Human Rights Watch

international human rights advocacy and research NGO based in New York City

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international non-governmental organization, headquartered in New York City, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights.

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  • In a pattern similar to the response to organized violence against lower castes, the tendency is for local officials under pressure to arrest a few members but not the leaders of the groups involved. The communities affected represent some of the poorest in the country and include Dalits and members of local tribal communities, many of whom convert to Christianity to escape abuses under India's caste system. In many cases, Christian institutions and individuals targeted were singled out for their role in promoting health, literacy, and economic independence among Dalit and tribal community members. A vested interest in keeping these communities in a state of economic dependency is a motivating factor in anti-Christian violence and propaganda. These recent attacks fall into a pattern of persistent abuse against marginalized communities. They represent a clear failure on the part of both the central and state governments to ensure that such communities enjoy the full protection of their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and equal protection under the law. Despite the existence of comprehensive legislation to address the problem of religious intolerance and communal violence, the government has failed to prosecute offending individuals and organizations; instead, it has in many cases offered tacit support and indirect justification for the attacks.
  • Christians are not the only minority to be targeted by the sangh parivar. Violence against Sikhs in northern India in 1984 and against India's Muslim community nationwide in 1992 and 1993 also stemmed from the activities and hate propaganda of these groups. Members of the sangh parivar include the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps, RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), and the VHP's militant youth wing, the Bajrang Dal. In the state of Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena political party has also been implicated. The RSS seeks to promote a Hindu ethos within India and among Indians living abroad. Although an ostensibly cultural organization, RSS cells are involved in supporting political candidates for government, trade unions, and student organizations. The VHP was established in 1964 to unite Hinduism's regional and caste divisions under a single ecumenical umbrella. It is actively involved in Sanskrit education, the organization of Hindu rites and rituals, and the converting of Christians, Muslims, and animists to Hinduism. These organizations, although different in many respects, have all promoted the argument that although India is a democracy, because Hindus constitute the majority of Indians, India should be a Hindu state.
  • In June, a series of blasts damaged Christian churches in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Goa. A month later, crude bombs were set off in two more churches in Karnataka. In August, police charged members of a Muslim sect, allegedly based in Pakistan, with masterminding the attacks. Human rights activists maintained that the arrests were meant to deflect attention from Hindu hardliners' campaign of anti-Christian violence.
  • In mid-November, the government was considering enacting a modified version of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), notorious for facilitating tens of thousands of politically motivated detentions, torture, and other human rights violations against Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, trade union activists, and political opponents in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The new proposed Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) set forth a broad definition of terrorism that included acts of violence or disruption of essential services carried out with "intent to threaten the unity and integrity of India or to strike terror in any part of the people." It also made it a crime not to provide authorities with "information relating to any terrorist activity," and allowed for up to three months of preventive detention without charge. The ordinance came under sharp attack from civil rights groups, academics, lawyers, opposition parties, media organizations, and both religious and secular institutions. The National Human Rights Commission also maintained that existing laws were sufficient to fight the threat of terrorism.
  • Freedom of assembly nationwide suffered following the beginning of U.S.-led air strikes in Afghanistan on October 7, with student groups and organizations protesting India's backing of the U.S.-led campaign facing increased harassment from the police. On October 28, seven anti-U.S. protestors were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators in Malegaon, Maharashtra. Local police reportedly had tried to prevent a small group of Muslim protestors from distributing leaflets calling on people to boycott U.S.-made goods and to oppose air strikes in Afghanistan. Authorities claimed that protestors began throwing stones, leading first to a police baton-charge and then police shooting. Three more people were killed the following night when protestors tried to block the main road connecting Malegaon to the capital, Delhi. Police said they used baton charges and tear gas to disperse the crowd and only fired at protestors when that failed. The government drew sharp criticism from numerous minority groups for selectively banning the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as part of its post-September 11 actions to counter terrorism while ignoring the "anti-national" activities of right-wing Hindu groups.

Quotes about Human Rights Watch edit

  • HRW has authored many reports on communal violence and human rights in India such as a 1999 report on anti-Christian violence and two reports on the Mumbai riots of 1992-1993 in addition to its annual reports on human rights practices worldwide. Upon closer examination, it is seen that extensive and systematic bias exists in these reports. Their most glaring defect is the lack of concern for the rights and lives of the majority community- the [[Hindus. Incidents of communal violence in which both the Hindu majority and a particular minority community were involved in and share the blame for are portrayed as one-sided attacks by Hindus against “innocent minorities.” Human rights abuses against Hindus are either ignored or downplayed as compared to abuses suffered by minority groups. [...] The purpose of this paper is not to ignore the role played by Hindu extremist groups in promoting communal conflicts. Hindu extremists were unquestionably involved in the attacks against Muslims in Gujarat. Furthermore, the Modi government willfully neglected its duty to protect the rights and lives of its citizens and promoted further communal polarization in a state with already tense communal relations. Rather, this paper is an attempt to objectively analyze the complexity of communal conflict in India and avoid the generalizations associated with HRW reports.
  • Upon closer examination, however, extensive and systematic bias exists in HRW reports on human rights and communal violence in India. The most glaring defect of HRW reports is the lack of concern for the rights and lives of Hindus. Incidents of communal violence in which both the Hindu majority and a particular minority community were involved in and share the blame for are portrayed as one-sided attacks by Hindus against “innocent minorities.” Human rights abuses against Hindus are ignored or downplayed compared to attacks against other religious groups. The 1999 report on attacks on Christians goes a step further as it demonstrates hostility to the Hindu religion itself. Rather than attempting to provide an objective assessment of communal violence and human rights practices in India, HRW's reports are written with the intent of waging political warfare against the BJP government and the Sangh Parivar. It is true that groups like the VHP and Bajrang Dal have been responsible for promoting a disturbing form of religious intolerance that undermines India’s long traditions of religious pluralism and tolerance. But upon reading HRW's reports on communal violence and human rights, one would think that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are responsible for all that is wrong in India and they are the ones who invented communal violence. HRW's reports on India are frequently filled with many distortions, half-truths, and outright false statements. The nature and the extent of bias are such that it is not the result of mere negligence, but systematic bias that reveals political motives.

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