Sunday, May 25, 2008



It is a privilege to be with you here at this 2nd National Consultation on International Criminal Court and India.
I thank the organizers and all others involved (very specially Ms. Saumya Uma), for inviting me to address this august gathering on "Minority Rights and Accountability for Mass Crimes". 

Minorities and Minority Rights :
Being a Christian, I obviously  belong to a "minority community" of this country; however,  I really do not suffer from "minorityism" nor do I intend making myself a "victim" by being a minority in the country.
Having said this, it is important to put things in perspective.
Within every society, there are groups which are vulnerable.  Most often, this vulnerability is caused solely by the numbers they constitute.  The dominant group (the majority), tend to ignore them, look down upon them and/or even exploit them through the denial of basic human rights. 
We are aware that in several societies across the world, these attitudes are somewhat  acceptable.  The feelings run thus : we are the majority....since  we have the numbers....anyone else wanting to be around has to basically accept our terms and conditions. 
These attitudes go against the very principles of the Indian Constitution and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Both these Charters emphasize, value and cherish, the inherent dignity of every human person, and the fact, that all are equal in our society.
This, we all know, is easier said than done.  From the attitudes of several, the political posturing of right-wing organizations, minorities are regarded and treated by several as second class citizens.
For the sake of clarity, we focus on the religious minorities of the country and very specifically, at Muslims and Christians.  We are aware that minority groups do include every group that does not subscribe to the majority culture, language, religion,  ideology, or for that matter, even ability.   Whilst the concerns of the other minority groups need to be addressed at some time or the other, the focus of this presentation will be the systematic marginalization and denial of human rights to the Muslims and Christians of India. 
Do minorities need special rights and privileges in this country ?  This will always be a contentious question.  For some, the answer is an obvious yes or no;  for others, there will be shades of grey.  The moot fact however remains :  every citizen of the country has to be guaranteed and ensured the rights and freedoms of the Indian Constitution;  but when a particular community is vulnerable, purely because of its numbers, the Government does have a sacred duty to protect that community, and provide it with certain privileges that would bring it on par with the majority community.

