Human Rights Developments
The destruction of a sixteenth-century mosque in Ayodhya, in north India, on December 6, 1992, continued to have violent repercussions throughout the country as political leaders tried to exploit rising tension between Hindus and Muslims. In January 1992, unprecedented communal violence in Bombay left at least 700 dead. Massacres of civilians by Indian security forces in Kashmir continued during the year; armed Kashmiri militants were also responsible for some summary executions of non-combatants. The conflicts in Punjab and Assam abated considerably, but security forces continued to commit abuses with impunity. Although the government of India found itself increasingly under pressure to respond to international and domestic criticism about human rights violations, it took few concrete steps to end them.
The razing of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was the culmination of a campaign by the Hindu nationalist political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), together with other Hindu militant organizations, to challenge the Narasimha Rao government and assert the dominance of Hindu culture in India. Despite promises by BJP state government officials that the mosque would be protected, police at the site reportedly refused to intervene to prevent either the demolition or subsequent attacks on journalists and others. More than 1,000 died in the violence that followed in cities across north India. A disproportionate number of those killed were Muslims shot by police. In some cases, those shot dead were pulled from their homes and summarily executed. In Surat, in the state of Gujarat, attacks on Muslims included the gang-rapes of women.
In January, Muslims in Bombay were again the principal target during nine days of violence in which more than 700 people were killed. The Bombay police, many of whom reportedly support the Hindu militant Shiv Sena organization, deliberately targeted Muslims or stood back while mobs burned Muslims' homes. An official investigation into the violence and the police's role began in April; as of November, no findings had been made public. In August, the report of an independent commission, headed by two retired High Court judges, was published by the Indian People's Human Rights Commission, an independent group. It named eighty policemen and politicians from the BJP and the Congress (I) political party who were identified by eyewitnesses as participating in the violence.
On March 12, Bombay was rocked by a series on bomb blasts that tore through tourist hotels, markets and the stock exchange, killing at least 250 people. A police investigation blamed a prominent Muslim family involved in organized crime for the bombings. The motive for the attack remained unclear.
In Kashmir, the year began with the massacre of civilians by Border Security Force (BSF) troops in the western city of Sopore on January 6, in retaliation for a militant attack in which two soldiers had died. Eyewitnesses confirmed that the troops went on a rampage and killed at least forty-three persons, some of whomdied of gunshot wounds, others of whom were burned alive when the troops set fire to their shops and homes. Although security officials first claimed that the victims died in cross-fire, the government was forced to order a judicial inquiry and to suspend several officers in response to widespread publicity about the incident. By November, no details of the proceedings or findings had been made public. Human rights groups complained that the investigation was being hampered by the fact that it had been held in Srinagar, some twenty-five miles away, making it impossible for many witnesses to testify.
In February, the Indian government launched a new initiative, spearheaded by Union Minister of State for Internal Security Rajesh Pilot, to open negotiations toward a political settlement. Ironically, these efforts met with an upsurge in violence in March and April, provoked by hard-line elements in both the government and intelligence agencies and by extremist militant factions. As the government appeared increasingly divided over its Kashmir policy, human rights conditions in the state worsened dramatically. By November, human rights groups and journalists in Kashmir reported several hundred executions of detainees since mid-1992. The death of a police constable in army custody, on April 21, sparked a revolt by the local police force, which was widely believed to sympathize with the militants. Although several key political figures returned to the civilian administration in Srinagar in May, and the controversial head of the abusive BSF was transferred out of the state, abuses continued.
Tensions again escalated during a month-long standoff between the army and Muslim militants barricaded inside the Hazratbal mosque in Srinagar beginning on October 15. On October 22, BSF troops in the town of Bijbehara opened fire on protesters who were demonstrating against the army siege, reportedly after first blocking the street in which the marchers had assembled. The standoff at the mosque was brought to an end when the government agreed to permit the militants to surrender to local Kashmiri police rather than to the army.
Militant groups in Kashmir continued to murder suspected informers and other civilians, to launch attacks on civilian targets, and to commit rape and other abuses. On May 11, the Hezb-ul Mujahidin launched rocket-propelled grenades at the offices of the civilian administration in Srinagar, killing one employee and injuring three others. Militant groups also issued death threats against the press, including employees of the state-run television corporation, which was forced to withdraw a serial on the Bible. The program resumed on April 11 after state officials provided extra security for the television station in Srinagar.
