Following the election of a Hindu nationalist government in India in February 1998, an environment of increasing hostility toward religious minorities has been fostered by elements closely aligned with those in power. The burning of churches and assaults on Christians, including priests and nuns, are not only tolerated but are tacitly supported by the government through anti-conversion rhetoric and a systematic failure to prosecute individuals and leaders responsible for fomenting the violence. As was the case with the Wadhwa Commission report, inquiries often stop short of blaming the groups involved and instead characterize the incidents as the isolated actions of misguided individuals who remain free to attack again.
Though eyewitnesses have identified politicians and local officials as participants in the attacks, the state administration and Hindu nationalist leaders continue to portray the incidents as actions instigated by minority communities. The chief minister of Gujarat and BJP spokesmen have even blamed the violence on an "international conspiracy" to defame the political party. The prime minister has called for a national debate on conversions, while the central and state governments continue to ignore the recommendations of the National Commission for Minorities.
The government's failure to protect religious minorities also raises serious questions as to its own commitment to abide by constitutional provisions, international law, and domestic legislation that together guarantee minorities the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion. Using Hindu nationalist sentiments to cultivate vote banks also runs counter to the principles of a secular democracy as enshrined in the Indian constitution.
Many attribute the BJP's dramatic rise to power over the last decade to the pro-Hindu nationalist propaganda surrounding the Ayodhya campaign. Political commentators and historians now claim that the education campaign, attacks on minorities, and widespread Hindu nationalist propaganda are part of a much larger political campaign to increase BJP representation in the lower house of parliament and to gain a significant enough percentage of the Indian vote to manage the formation of a one-party government. With national parliamentary elections in September and October 1999, one member of HJM in Gujarat indicated that the work of Hindutva groups, and corresponding violence, would only increase.189 Human rights activists and minority members in communities affected by communal violence warned of similar election-related consequences.
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.
We stand with victims and activists to bring offenders to justice, to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom and to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime.
We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.
We challenge governments and those holding power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.
We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.
The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Michele Alexander, development director; Reed Brody, advocacy director; Carroll Bogert, communications director; Cynthia Brown, program director; Barbara Guglielmo, finance director; Jeri Laber, special advisor; Lotte Leicht, Brussels office director; Patrick Minges, publications director; Susan Osnos, associate director; Maria Pignataro Nielsen, human resources director; Jemera Rone, counsel; Wilder Tayler, general counsel; and Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative. Jonathan Fanton is the chair of the board. Robert L. Bernstein is the founding chair.
Its Asia division was established in 1985 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Asia. Sidney Jones is the executive director; Mike Jendrzejczyk is the Washington director; Patricia Gossman is the senior researcher; Jeannine Guthrie is NGO liaison; Sara Colm, Gary Risser and Smita Narula are researchers; Mickey Spiegel is a consultant; Liz Weiss and Adam Bassine are associates. Andrew J. Nathan is chair of the advisory committee and Orville Schell and Ko-Yung Tung are vice chairs.
Web Site Address: http://www.hrw.org
Listserv address: To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org with "subscribe hrw-news" in the body of the message (leave the subject line blank).
189 Human Rights Watch interview with Janubhai, Ahwa town, Dangs district, Gujarat, April 22, 1999.