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Defending Human Rights
The human rights movement in India in 1998 was as varied in its composition and the range of issues addressed as it was in the success of individual groups in achieving substantial reforms. Groups representing anywhere from a handful of individuals to more complex organizations continued to address the range of human rights issues, political and economic. A large number of human rights groups also joined with other activist organizations throughout India to protest against the nuclear tests. As has been the case in previous years, few groups attempted to monitor the controversial concerns arising out of counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir and the northeast. Few independent groups operated in these areas; activists who did so faced harassment and arrest by local police.

In January, Indian groups working to abolish child labor participated in the “Global March Against Child Labor,” an initiative spearheaded by the South Asian Coalition Against Child Servitude (SACCS) that included both children and adults from over 700 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and trade unions in ninety-seven countries. The six-month march wound its way through Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe, culminating in Geneva in June 1998 when discussions began on a new convention on child labor at the International Labor Conference.

In July, forty-one activists from nine Indian states and Delhi participated in meetings organized by Human Rights Watch in Bangalore and Delhi to discuss an advocacy campaign urging implementation of a law aimed at protecting the rights of the low-caste Dalit groups. The campaign, which was to be launched in October, marked the first time groups from north and south India had collaborated on the issue.

The human rights movement in Punjab, which has made significant gains in pushing for prosecutions of Punjab police involved in human rights abuses, suffered a setback when a prominent lawyer was detained in July, and several others were threatened with arrest. Jaspal Singh Dhillon, head of the Forum on Human Rights and Democracy, was detained on July 23. Police claimed that Dhillon and several others had participated in a conspiracy to assist in a jail break by passing explosives to inmates at Burail jail.

In a positive move, in September, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the official National Human Rights Commission could proceed in its investigation of mass cremations carried out by the Punjab police, after a hiatus of more than one year.

On September 8, the Association of the Parents of Missing People, the first organization of its kind in Kashmir, stated at its inaugural press conference that 2,000 people had “disappeared” since 1990 after being taken into custody in Kashmir, and that no legal remedies were available for discovering their fate. Other human rights groups reporting on conditions in Kashmir reported harassment and fear of possible reprisals by the security forces.





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