All posts by mukulsharma

Writer, Journalist & Human Rights Activist

Individuals at Risk

At the heart of all peoples’ rights work is the individual – as the person at risk of human rights abuses, as the survivor, as the partner in the defense of rights, and as the activist speaking out, and working with and for other individuals. Individuals, as part of the political, social and cultural collective and spread over the length and breadth of the country, lie behind much of the activism of Indian social-political groups, working at local, grassroots and community levels in India today. They try to change lives by acting on their own or with other people and political groups making the same demand – an end to injustice in all its forms.

These individuals are increasingly at risk in India today. We have witnessed the killings at regular intervals of activists like Safdar Hashmi, Shankar Guha Niyogi, Satyendra Dubey, Sarita and Mahesh, S. Manjunath, Mahendra Singh and Chandra Shekhar in the past two decades. We have had a series of cases of arrest and detention of people like Dr. Binayak Sen and T. G. Ajay. At a time when the patterns of human rights abuses against rights activists are becoming widespread and showing signs of further deterioration, with the governments showing their apathy, we need to draw attention to the situation, point to the concrete failures of the governments to live up to their obligations, and plan on some concrete actions, so that the human rights activists can carry out their important work free from attacks, fear or reprisals. Continue reading Individuals at Risk

Conscience of the Company

A nocturnal gas leak in 1984 took the lives of more than 7,000 people in Bhopal over a three-day span, and a further 15,000 in the years that followed. The leak came from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), now owned by Dow Chemical (DOW). The company is still denying its responsibility, and refuses to reveal the toxicological information of the gas, thwarting medical efforts to deliver appropriate treatment to more than 100,000 surviving victims. Should not there be a conscience of the company, which ensures that the Bhopal factory site and its surroundings are promptly and effectively decontaminated, that the groundwater is cleaned up, that the stockpiles of toxic and hazardous substances left at the site are removed, and that full reparation, restitution, compensation and rehabilitation are promptly provided for the continuing damage done to people’s health and environment by the ongoing contamination of the site? Should they not be ashamed of the lack of effective regulation and accountability systems, which have meant that court cases are dragging on, and corporations and their leaders continuing to evade accountability for thousands of deaths, widespread ill-health and ongoing damage to livelihoods?

Of course, our government has the primary obligation to secure universal enjoyment of human rights, and this includes an obligation to protect all individuals from the harmful actions of others, including companies. However, while the government has been frequently failing in regulating the human rights impact of business or ensuring access to justice for victims of human rights abuses involving business, the companies too have been complicit in their human rights abuses. In a democracy, a government will be taken to task for its failure. At the same time, there has also to be a call for the companies to be conscientious and accountable for their activities related to human rights. A few of them claim to engage with human rights responsibilities through voluntary consultations, relief and rehabilitation initiatives. While these have a role to play, such voluntarism can never be a substitute for concrete standards on businesses’ mandatory compliance with human rights. In India, as a minimum requirement, all companies should respect the right to information; free, prior, informed consent; and no displacement without rehabilitation, regardless of the sector, state or context in which they operate.

Continue reading Conscience of the Company

Rights-Free Zones

O Father, this is a prison of injustice.
Its iniquity makes the mountains weep.
I have committed no crime and am guilty of no offence.
Curved claws have I,
But I have been sold like a fattened sheep.’
— Abdulla Thani Faris al Anazi, a Guantanamo detainee since 2002, arrested in Afghanistan, and turned over to the US forces by bounty hunters.

— Abdulla Thani Faris al Anazi, a Guantanamo detainee since 2002, arrested in Afghanistan, and turned over to the US forces by bounty hunters

11 January 2008 marks 6 years since the first detainees were transferred to Guantanamo Bay. The United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay is a rights-free zone, for the detention, treatment and trial of certain people in the ‘war on terror’. Here the Pentagon is authorised to hold non-US citizens in indefinite custody without charge; here detainees are barred from seeking any remedy in any proceedings in any US, foreign or international court; here if any detainee were to be tried, the trial would be by military commission — an executive body, and not an independent or impartial court. A memorandum from the Justice Department to the Pentagon advises that because Guantanamo Bay is not a sovereign US territory, the federal courts should not be able to consider habeas corpus petitions from ‘enemy aliens’ detained at the base.

Continue reading Rights-Free Zones

Myanmar: India’s Escalating Security Response and Denial of Rights

Reality has an incurable habit of striking back at rhetoric. The Indian government’s support for the demand to release Aung San Suu Kyi in the UN, and a few statements in favour of democracy in Myanmar, might be effective in hiding the larger foreign policy issues for a while for a few; but it cannot make the foundational structural and political issues disappear in their entirety, or for long, or for the majority. The government, with scant concern for the democratic and peaceful movements of the Myanmar people, continues to compromise at the level of discourse and direct action.

See the actions of our government along the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and in other north-eastern states, to prevent the influx of individuals who are fleeing the ongoing crackdown in Myanmar. Take the cases of several other Myanmar nationals who are now at risk of being forcibly returned to Myanmar. After the crackdown on peaceful protests, along with searches, surveillance and harassment of individuals who took part in these protests, numerous Myanmar people have had to go in hiding. They are also fleeing to neighboring India and Thailand. The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper warned that ‘anyone who is detained for his violation of law must be charged and serve prison terms if he is found guilty.’