The Indian Reality :
A careful analysis of post-independent India will show several instances of how Muslims and Christians have been systematically targeted by right-wing Hindu elements / outfits in this country.  In several of these instances, those responsible for these crimes are never brought to book.  A closer study of these incidents also reveal  the complicity of the administration either directly or indirectly.  These include the politicians, the police, the judiciary and even at times, bureaucrats.
We have some classic examples in recent history :
The Gujarat Carnage of 2002 will go down in the history of the country  as one when the State Government abdicated its responsibility by operationalizing its hate agenda and by doing all  in its power to try to annihilate a whole minority community.  The way the Chief Minister ordered his  henchmen to kill innocent Muslims, the way Government Ministers sat in the police control room and barked orders, the way the police looked the other way when mobs came to loot, to burn,  to rape, to kill, find parallels only in Hitler's Germany or in the genocides that took place in Rwanda or Bosnia. 
The tragic fact is that the wheels of justice move so slowly that even more than six years down the road, the masterminds and the real culprits hold high positions of power and are able to convey an arrogance, that no one can touch them.   I really do not think that I should elaborate any more on the Gujarat Carnage, the details of which are known the world over. 
One needs to visit parts of Orissa State where Christians were terrorized and attacked, specially in the Kandhamal (Phulbani) District just before Christmas in December 2007.  The complicity of the State administration was very evident when the Collector of the District ordered that no relief and rehabilitation work could be undertaken for the victims without his express permission.  The Orissa High Court threw out a Petition asking for a Stay of this Order.  However, fortunately and very recently, the Supreme Court has granted an interim Stay on the Collector's Order.  In the meantime, right-wing Hindu outfits have continued to attack the Christians; and even as late as mid-March 2008, Christians were prevented from holding their religious services leading up to Easter. 
What is taking place in Orissa is not a one off.  Christians continue to be the target of attacks in Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and several other States in India.  Many of these States are ruled by the BJP and the message is loud and clear : we are here for the majority community  and very reflective of the response of the Gujarat Carnage, the police literally saying in all these incidents "we have no orders to protect you". 
In Gujarat, just before Christmas every year some "ghar vapasi" programme is organized, efforts are made to vitiate the atmosphere as much as possible and the bogey of "conversion" is raised.   This year, some Catholic Priests, Sisters and    people were beaten up in a village not far from Baroda, where they had gone to conduct a social awareness programme for the people. 
At this juncture, I need to digress a bit and also put into context what happened to the Sikh community in November 1984 here in Delhi and several other parts of India.  In the wake of the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31st 1984, several hundreds of Sikhs were brutally massacred and burnt alive all over.   Together with some of my companions from Vidya Jyoti, Delhi,  we responded to this gigantic tragedy in every possible way.  In our efforts in providing relief, rehabilitation and even reconciliation and healing, one thing was evidently clear was that if the Government and the law and order mechanism had played their respective roles, a tragedy of such magnitude would never have taken place.  The involvement and complicity of Congress politicians and those in Government at that time, has never been in doubt. 
Having situated this presentation in attacks  of  minorities of the country, I have also tried to highlight how these things would never have taken place were it not for the total complicity and involvement of the Government and those responsible for protecting life, property and other freedoms of the ordinary citizen. 
The questions we need to ask those in power :  is the Government (be it Central or State), accountable for mass crimes ?  If not, to whom does one go ?  Is the judiciary beyond the pale of compromise and corruption ?  Can a minority who is a victim of violence, hate and prejudice, by some from the  majority community, actually take recourse and seek solace from the judiciary, be it in his / her State or in the Apex Court of the country ?
Here, it is important for me to quote a section of "a letter campaign after the Gujarat Carnage" dated 14th May 2002, written by Saumya Uma the Coordinator of ICC-India. 
"Many of us within India, who are determined to make the perpetrators accountable for the crimes, are worried that they may not be effectively prosecuted within the Indian legal  system.   Domestic   legal   sanctions   do   exist   to   punish   perpetrators   and
Deter  future   perpetrators  of   heinous   acts  such  as  those  committed  in  Gujarat.
However, persons who have massacred minority communities within India, namely the Sikhs in 1984, Muslims after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1993 and Christians in the last few years, have escaped the clutches of domestic law due to state complicity in the crimes.  These instances illustrate the Indian government's unwillingness and inability to prosecute the offenders time and again.
The violent acts in Gujarat attract the definitions and ingredients of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" stated in the Rome Statute quiet clearly.  The reports of  fact-finding missions substantiate this.  In 1998, the Indian government abstained from voting on the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC.   Subsequently, there has been no apparent move to ratify the Treaty.  The Indian government has haughtily brushed aside legitimate international concern towards the situation in Gujarat.  However, India, in principle, recognizes that there are some actions that necessarily invite international scrutiny.  This is apt here to mention that the Indian government ratified in August 1959 the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948 (which contains a similar definition of genocide).  In fact, it was one of the prime movers of the Convention in 1948.  It is therefore additionally duty-bound to prosecute and punish the offenders, irrespective of their position.
There is an urgent need to persuade the Indian government to prosecute all offenders as well as to accede to the Treaty establishing the ICC, especially in the wake of the Gujarat violence.  It is clear  that the ICC statute will have no retrospective jurisdiction, and hence will not directly impact the prosecution of offenders in the Gujarat carnage.  However, many of us in India are convinced that the wave of awful violence that has swept Gujarat can spread elsewhere in India too.  It is important to have international legal mechanisms, such as the ICC, in place in order to terminate the culture of impunity within the country.".

