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India - in HRW World Report 2000



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Elections in February brought to power India’s Hindu nationalist Indian People’s Party (Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP). Barely two months in office, the new government flaunted its defiance of international opinion by testing five nuclear devices on May 11 and 13. The tests ignited a firestorm of criticism around the world and triggered sanctions by a number of India’s donors and trading partners. The tests, together with the government’s more hawkish posturing on Kashmir, increased tensions with nuclear rival Pakistan and sharpened international concern about the prospects of a regional war.

The election of the BJP also raised fears of renewed communal hostility in India. Several senior officials of the BJP, including Home Minister Lal Kishan Advani, have been implicated in instigating anti-Muslim violence in riots that took place after groups aligned with the BJP destroyed the Babri Masjid, a sixteenth-century mosque, in 1992. In 1998, these groups threatened to go aheadwith plans to build a temple on the site of the destroyed mosque despite the prospect of further violence. In Gujarat, where the state government was also BJP, Hindu activists targeted Christian churches as part of a campaign to drive missionaries from India. In Maharashtra, the state government led by the BJP and Shiv Sena, another Hindu nationalist group, launched a campaign to deport Bengali-speaking Muslims, claiming that they were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. The new government did little to address other longstanding human rights concerns, including child labor and caste violence.

Human Rights Developments
In the aftermath of India’s nuclear tests, an upsurge in shelling and shooting by Indian and Pakistani troops stationed along the cease-fire line in Kashmir left over 100 civilians dead. Although India maintained that the exchanges represented a “seasonal” phenomenon, observers in Kashmir reported that the shelling was the heaviest in several years.

In a deadly new development in Kashmir, Pakistan-backed militant groups massacred Hindu civilians in at least six separate incidents in the first nine months of the year. Most of the killings took place in Doda district and in border villages and appeared to represent a tactical shift for militant groups that had been largely driven out of major towns in the Kashmir valley. On January 25, unidentified gunmen shot dead twenty-three members of two Hindu families in the village of Wandhama, the home district of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. On April 18, militants hacked to death twenty-six people in two villages in Udhampur district. Responding to the massacre, Home Minister Lal Kishan Advani threatened “hot pursuit” of the militants into Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. An April 26 attack on a village in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir appeared to have been carried out in retaliation for the Udhampur massacre ( see Pakistan chapter). On June 19, guerrillas shot dead at least twenty-five male members of two Hindu wedding parties, including both bridegrooms, in Chapnari village in Doda district. On July 25, four people were killed in Hadi Dhoke; on July 28, sixteen people were killed in Doda, and on August 3, thirty-five laborers were shot dead in Chamba, in the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh. On August 31, militants shot dead five people in a village near the capital, Srinagar. Two of the victims were former rebels who had defected to the Indian authorities.

A new government offensive in Doda and the border districts revived patterns of abuse by Indian forces that had abated in the Kashmir valley, where the conflict has been centered since it began in earnest in 1990. In one of the deadliest incidents of its kind in years, army soldiers fatally shot at least nine villagers during a search operation in the town of Qadrana on January 30, after some of the villagers began throwing stones at the troops. Summary executions of detainees also continued. On April 20, security forces detained S. Hamid, chairman of one of the factions of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s League. The next day the authorities claimed he had been killed in a shootout with the Special Operations Group, a counterinsurgency unit of the security forces. However, relatives who witnessed the detention stated that he had been killed in custody.

Caste-related violence continued to represent a serious problem in 1998. Despite campaign promises to address longstanding concerns about violence and discrimination against low-caste “untouchable” Dalit groups, the government made no progress in either investigating incidents of caste-related abuse or implementing laws designed to curb such abuse. Many of the incidents represented an effort by middle- and higher-caste groups to suppress Dalit movements demanding land reform or payment of minimum wages. Women were singled out in attacks and were frequently raped. In Bihar, the Ranvir Sena, a private militia controlled by high-caste landlords, was responsible for murdering at least fifty-eight people on December 1, 1997. During the attack, five teenage girls were raped and mutilated before being shot in the chest. Local police established a camp in the village after the massacre, but situated it in the higher-caste landlord neighborhood, strengthening suspicions about police tolerance of the Ranvir Sena’s activities. No one responsible for the rapes or murders was arrested.