Continue reading Myanmar: India’s Escalating Security Response and Denial of Rights

Two ‘Nations’ At War: The Struggle Over Forest Rights

The process towards the implementation of ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ is entering its crucial stage. In the present political environment, charged with an electoral context, the government is bound to notify the draft rules. The original co-sponsors – majority of tribal organisations and rights groups, and left and progressive political parties – are in agreement about mobilising support for its implementation. However, similar to the time of declaration and implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the apathy and the opposition towards these rights and entitlements of the poor, is becoming shrill and shady. Special Economic Zones (SEZs) can be notified in no time in this country, but the millions of tribals and forest dwellers have to wait endlessly for anything that goes in their favour. There is a cost of action and there is a cost of inaction. The coalition government has to decide which is more expensive!

It is ironical that since the time of the discussion and the passing of the Forest Rights Act, conflicts in the forest areas have not subsided, and forced evictions and displacements continue to be a regular occurring. And this is unfolding at a time when after more than two decades of work within the UN system, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in September 2007, with India speaking in favour of it. The declaration was adopted by a vote of 143 to four with 11 abstentions. The vote was called by Australia, New Zealand and the US. Only Canada joined these three states in voting against it. The declaration recognizes the rights of indigenous people to the land, territories and natural resources that are critical to their way of life. It affirms that the rights of indigenous people are not separate from, or less than, the rights of others; they are an integral and indispensable part of a human rights system, dedicated to the rights of all. The declaration presents the Indian central and state governments a historic opportunity, which they must seize by adopting it, and entering into a new relationship with the tribal people, based on a principled commitment to the protection of their human rights. Through the Forest Rights Act, the government can work in good faith to implement their domestic law, and practice this vitally important, and long overdue, human rights instrument.

Continue reading Two ‘Nations’ At War: The Struggle Over Forest Rights

Suspend All Military Support to Myanmar Junta

yangon demonstrations

There has been a flood of reports of alleged brutal killings, disappearances and arrests as the military in Myanmar stamped out the anti-government protests of the last week. At least 1,000 people have been arrested in Yangon alone, the majority of them monks. Arrests are also reported from towns and cities across the country. This is in addition to at least 150 other persons arrested in August at the onset of the protests. Numerous key figures in the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party, and other activists are among those arrested. However, it remains extremely difficult for anyone to confirm details about who has been arrested, where they are held, why and under what circumstances. This uncertainty is partly as a consequence of restrictions on internet and phone use.

Continue reading Suspend All Military Support to Myanmar Junta

Persecution and Resistance: The Struggle for Human Rights

A well-known activist of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and a medical doctor Binayak Sen gets arrested in May 2007 in Chhattisgarh state, under the provisions of the controversial black laws, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 (CSPSA), and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 having been amended in 2004 and made more stringent after the collapse of POTA. In August 2007, a woman activist Roma, working among the women, tribals and dalits of Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh under the aegis of Kaimur Kshetra Mahila Majdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers is arrested and charged under the National Security Act. A young Oriya poet and literary editor Saroj Mohanty, who is also an activist of the Prakrutik Suraksha Sampada Parishad, an organization supporting the struggles of the people of Kashipur, who for the past 13 years have successfully opposed the entry of large bauxite mining companies in the region, was picked up by the police in July 2007 at Rayagada, Orissa, on charges of dacoity, house trespass and attempt to murder. Two activists – Shamim and Anurag – of Shramik Adivasi Sanghathana and Samajwadi Jan Parishad, which are working amongst tribals in Betul, Harda and Khandwa districts of Madhya Pradesh, were served externment notices in June by the Harda District Magistrate under the State Security Act.

Continue reading Persecution and Resistance: The Struggle for Human Rights

Take a moment to help STOP TORTURE in India

Dear friends,
Amnesty International expresses its support for victims of torture and ill-treatment, past and present and condemns its practice in India. As of June 26, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Amnesty International India is intensifying its work against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by launching a campaign against torture and ill-treatment in the ‘war on terror’.
The victims of torture in India span far and wide, be it disadvantaged social, political or ethnic groups like the dalits, women and adivasis or be it in Jammu and Kashmir, the North East, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and other areas affected by the acts of state and non-state actors.
India has signed, but not ratified the Convention against Torture. It is one of only 8 countries that have not done so. Amnesty International India has on several occasions expressed grave concerns over the fact that torture and ill-treatment continue to be endemic throughout India and continue to deny human dignity to thousands of individuals.

Continue reading Take a moment to help STOP TORTURE in India

Bangladesh: Faces of Emergency and Human Rights Issues

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Cholesh Richil had no charges of corruption or criminal activity in Bangladesh, which is ruled under emergency and a civilian caretaker government, backed by the army. An outspoken leader of the Garo indigenous community, who live in the Modhupur area north of Dhaka, Cholesh had been campaigning against the construction of a so-called ‘eco (ecology) park’ on their ancestral land, on the grounds that it would deprive them of their land and means of livelihood. He was arrested by the Joint Forces (army and police) personnel on 18 March 2007 and taken to Modhupur Kakraidh temporary army camp. Tortured for several hours before being taken to Madhupur Thane Health Complex, he was declared dead the same evening.