The brutal police crackdown in Punjab appeared to have brought an end to the ten-year-old conflict there but at the cost of massive police abuses. Director General of Police K.P.S. Gill's counter-insurgency efforts included torture, disappearances and a bounty system of cash rewards for the summary execution of suspected Sikh militants. The campaign succeeded in eliminating most of the major militant groups, and by early 1993, the government claimedthat normalcy had returned to the state. Police abuses continued, however, and there was no effort to account for hundreds of disappearances and summary killings. Although Gill promised to take action against abusive policemen, he promoted them instead, meanwhile, similar operations were launched in neighboring states to kill suspected militants who had migrated out of Punjab. Government officials considered these brutal methods as a model to be applied elsewhere; the upsurge in summary executions in Kashmir was cited as an example of the "Punjab solution."
Sikh militants were believed responsible for a car bomb which exploded in New Delhi on September 11, killing eight people. The apparent target was a senior Sikh leader of the Congress Party, Maninder Singh Bitta, who was injured by the blast.
The repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees from Tamil Nadu resumed in August, under circumstances tantamount to refoulement. No international agency was permitted access to the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu to monitor whether the registration of refugees was voluntary; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was permitted to interview refugees only after they had been registered and moved to transit camps to await repatriation. Asia Watch representatives who visited the camps in April discovered that refugees had been subjected to direct and indirect coercion, including arbitrary arrest, withdrawal of stipends and food rations, and pressure to sign forms indicating their willingness to return. The refugees had no reliable means of getting information about conditions upon which to base their decision to return and were frequently unaware of bombing and fighting in their home villages.
Government efforts to check sectarian violence focused initially on attempts to impose sweeping bans on religiously-based political parties rather than to prosecute and punish political leaders and police responsible for inciting and participating in the violence. On December 10, 1992, the central government banned five organizations under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act on the grounds that they had incited religious hatred and communal violence, but the bans were later overturned by the Supreme Court. In late February 1993, thousands of BJP supporters who defied a government ban on a rally in central New Delhi were arrested, but they were released within a few days. Moves in August and September by the government to ban religiously-based political parties were obstructed by opposition parties. On October 5, forty politicians, including senior BJP and Shiv Sena leaders, were formally charged with criminal conspiracy and the destruction and defiling of a place of worship for their role in the violence at Ayodhya.
The militant Hindu organization Shiv Sena was responsible for a number of attacks on journalists in 1993, including the May 22 murder of Dinesh Pathak, the editor of Sandesh, who was stabbed six months after the former head of the Shiv Sena in Gujarat publicly threatened to eliminate him.
On March 30, Indian authorities canceled a $450-million World Bank loan for the controversial Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River in western India because they were unable to meet environmental and resettlement standards established following a1992 Bank-sponsored review of the project. Officials insisted, however, that the project would be completed without World Bank funding. Anti-dam demonstrations in April and May resulted in the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators and police raids of villages scheduled for inundation. As of November 1993, the project remained under government review.
A bill to establish a national commission to investigate reports of human rights violations was submitted to the parliament in May 1993. In September, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao established the commission by executive order and named former High Court justice Raganath Misra to head it. Although the commission's powers remained to be finalized, it appeared likely to have only a limited role in recommending action with regard to abuses by the military.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights monitoring continued to be extremely dangerous in areas of conflict in India, especially Kashmir. On December 5, 1992, Hirdai Nath Wanchoo, one of the most prominent human rights activists in Kashmir, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Almost a year later, no one had been brought to justice for the murder. The government's refusal to conduct an independent investigation of the murder raised serious questions about the possibility of government complicity in the killing.
On February 18, 1993, Dr. Farooq Ahmed Ashai, fifty-four, chief orthopedic surgeon at the Bone and Joint Hospital in Srinagar, was shot and killed by Indian paramilitary troops at a security force post located near the Rambagh bridge in Srinagar. Dr. Ashai was an outspoken critic of the government's human rights record in Kashmir, and had documented cases of indiscriminate shooting and torture. The killing was apparently in retaliation for a militant grenade attack on the security forces about one-half hour earlier. An inquiry into the incident reportedly confirmed that the central reserve police force troops shot Dr. Ashai, but as of December 1993, the inquiry report had not been made public. Dr. Abdul Ahad Guru, a renowned Kashmiri surgeon, was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in Srinagar on March 31, 1993. Dr. Guru was a member of the governing council of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), and his political position made him a target for rival militant groups as well as elements within his own organization. He was also an outspoken critic of human rights abuses by Indian security forces in Kashmir and met frequently with the international press and international human rights groups. He and his family had been harassed and assaulted by the security forces on several occasions. During the funeral procession, police opened fire on the mourners, shooting Dr. Guru's brother-in-law in the head and killing him instantly.
