The decision by Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog to cease operations in India citing government harassment cannot be taken at face value; The howls of protest from certain quarters, the copious outflow of tears by some and the grim warnings of loss of face on the international stage do not represent a honest assessment but are more in line with that of an orchestrated malicious melodrama aimed at achieving a pre-determined objective; the embarrassment of the Narendra Modi government.
Was Amnesty really in violations of Indian laws or was the decision by the Government of India to freeze Amnesty’s bank accounts an act of political vendetta stemming from Amnesty’s censure of the Modi government with regard to the developments in Kashmir and the role of the police in the Delhi riots?
That is the million-dollar question.
A broad assessment of Amnesty’s role in India reveals a disturbing picture—a tale of bias, selective championing and a religious partisanship that is hard to justify.
Amnesty projects itself as an ardent champion of Universal Human Rights. Its website proudly proclaims: “We are campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all…we help fight abuses of human rights worldwide. We bring torturers to justice. Change oppressive laws. And free people jailed just for voicing their opinion.”
However, its track record in India has been less than exemplary especially with regards to Kashmir; its stance is at odds with its avowed pledge. Kashmir stood as an embodiment of everything that was wrong with modern Indian democracy. Sustained by an arbitrary and outdated Article 370 was a warped political system that discriminated against other Indians and Kashmiri women and fostered a violent separatist movement that has killed thousands of innocent people so far.
Article 370 was an oppressive law (to use Amnesty’s terminology). It had to go. The Narendra Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 last year is a valiant effort to put an end to the evil apartheid that existed. The harsh measures that were initially put in place (relaxed since then) were necessary to bridle the disruptive forces inimical to the restoration of equal rights to all Indians and Kashmiri Hindu Pandits.
Since the insurgency began in 1990, more than 250,000 Kashmiri Hindu Pandits have been driven out of the Valley in an act of blatant ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of Pandits have been killed, thousands of Kashmiri Pandit homes razed to the ground and innumerable Hindu temples have been destroyed. But Amnesty has chosen to turn a blind eye to the sufferings of the Kashmiri Pandits.
For the first decade after 1990 there was complete silence from Amnesty with regard to Kashmiri Hindu Pandits. Later to appear politically correct, Amnesty began making occasional, half-hearted references to their plight.
In the period 2000-2005, of the nearly 200 notifications pertaining to India Amnesty International released, only one made any significant reference to the Kashmiri Pandits. Perusal of the annual reports from 2000-05 reveals the same disregard for the sufferings of the Kashmiri Pandits; only the 2004 report contains a passing reference to the Nadimarg massacre in which 24 Pandits, including 11 women and children were killed by terrorists.
More recently in 2016, when Amnesty hosted a seminar in Bengaluru on Kashmir, a representative of Kashmiri Pandits was included on the panel only after protests broke out: another example of how Amnesty has marginalized the rights of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits.
The oppression and ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits is by far the most egregious violation of human rights in independent India. Amnesty’s short shrift of the matter is therefore extremely concerning. Could this be due to covert Hinduphobia?
Similarly, in its report on the Delhi riots there is no mention of the Hindu victims (at least a third of the people killed were Hindus), again raising doubts about Amnesty’s impartiality.
Amnesty is not an unprejudiced guardian of human rights but a hypocritical entity that selectively chooses the causes to champion more in keeping with its political and ideological agenda; not to speak of rank religious partisanship.
Coming to the immediate reason for Amnesty’s decision to halt operations in India, namely the charge of violation of Indian laws let us look at the facts. This is what the Ministry of Home Affairs had to say: “Amnesty International had received permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) only once and that too twenty years ago (19.12.2000). Since then Amnesty International, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per law it is not eligible to get such an approval.
“However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty UK remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by classifying it as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty (India) without MHA’s approval under FCRA. This mala fide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions.
“Owing to these illegal practices of Amnesty, the previous government had also rejected the repeated applications of Amnesty to receive funds from overseas. This had led Amnesty to suspend its India operations once during that period as well. This bipartisan and purely legal approach towards Amnesty, under different governments, makes it clear that the entire fault lies in the dubious processes adopted by Amnesty to secure funds for its operations.
“All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a ploy to divert attention from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws. Such statements are also an attempt to extraneously influence the course of investigations by multiple agencies into the irregularities and illegalities carried out over the last few years.”
So, it appears that not only has Amnesty violated Indian laws but made fraudulent attempts to circumvent them. The fact that the Congress led Manmohan Sing government too had censured Amnesty for its illegal practices in 2009 makes this a bipartisan issue from India’s standpoint and not a right-wing driven Hindutva agenda as some are trying to make it appear.
Finally, the MHA concludes: “Amnesty is free to continue humanitarian work in India, as is being done by many other organizations. However, India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations. This law applies equally to all and it shall apply to Amnesty International as well.”
So, Amnesty is welcome to stay if it is willing to mend its ways by becoming more egalitarian and impartial in its approach and as long as it abides by Indian laws. If not, it should leave. I will not shed a single tear.