Obama: India Ain't Just About Gandhi and Outsourcing

As an Indian-American, anytime the US President visits India, I get excited about the possibilities of a stronger relationship between the two gigantic countries.  And, tomorrow, US President Barack Obama is off to India, stopping in Mumbai and Delhi, among other places.  It also happens to coincide with Diwali, the closest equivalent to Christmas in the Hindu calendar.

The Indian media as usual is going completely bonkers about the trip highlighting every aspect of the trip from the security issues related to a US presidential visit to whether a visit to the Sikh holy site in Amritar might be bad for Obama politically back home.

There is also WAY too much coverage of Obama’s views of Mahatma Gandhi and what it means for him to be visiting India.  Of course, there’s the obligatory stuff about India’s booming outsourcing industry and their high tech sector.

What I haven’t seen much of was whether there will be a discussion of human rights.  It’s probably because there won’t be much of a discussion.  But, there is a LOT to talk about:

  1. Bhopal: 24 years almost to the day was when the world heard the horror of the victims of the Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) gas release.  There is still little accountability for allowing these deaths to occur and both President Obama and Prime Minister Singh must take steps in each of their countries to prosecute the perpetrators of this human rights catastrophe.
  2. Kashmir: Obama is walking a tightrope on getting involved in the human rights violations in Kashmir, but he must insist that the human rights violations stop and that peace and justice return to the valley as a way to begin discussions on the status of the area.  I recently did a chat on Twitter about Kashmir and we have an action on Kashmir as well.  Things are incredibly grim in the Kashmir Valley and if it’s ignored, the US will have certainly lost credibility on human rights.
  3. Myanmar (aka Burma): Both the US and India must publicly call for the release of all prisoner’s of conscience and an end to human rights violations.
  4. Sri Lanka: Both the US and India must call upon the Sri Lankan government to address human rights violations that had occurred during the civil war.
  5. Terrorism: Both India and the US must take steps to ensure that all prosecutions of terrorism suspects be conducted fairly.  Victims of terrorism are victims of human rights violations and the perpetrators of these violations need to be prosecuted.
  6. Both countries need to abolish the death penalty.

If India and the United States work to incorporate human rights into their relationship, then this could be the start of a great relationship!

Mumbai Attacks Gunman Convicted

Update, 5/7/2010: The trial judge has ordered the execution of Ajmal Qasab.  My hope is that his sentence is commuted because executing Qasab is simply a form of revenge.

The sole surviving member of the squad responsible for the deaths of 174 (almost all civilians) people in downtown Mumbai in late November 2008 was convicted of murder, although two of his alleged associates were acquitted of the charges.  A court was created in Maharashtra (the state were Mumbai is located) to prosecute these cases and this case was the culmination of year long prosecution that had numerous hiccups along the way.  In India, the various states (somewhat like the United States) are responsible for dealing with matters of human rights, criminal prosecution and more generally, internal security.

When Amnesty International calls for justice for the victims of human rights violations, this is an example of what we would like to see.  A fair trial even for someone like Ajmal Amir Qasab is essential to furthering human rights throughout India and throughout the world.  Countries around the world should use the trial of Qasab as a model for how justice can be meted out for gross violations of human rights such as these terrorist actions.

I would urge the trial judge to not impose the death penalty.