Mass Crimes : the tip of the iceberg :
Whilst looking at mass crimes, one also needs to pay attention to what lies below the surface and the systematic build up which ultimately leads to the mass crime.  Among them are :
• The demonization of minority religions / groups – Muslims are most often referred to as "Jehadis" / "Terrorists"; Christians as "converters"
• The spread of hate prejudices through school textbooks; we have some glaring examples from the Gujarat State textbooks
• The promulgation of anti-conversion laws in the name of protecting the national religion
• The protection that right-wing Hindu outfits get from the State when these take law and order into their own hands eg. the film "Parzania" not being allowed to be shown  in  Gujarat;  a  Hindu  girl  being  prevented  from  marrying  a Muslim boy
• Ghettoization  of  minority  communities.   It's  much  easier  to  target  them  then
• Denying minorities access to quality education and employment in Government positions like police, bureaucracy, etc.
• Whipping up passions among the majority community against the minorities (like the Shabri Kumbh in the Dangs District of Gujarat a couple of years ago).
• Allowing the majority community to literally do what they want and making a huge issue if something similar is done by someone from the minority community (eg. you allow temples to mushroom everywhere but you destroy a 400 year old Dargah in Baroda).
This and much more, constitutes the buildup; ultimately it gets mainstreamed and literally becomes part of the system.  So when the mobs come to loot, to destroy, burn,  rape, kill, it's just alright because for a long time now, they have been gradually fed with the fodder and intoxication of hate.  They know that nothing will happen to them because the propaganda has the patronage of the powers.

Why India needs to ratify the ICC Treaty :
From the above, it is clear that those who control our lives and destinies and commit crimes,  escape the clutches of domestic law  and therefore need to be brought to book at a forum which is able to transcend the boundaries of ones nation.
It is important for India to ratify the ICC Treaty and become part of this international movement for justice, for the following reasons :
→ it  would  be  a deterrent  to  people like Modi to get away with mass crimes against   
     Minorities  of  the  country.  The way the Gujarat Government  has acted  with  total   
     impunity and with foregone  immunity,  will make any one who values human rights
     to  squirm.
→ it  will  provide  the  minorities of  the country  with a real sense of security.  We are
     aware  that there are provisions and  safeguards  within  the Constitution but  then,  
     when those who are  meant  to protect and  guarantee these safeguards,  abdicate
     their  Constitutional  responsibility,   then  there  must  be  some higher mechanism
     to  which  minorities  can  turn  to  for  their  own  security.  In  this  case,  the  next 
     recourse has to be the ICC.
→ the  world  gave  birth to the  United Nations in the wake of  the horrendous  acts of
     violence which preceded and culminated in the second world  war.  The whole idea
     was  that  countries  would now have a  mechanism not only to  prevent further war
     but  also to ensure that  smaller nations are not trampled over by the mightier ones. 
     However, everyone is aware that  the UN does not have the teeth which it needs to
     have.   The  ICC which does have  a juridical  status would  definitely  fulfill this role
     and  address in India  the  onslaught  by the Hindu-right on the Muslim and
     Christian minorities.
→  it  would  contain  in  some  way,  the  corruption  that  is prevalent in  the judiciary
     today.  It is not without reason that  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh  in an address
     at the inaugural session of the Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices on
     April 19th 2008, very strongly asserted that "corruption is another challenge that we
     face  both in the Government  and  in  the Judiciary".  (It  is  very  ironical  that  'The
     Indian   Express'  of   April   20th  whilst  headlining   the  statement  of   the   Prime
     Minister, also headlined another bit of news saying that a lawyer linked to a scam is
     recommended for the post of a judge in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana  !!!).
Conclusion :
It is extremely fortuitous  that the ICC India campaign has organized this 2nd National Consultation on International Criminal Court and India.  The writing on the wall is clear.  India cannot shirk her responsibility and not sign the ICC Treaty.  It has to become part of this global movement for justice.  There are too many of our rulers who live in a world of impunity and believe that no matter what they do, nothing can happen to them.  The ICC is the answer.
India needs to wake up to this imperative,  otherwise she will be held responsible for betraying her own people !

(This presentation was made at the 2nd National Consultation on International  Criminal  Court  &  India  organized in  New  Delhi, on  25th – 26th  April, 2008.)

(  *  Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, based in Ahmedabad.  This Centre has been actively involved in Justice, Peace and Communal Harmony issues.  Fr. Prakash is the recipient of several national and international awards including the "Kabir Puraskar" for Communal Harmony from the President of India in 199, the "Legion d'Honneur" from the President of France in 2006 and the Minorities Rights Award 2006 from the Government of India. )
Ahmedabad 380 009
Gujarat, INDIA


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