Human Rights in India: Still a Problem

An exchange with one of the 'Gene Expression' people (think: George Will + Dartmouth Review) on Sepia Mutiny has me riled up about the question of human rights in India.

Specifically, what I have to say is this: there is a problem. It is serious. I'm not sure what awaits Paramvir Singh Chattwal, an asylum seeker in Florida who faces deportation after he failed to show up for a hearing. He may be detained by Indian police upon return to India, or he may not. He may be tortured yet further or even killed, or not. I don't know, and I don't think anyone knows.

But there are two things I think people need to remember:

1) Being detained by the Indian police is a very dangerous proposition, even to this day. A human rights activist cited in a recent Washington Post article claimed that there 1,300 people died in police custody in 2002. (I linked to that article in an earlier post)

2) The Indian police has a history of human rights violations it has never been held accountable for. Nor has it ever directly acknowledged that there is a problem.

On this note, let me offer a link to a blog produced by an acquaintance of mine named Jaskaran Kaur. Jaskaran has a Harvard law degree, and lives in Boston. Earlier she worked with an India-based activist named Ram Narayan Kumar to push through full documentation of the disappearances of Sikhs in Punjab. They performed many, many interviews with surviving family members of the 2000+ Sikh men who had been 'disappeared' in the 1980s, and kept the attempt to hold the government accountable alive. Some of the fruits of this research is available at this website. Further documentation is in a book published by the CCDP called Reduced to Ashes.

The point is, this stuff happened. Many, many people have been summarily killed in the interest of India's law and order. I don't know Paramvir Singh Chattwal from adam, and can't say whether I believe him. But if he says he was tortured and still has the scars from stab wounds on his body, I take that seriously. If he's being deported and sent back, that's a concern.

I should be clear: I am not sympathetic with those who want parts of India to secede in the interest of a dubious ethno-religious purity. I love India; I think it's an amazing country. I spend a lot of my professional energy trying to convince people -- colleagues, students, readers -- to take notice of it.

I'm only making these criticisms because I think India would be a much better place if the criminal justice system were radically reformed, if transparency were introduced, and if law-enforcement officers who've crossed the line were held to account for their actions. The first step is to admit what happened. The second is to recognize that it still happens (often for non-ideological reasons now).

But those are steps some people do not seem willing to take.