Jaspal Singh, president of the Ropar branch of the Punjab Human Rights Organisation, was detained by the Punjab police on the evening of August 16, 1993. The case attracted considerable attention from domestic and international human rights groups, and on September 8, Jaspal Singh was returned to his home by the Punjab police.
The government's policy on international human rightsinvestigations was erratic. India does not officially permit international human rights organizations to conduct investigations, although it has permitted Asia Watch representatives to carry out research on tourist visas. In August, however, Minister of State for External Affairs Salman Khurshid stated that the government would not consider a request from Asia Watch for a research mission. In November 1992 the government had invited a delegation from Amnesty International for meetings in Delhi, but as of November 1993, the organization had not yet been permitted to carry out any investigations. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has never been permitted to perform its protection activities in India, including prison visits. However, in September, the Indian government made it known that the home secretary had agreed to permit the ICRC to conduct human rights seminars for border security forces in Kashmir.
The first visit by a senior State Department official to New Delhi under the Clinton administration was marked by public criticism of India's human rights record. In May, then-Interim Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia John Malott stated that India "had to take steps to bring the behavior of its security forces into line with its constitutional commitment to human rights, especially in Kashmir." In his September 27 address to the United Nations, President Clinton mentioned Kashmir as one conflict that posed a threat to world peace.
During a briefing for the South Asia press on October 28, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel appropriately criticized paramilitary forces responsible for the October 22 massacre of thirty-eight demonstrators in Kashmir and stated that the administration was pushing India "very hard to clean up their act in terms of human rights violations" and "make the security forces accountable for their own behavior." She also stated that the "insurgency is not an excuse" for disappearances, extrajudicial executions and deaths in custody. The briefing, which was meant to be on background, became the subject of a diplomatic now between India and the U.S. following Secretary Raphel's observation that the U.S. did not recognize that Kashmir's accession to India was necessarily final.
Human rights issues also continued to be the subject of private discussions between India and the U.S. In fact, by early 1993, human rights was frequently cited as one of the three most contentious issues between the two countries, along with nuclear proliferation and trade issues. In private discussions with the Indian government, the U.S. raised human rights issues at the July 1 donors meeting in Paris, an initiative urged by several leading members of Congress.
On June 16, the House of Representatives voted to condition future International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance on presidential certification of improvement in India's human rights record. The move was opposed by the administration and was not included in the Senate authorization bill, which however noted the need for swift investigation ofhuman rights abuses and punishment of those responsible as well as access by international human rights groups to areas of conflict in India.
In a report accompanying the 1993 appropriations bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee expressed its disappointment that the ICRC had not been permitted access to Kashmir and called on the Indian government to act forcefully to end abuses. It also urged the U.S. executive directors to the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and IMF to "use their voice and vote, in accordance with United States human rights law, to promote improvements in human rights by the Indian government."
U.S. military assistance and military sales to India in fiscal year 1993 included the IMET program, estimated at $345,000, commercial military sales licensed under the Arms Export Control Act, estimated at $54.6 million and military sales under the Foreign Military Sales Program, estimated at $40 million. World Bank loans planned for 1993 totaled $3.7 billion.
The Work of Asia Watch
India remained a high priority for Asia Watch in 1993. Asia Watch's statements calling for investigations into the role of the police during the communal violence that followed the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya received wide coverage.
In order to focus international attention on the crisis in Kashmir, Asia Watch, together with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), published a series of reports throughout the year on torture, rape, extrajudicial executions and violations of medical neutrality. The reports received extensive press coverage in India and were widely circulated in Kashmir. Asia Watch also publicly called on the U.S. to suspend all military assistance and military sales to India until the government took steps to end abuses.
In March 1993, Asia Watch held discussions with government officials and representatives of human rights organizations in Delhi. On April 28, Asia Watch testified about human rights in India at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs. Asia Watch also released a newsletter on abuses in Assam on April 18.