Justice Is Exception Not Rule in India

Biliqis Yakoob Rasool

During the large scale violence in Gujarat, India in 2002, Biliqis Yakoob Rasool was gang-raped and saw her entire family, including her daugher, killed in front of her.

A recent report by the New Delhi-based organization, the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), documents India’s the sordid record when it comes to custodial and extrajudicial deaths. They report that since 2001, 14,231 people died in police or judicial custody in India. Some of the cases may not be due to misconduct, but according to the ACHR, “a large majority of these deaths are a direct consequence of torture in custody.”

Amnesty International has been demanding a thorough investigation into 31 unlawful killings by police in the state of Gujarat during 2002-2006. This is not to mention coming to grips with the massacres of minorities in the state that left hundreds dead.


Increase in Crimes Against Muslims

We are deeply concerned about the growing number of reports of crimes committed against Muslims and of other anti-Muslim sentiment and activity in the United States.

Amnesty International deplores the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in New York, the arson attack against a mosque construction site in Tennessee and the vandalizing of an Islamic center in California. These crimes, together with activities such as the proposed “International Burn a Qu’ran Day” sponsored by a Florida church and protests against mosques in other cities, foster a climate of fear, discrimination and persecution against Muslims.  They have no place in a society that values freedom, justice and equality.

Amnesty International has long worked to promote and defend the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes the right to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either individually or in community with others, in public or in private.  We call for an end to rhetoric and actions that discriminate against any faith and stands in solidarity with all those anywhere who are persecuted for their real or perceived beliefs or identity.

Amnesty International urges authorities in the United States to take strong action against attacks directed at people of the Muslim faith. In a climate of fear and perceived external threat, it is essential that the authorities step up measures to ensure that people from all communities, whether citizens or not, are equally protected.  U.S. authorities should continue to denounce intimidation and attacks against Muslims and make clear that crimes of hate and discrimination will not be tolerated.

Posted in USA

Desi Spotlight Series: Indian Muslims Fighting for Rights in India

This is the first posting in the Desi Spotlight Series, a series of blogs that will spotlight organizations and individuals of South Asian origin living in the United States that are making a difference in human rights in South Asia.

For the interview with the President of the Indian Muslim Council – USA, Mr Rasheed Ahmed, see full entry.

Desi is a term used by South Asians in this country to refer to themselves and means roughly, people.  For example, I would say that I am a desi, albeit born and raised in the United States.  The first organization profiled is the Indian Muslim Council – USA, a desi group based in the United States and made up of Americans of Indian origin dedicated to seeing a pluralistic India.

Over 17 years ago, on December 6, 1992, at the culmination of a decade long campaign by the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s main opposition party and ruling party from 1998 to 2004, kar sevaks ignored an order from the Indian Supreme Court and began to tear down the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, a holy city in India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh.  Several days of sectarian violence left thousands dead and the inept government of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao tottering towards defeat in the 1996 elections.  This inept handling of the violence perpetuated by Hindu nationalists groups and subsequent defeat of the government at the elections no doubt led to the horrors of early 2002 in Gujarat.

On February 27, 2002, 56 kar sevaks were killed when the rail carriage they were in caught on fire, trapping the victims.  Blame fell on Muslim shopkeepers in the Godhra Railway Station in the eastern part of Gujarat, despite little or no evidence.  Immediately, politicians in the state where these murders occurred, Gujarat, began whipping up their supporters to attack specific Muslim neighborhoods and specific people living in those neighborhoods.  The whole state was soon consumed in an orgy of violence that was only stopped a few days later when the Indian Army was deployed in the worst hit areas.  Thousands of Muslims were forced into so-called “relief camps”. Thousands more met a worse fate, killed, raped, or traumatized.  Nearly seven years later, some of the people most closely implicated in the violence, particularly Chief Minister Narendra Modi, are not only free and not facing charges, but are also still holding the levers of power.


Shia Muslims Still Face Inequality in Saudi Arabia

A new report by Human Rights Watch, entitled “Denied Dignity”, outlines how Shia Muslims of Saudi Arabia struggle against “systematic discrimination”.  The Shia community, which comprises about 10% to 15% of the Saudi population, faces “unfavourable treatment” in areas including religion, education, employment, and the justice system.

A recent Human Rights Watch report highlights an incident this past February where Shia Muslims clashed with religious police in the holy city of Medina. The report found that at this incident, “Security forces shot a 15-year-old pilgrim in the chest, and an unknown civilian stabbed a Shia religious sheikh in the back with a knife, shouting ‘Kill the rejectionist [Shia].’ This led to a number of demonstrations in the Eastern Province and to many protestors also being arrested.  Additionally, the report mentions how communal Shia prayer halls in the city of Khobar were closed in July of 2008 and how in 2009 many Shia religious and community leaders were arrested.

In the report’s press release, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch said:

 All the Saudi Shia want is for their government to respect their identity and treat them equally. Yet Saudi authorities routinely treat these people with scorn and suspicion. 

While Human Rights Watch recognized some efforts toward religious tolerance made by King Abdullah the monarch of Saudi Arabia, they stated that “the discrimination by state institutions has not ended” and that domestically no progress has been made towards promoting or implementing religious tolerance. In the same press release Human Rights Watch also demanded that a commission be established for the equal sharing of holy places by all Muslims especially in the holy cities of Mekka and Medina.

The BBC and both Human Rights Watch cite religious differences to be main source of the tension and subsequent inequality between the religious groups.

At the end of the press release, Whitson called on the Saudi government to change its ways and honor the vows for religious tolerance that King Abdullah made in his speeches in Madrid and New York in 2008,

The Saudi government has long regarded its Shia citizens through the prism of Wahhabi dogma or state stability, branding them as unbelievers or suspecting their national loyalties. It is time for a new approach that treats Shia as citizens with equal rights.

Sana Javed contributed to this post.