Minnesota Advocates hosts forum on human rights violations in the Indian state of Gujarat
12/16/2002 4:10 AM
More than 140 people came together October 21 for a Minnesota Advocates-sponsored forum on the human rights violations in the Indian state of Gujarat. The forum - "Violence in Gujarat, India: A Human Rights Perspective" - was led by scholars, activists and journalists from around the country, all of whom made clear their belief that multiple factors led to the eruption of violence last spring, and that the failure of the government to protect the victims of the violence violated India's human rights obligations.
|Dr. Irfan Sandozi (right) , along with Minnesota Advocates board member Dipankar Mukherjee (left), worked with Minnesota Advocates to organize the event.
The communal violence that erupted in Gujarat, India, in February 2002 resulted in the death, injury and displacement of tens of thousands of individuals, mostly Muslims. Since then, human rights groups have reported that the violence was not spontaneous but had been planned months in advance. Evidence also suggests that the police and other state actors were complicit in the violence and did not provide adequate protection to Muslim residents living in Gujarat. In the face of this state complicity, the United Nations (UN) and national governments, including the United States, have been largely silent.
To begin the discussion, Professor David Weissbrodt of the University of Minnesota Law School, who is also a Minnesota Advocates Board member and representative to the UN Sub Commission on Human Rights, outlined India's obligations under international law and drew attention to the Indian government's attempts to avoid scrutiny by international human rights bodies. Professor Weissbrodt concluded describing the need for action, "When I hear one group being demonized, there is a great danger of genocide. We must speak out and say that something unacceptable has happened."
Smita Narula, author of "We Have No Orders to Save You:" State Participation and Complicity in the Communal Violence in Gujarat, a Human Rights Watch Report published in April 2002, gave first-hand testimony of her interviews with victims and government officials in Gujarat. She pointed out specific incidents in which the Indian government failed to protect its citizens from egregious human rights violations. Ms. Narula indicated that the events should be characterized not as religious violence, but rather as political manipulation, emphasizing the fact that Gujarati Hindus are also suffering the consequences of the devastated economy.
Angana Chatterji, a professor of anthropology from California Institute of Integral Studies, began her presentation by condemning the notion of "retributive justice." Recognizing that Indians come from diverse backgrounds and have different histories, Dr. Chatterji stated, "One thing that should be non-negotiable is that, from this, it cannot come to killing each other." Dr. Chatterji encouraged the audience to inquire into the activities of charities they support in India to ensure they are not unknowingly supporting terrorist activities.
Muqtedar Khan, a professor of political science from Adrian College, Michigan, discussed the implications of the situation in Gujarat for both Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide. Dr. Khan characterized Gujarat as a "test case" for India and the world. According to Dr. Khan, the fact that there was little condemnation of the events in Gujarat sent a message to the Indian government that there are no consequences to grave human rights abuses.
Fred de Sam Lazaro, correspondent with the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, joined the panel to provide background information on a report he produced about Gujarat. He also urged audience members to take action to ensure that events in South Asia are included in mainstream media broadcasts and not overlooked.
Dr. Irfan Sandozi, along with Minnesota Advocates board member Dipankar Mukherjee, worked with Minnesota Advocates to organize the event. He said he hoped the forum would help build bridges in the South Asian community, and inspire continued dialogue. More than 60 audience members signed a resolution urging the United Nations and the U.S. government to condemn serious human rights abuses in Gujarat and hold perpetrators of the violence accountable.
Learn more about Gujarat
The Other Face of Fanaticism
New York Times Magazine, February 2, 2003
National Human Rights Commission of India recommendations and orders on Gujarat
European Parliament Resolution on India
adopted May 2002
"We Have No Orders To Save You": State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat
Human Rights Watch , April 2002, Vol. 14, No. 3(C)
Reports on Gujarat compiled by Online Volunteers
Soul of India
Wide Angle, a documentary on the violence in Gujarat which aired on PBS on September 19, 2002
International Religious Freedom Report for 2002,
U.S. Department of State, September 2002