they were forced to flee their homes was contained by the state’s prompt intervention, while the same could not be said about the protection of religious minorities in Gujarat, who continue to live in ghettoes and in fear.
“The de-escalation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir has had a positive impact on freedom of religion there,” Ms Jehangir said. “Places of worship are now more accessible and the tensions are reducing. There have been public statements inviting the Hindu Pundits to return to Kashmir. However, many interlocutors have confirmed a continuing bias amongst security forces against Muslims who also face problems with regard to exit controls lists and discrimination when renting hotel rooms outside Jammu and Kashmir,” she noted.
She urged the state of Orissa, where the Hindutva drive is intensive and widespread, to reconsider its anti-conversion legislation.Less than three months ago, there was widespread violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, targeting primarily Christians in Dalit and tribal communities. The attacks could have been prevented since the Christian community alerted the authorities before the incident.
“The tensions are still prevalent and the state should rethink its anti-conversion legislation which has been used to vilify Christians in general,” she said.In UP, communal violence continues to occur while perpetrators are dealt with sympathy by the law enforcement agents. “Some of the cases are still under investigation and I hope that justice will prevail.”
In Gujarat, the wounds of the 2002 massacre, where by all accounts more than a thousand people -– mostly Muslims -– were killed, have not healed, she said. “In my discussions with victims I could see their continuing fear which is exacerbated by the reported complicity of the state government and the distress that justice continues to evade most victims and survivors.
“It is also critical for the state government to recognise that development without a policy of inclusiveness of all religious communities will only add to aggravate resentments. The same is true for the increasing ghettoisation of Muslims in certain areas.”
Ms Jehangir said her predecessor, Mr Abdelfattah Amor, “unfortunately was prophetic when he expressed his fears that something in the nature of the 1992 Ayodhya incident will recur in the event of political exploitation of a situation. In my opinion, there is today a real risk that similar communal violence might happen again unless incitement to religious hatred and political exploitation of communal tensions are effectively prevented."
She urged the government and for non-state actors to diffuse tensions and address the root causes beforehand. The sincerity of the central government to implement the Sachar Committee report will be very much seen on the ground because state governments have been given direction to follow-up on the recommendations of the report.

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