Caste clashes in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu involved local police. On February 26, in Gundupatti, 130 police personnel, together with four truckloads of unidentified strongmen thought to be affiliated with the ruling Dravidian Movement Party (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, DMK), attacked Dalits and bonded laborers residing in two villages in Kookal Panchayat, a remote area of the Kodaikanal hills. According to a local human rights organization, women were kicked and beaten, their clothing was torn, and police forced sticks and iron pipes into their mouths. The attackers reportedly looted and destroyed property and assaulted children and elderly persons. Kerosene was poured into stored food grains and grocery items, and the attackers, including police personnel, reportedly urinated in cooking vessels. The police raid was apparently in retaliation for a decision made by residents of the Kookal Panchayat to boycott national elections.

In Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool district as many as thirty low-caste villagers were killed in the early morning hours of July 16. The victims were hacked to death, and their bodies were thrown into a house which was then set on fire. At least one hundred other houses were burned to the ground. High-caste villagers were believed responsible for carrying out the massacre in apparent retaliation for the murder of a high-caste community leader by members of the People’s War Group (PWG), a Marxist-Leninist organization that has advocated the use of violence to achieve land reform. Many Dalits in the area supported the PWG, and most of those killed belonged to Dalit communities. Local police did not appear on the scene for more than ten hours after the massacre. Dalit villagers told local human rights investigators that many of their attackers remained in the village after the massacre and appeared to have police protection.

On February 16, Bombay High Court Justice B.N. Srikrishna, who conducted the one-man commission of inquiry into the 1992-93 Bombay riots, presented his findings to the Shiv Sena-BJP government of Maharashtra. The report, released to the state legislature on August 6, determined that the riots were the result of a deliberate and systematic effort to incite violence against Muslims, some of whom had carried out spontaneous and sometimes violent protests following the destruction of the Babri Masjid. More than 700 people died in the riots, the vast majority of them Muslims. The report singled out Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and Chief Minister Manohar Joshi as responsible for inciting violence and recommended that they be prosecuted. The report stated:“[T]here is no doubt that the Shiv Sena ... took the lead in organizing attacks on Muslims and their properties....” Despite widespread calls by the political opposition, human rights groups, women’s rights groups, and other community groups, for the prosecution of the perpetrators, the Shiv Sena-BJP government refused to adopt the commission’s recommendations and instead labeled the report “anti-Hindu.” The political opposition planned to petition the state Supreme Court to order the prosecution of Thackeray and Joshi.

Civilians continued to be victims of military operations against armed opposition groups seeking autonomy in India’s northeastern states. In September, Home Ministry Additional Secretary P.D. Shenoy announced that India planned to recruit former members of the separatist United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) into its security forces, including the army, to provide them with employment. As in past years, surrendered ULFA members (called “SULFA”) who aided regular security forces in counterinsurgency operations were implicated in extrajudicial executions. After the August 10 killing of SULFA businessman Tapan Datta and a friend, SULFA agents reportedly retaliated by killing the elder brother of ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, four members of the family of ULFA’s publicity secretary, Mithinga Daimary (Deepak Das), and the elder brother of Krishna Gogoi, leader of ULFA’s Dihing regional unit.

Armed opposition groups in northeastern states carried out attacks on security personnel and government officials and engaged in arbitrary killings of noncombatants, hostage-taking and extortion. In April an armed group in Tripura abducted thirty bus passengers and held six for ransom after releasing the rest. In June suspected members of the All Tripura Tiger Force kidnapped a tea estate owner and killed his son. Bodo separatists and members of ULFA carried out bombings that killed civilians at various points in 1998. Ethnically based separatist groups in Assam, Tripura Manipur and Mizoram were all accused of attacks on villagers of rival ethnic groups. Between December 1997 and May 1998, ethnic clashes in Mizoram reportedly caused more than 3,500 families to flee to Tripura and Assam. On July 29, five women and six children, all Bodos, were killed by Santhal gunmen in Assam’s Kokrajhar district. In September, at least 700 houses were burned in ethnic clashes between members of the Bodo and Santhal tribes in Assam. By mid-September, some forty people had been killed and thousands had fled their homes.

In Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, activists protesting environmental degradation and resettlement of local villagers at the site of the World Bank-financed National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) power plant and ash dikes continued to suffer physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and the destruction of property. In May, the Independent Monitoring Panel (IMP), established in response to a review of the project conducted by the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, set up an office in the Singrauli region to resolve disputes related to compensation and violations of civil and political rights. At the same time, construction of ash dikes in the highly disputed Mithini village area was halted pending resolution of compensation-related grievances.





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