May 17, 2003. Washington D.C. At a policy briefing this morning on Capitol Hill, Mr. Harsh Mander spoke about setbacks and challenges facing India, the world’s largest democracy.
Mr. Mander is the Country Director for Action Aid India, a New Delhi based nonprofit organization. His book Unheard Voices was widely praised for its account of neglected groups in India. He is on a short speaking tour of the US.
The event was organized by the Indian Muslim Council-USA, a Washington based advocacy group working towards safeguarding India’s pluralistic ethos, and was attended by policy makers, Congressional staff members, and leading community activists. Karen Finkler, staff member for Congressman Joe Pitts, welcomed the guests and spoke about the importance of engaging US elected officials on human rights concerns in India.
Mr. Mander said that the events during the past year, particularly the pogrom in the Indian State of Gujarat, reveal a dangerous trend that is challenging the secular and tolerant ideals that sustained India for so long. “Gujarat was a turning point” said Mander, referring to the state complicity in the pogrom. Mander, who had served as a high ranking official in the Indian bureaucracy, left the prestigious Indian Administrative Service in protest after the pogrom.
“Gujarat stands apart in its brutality and stands apart in the way that civil society chose to respond with silence and claims of neutrality”, he said referring to the pogrom in which more than two thousand Muslim civilians were brutally killed and hundreds of women and girls raped by the Hindutva ultranationalists.
Mr. Mander cautioned people not to take comfort in the peace that has returned to Gujarat. “A sense of peace has been restored in Gujarat but it is not a peace based on equality and dignity but on humiliation. There is now an elaborate system of economic boycott of Muslims. One has witnessed the new creation of a untouchability and apartheid, internalized both in the imposer and the imposed. The divisions that have emerged in Gujarat, are quickly spreading to other parts of India”, he said.
He also stressed that India’s communal woes should be viewed alongside concerns of poverty, economic development, and universal human rights. “We must find hope in the darkness. That hope is the cooperation that we see emerging from all faiths who see an injustice to one as an injustice to all”, he said.
Commenting on the briefing, Dr. Shaik Ubaid, president of IMC-USA, called Mander, “a true patriot, the conscience of India.” “He reminds me of Gandhi with his humbleness, conviction and tireless work to serve India’s poor and his courageous struggle to save India’s pluralistic soul from the Hindutva ultranationalists”, said Ubaid.
End of Release
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