Re.: Hearing on Religious Minorities in India
March 21, 2012
The following is the testimony given by Dr. Angana Chatterji at the US Congressional Hearing organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on March 21, 2012.
Representative Pitts, I thank you and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for honoring me with an invitation to testify at the hearing.
I would also like to acknowledge the dedicated work undertaken by civil society groups in support of the rights of non-dominant religious and ethnic groups and minorities in India, and in response to organized riots and violence against minorities, as well as by state and non-state bodies.
The riots and organized violence against Christian minority communities in Orissa in December 2007 and August-October 2008 was not unexpected. In Orissa, since the mid-1990s, a formidable mobilization has been established by Hindutva groups, including in Kandhamal district. These groups have acted with impunity with adverse impact on society, economy, religion, and security. The Sangh Parivar ‘family’ of Hindutva, Hindu supremacist, organizations has a visible presence in twenty-five of thirty districts in Orissa, and has amassed between 35 and 40 major organizations (including paramilitary hate camps), and a massive base of a few million operating at every level of society.
December 23, 2007: Hindutva-affiliated Adivasi (tribal peoples) organizations organized a march rallying: “Stop Christianity. Kill Christians.”
In the violence of 2008 in Kandhamal, Christians, prevalently poor Dalits (erstwhile ‘untouchable’ groups) and Adivasis, were forced out from approximately 450 villages.
Approximately 4,901 homes were torched, including 101 places of worship. More than 18,000 persons were injured, as thousands sought refuge in nearby forests. Some Christians disappeared, some were tortured, including through rape, and approximately 92 were murdered.
The coordination of attacks across mountainous terrain in Kandhamal corroborate that the violence was planned, premeditated, and that the police had prior knowledge of them.
The number of persons that sought shelter in the relief camps operated by the state was 27,000 at its highest.
Post-violence, injunctions were issued to minority communities, Christian and Muslim, to hide or erase their “difference.” Forced conversions of non-Hindus to Hinduism continued. Economic and social boycotts, too, continued. Psychosocial restitution has been lacking.
State employees have intimated that minority groups must recant their grievances in order to escape further violation. Only 3,300 complaints have been lodged with the police by victims/survivors, of which, as few as 831 have been registered as First Information Reports, with only 510 charge sheets issued.
In January 2009, I documented testimonies of Christian women survivors of the 2008 riots that reveal the scope of the violence (From Chatterji, Violent Gods, Page 357-358):
“About five hundred people surrounded the body. His body was aflame. They killed Christians, buried them, then placed stones over the bodies to stop ‘resurrection.’”
Jammu and Kashmir
The rights of the Muslim community remain compromised and there continues at large criminalization of the community. There is also concern for the rights of certain groups that are in a minority in Jammu and Kashmir, such as Hindu Pandits. Jammu and Kashmir continues to be a nuclear flashpoint in the conflict between India and Pakistan. The actions and escalated militarization across the Af-Pak border zone, and the actions of violent groups across the Indo-Pak border, directly impact the security and integrity of lives in Jammu and Kashmir.
The armed militancy, which began in 1988, abated to nonviolent dissent between 2004-2007.
Since 1989, an extraordinary militarization has saturated life. Approximately 70,000 have died in Kashmir, including through extrajudicial or “fake encounter” executions, custodial brutality, and other means, and 8,000+ have been involuntarily disappeared. Lawyers have reportedly filed 15,000 petitions since 1990, inquiring, largely unsuccessfully, into the location and health of detainees and the charges against them.
Approximately 6,67,000 military and paramilitary personnel are stationed in Jammu and Kashmir at present. The psychological health of various soldiers remains precarious. Fifty-six soldiers committed suicide in Kashmir in 2008-2009, for example, with fifteen instances of fratricidal killing.
Laws, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Disturbed Areas Act, the Public Safety Act, provide legal immunity to security forces.
Notwithstanding confidence building measures and various other activities, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir remains critical.
BURIED EVIDENCE, a report authored by myself, Parvez Imroz, Khurram Parvez, Mihir Desai, et al., in December 2009, documented 2,700 unknown and unmarked graves containing 2,943+ bodies, including from extrajudicial executions by forces between 1990-2009. These findings were corroborated by the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission in July 2011.
Women have been victimized by horrific forms of brutality, including rape, gang and collective rape, used as a tool of torture and power.
There is need for ascertaining the status of minorities in Jammu and Kashmir, related to displacement, dislocation, and rehabilitation.
In Summer 2010, we documented a list of 51 civilians that were reportedly killed. In 2011, 56 civilians were killed.
There is urgent need for supporting the human rights of the affected civilian population as they live with the effects of the conflict, and holding all parties to the conflict (state and non-state) accountable in accordance with international standards.
Sikhs are required to marry under the “Hindu Marriage Act,” since the Sikh Marriage Act was suspended in 1947. In August 2005, the Supreme Court of India declined minority status to Jains and Sikhs, depicting them as sub-sects of Hinduism.
Sikhs are regularly prevented from observing remembrance days for 1984, the year of massive Sikh killings. Incidents of police engaging, and allowing, the removal of turbans continue as a tactic of humiliation.
Cases of custodial torture are reported at regular intervals.
* Between February 28 and March 2, 2002, approximately 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in Gujarat, aided and abetted by the state.
* Women and girls were beaten, thrown into wells, targeted for rape, gang rape, and collective rape, sexually mutilated and burnt.
* Ehsan Jafri, a former member of the Indian Parliament, made more than twenty phone calls seeking help; his pleas remained unanswered, he was brutally killed.
* The Government of Gujarat, lead by Hindu nationalist Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was grossly negligent in providing necessary support, security, relief, and rehabilitation measures to the victims.
* In Gujarat, after 2002, 240 people were held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 239 Muslims and one Sikh.
* A climate of terror permeates various segments of civil society in Gujarat even today.
Funding for Hindu Nationalism
Various diasporic charitable organizations affiliated with Hindutva ideologies operate in the United States and United Kingdom. These organizations routinely maintain links with Hindu nationalist leaders and organizations in India, including in Orissa. As well, these diasporic organizations seek to influence public discourse and policy in the United States in relation to India.