After Choesh Richil’s body was handed over to the Garo community church on 19 March, his family observed multiple bruises, nails missing from his fingers and toes, and cuts and scratches consistent with blade wounds. His testicles had been removed. Local government officials have stated that an ‘administrative inquiry’ into the case has been initiated, but none are aware of the terms of reference or the progress of the inquiry.

Continue reading Bangladesh: Faces of Emergency and Human Rights Issues

Celebrating difference in Southasia

Choles Ritchil, an activist and a leader of the Garo people living in the Modhupur Upozila under Tangail District in Bangladesh was found dead last month. Over the last three years, he had been leading a protest against the establishment of an Eco park in the forests around his village by the department of Forest. He was allegedly tortured brutally by the officers of the local army camp before dying.

Garos are a part of a large tribal minority, along with other hill people, known as pahadis, who are part of present-day Bangladesh, along side the large minority of Hindus. Bangladesh, as we know, was formerly East Pakistan and seceded from it after India fought a war against Pakistan in 1971. Its founder leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had said in his founding speech, “From today, you are all Bengalis.” Not all Bengalis are equal. Continue reading Celebrating difference in Southasia

Amnesty report on the fifth anniversary of the Gujarat carnage

Here. (.pdf)

1. The direct victims of that violence and their relatives continue to face serious challenges and obstacles in securing justice;

2. An overwhelming number of the criminal cases relating to the Gujarat violence remain un-investigated and unresolved, or closed with the result that the majority of he perpetrators of the violence have gone unpunished and remain at large in the state – this is despite the reopening of 1,594 cases for reinvestigation after the Supreme Court of India (Supreme Court) order in August 2004;

3. The plight of those internally displaced from their homes as a result of the violence is continuing one. As many as 5,000 families are living in “relief colonies” without basic amenities or official recognition from the Government of Gujarat. The Government of Gujarat however continues to assert that all those displaced as a result of the violence have been rehabilitated;

4. Human rights defenders, tenaciously engaged in pursuing justice for the victims of the violence, face frequent harassment;

5. There is an ongoing practice of social and economic boycotting of Muslim communities in the state.

SAARC: Need for a Paradigm Shift

As the 14th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit draws nearer, and the host, the Indian Government, begins to step up its preparations, it seems a good time to raise certain issues and questions, designed to draw lessons for the next stage of regional institution building. Where are we? What issues, practices and policy changes can be proposed to improve the quality of regional policy making and implementation? What can civil society organisations and citizens do to contribute effectively to this process? How can SAARC be made more open and transparent to South Asian citizens? What are some of the best practices that have contributed to an effective intra-state coordination, consultation with non-state actors and public accountability? The vision of SAARC today should be that of a South Asia that is integrated, prosperous and peaceful; a South Asia driven by its own citizens; an anti-colonial, democratic and dynamic force in the global arena; and human and peoples’ rights the cornerstone of its political programmes.

Wars and killings in the name of nations; violence, often on a massive scale; boundaries and borders creating major elements of conflicts between the nation states; trans-border crime, narco-terrorism, illegal and informal transactions; illegal migration and large-scale refugee infiltration; trade and transit barriers and trade imbalances — we can find all this and much more in serious proportions in these times of SAARC. However, they are not the core of our assessment, as nobody had believed that these issues could be resolved in two decades or so. The core is that even though some significant spaces have been opened up for greater and more sustained regional cooperation and some beginning has been made, the overall mood is not optimistic, and the prospects of a people-driven SAARC remain largely unfulfilled. Lack of vision, initiative and will, inadequate institutional capacity, and inappropriate policies and procedures have totally negated any thought and practice that SAARC should build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society, to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our people in South Asia. There is hardly any civil society participation in its policy development processes, and it is taken as a closed, non-transparent, non-serious affair in the region.

Continue reading SAARC: Need for a Paradigm Shift

The Social Forum Phenomenon

The Idea of Open Space

The recent years have seen the rise and spread of local, national, regional, thematic and global social forums, inspired directly and indirectly by the World Social Forums (WSF) and its Charter of Principles. Any Social Forum, inspired by the WSF, and the WSF itself is conceived as an open space that facilitates the coming together of people to engage with each other on diverse social-political issues, and to oppose neo-liberalism and the domination of the world by Capital and any form of imperialism. They are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth. Indian social and political activism has shown tremendous energy for the Forum in these years: Activities of the WSF process in India were initiated in early 2002, and were designed to set up and build a World Social Forum process in the country, towards hosting the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad in 2003 and subsequently the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. And now, the proposed India Social Forum in Delhi from 9 to 13 November 2006 marks the initiative to further advance the movement against neo-liberal globalisation, sectarian politics, casteism, patriarchy and militarization. Continue reading The Social Forum Phenomenon