Two yardsticks for HR abuses .New Delhi should sort-out its own created messes in the conflict zones

The Indian government may have to do a greater deal of explaining than just the dichotomy of prime minister abstaining from the Commonwealth meeting in Colombo while sending his external affairs minister to attend it. Earlier this year, India took a participatory role in signing the UN resolution against Sri Lanka for the latter’s dismal human rightstrack record. Evidently, both the moves are inspired less by a principled concern for human rights and more by vote bank politics, with jarring voices emanating from Tamil Nadu, where the two potential allies, DMK and AIADMK, have exerted enough pressure on the Indian government to convey India’s unequivocal stand that it will not tolerate theviolation of human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamil minority in the island country. Both the respective presidents of these two parties, M Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha, strong political enemies of each other, have demanded that India should fully boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo and have questioned the presence of external affairs minister Salman Khurshid at the meeting. 

The Tamil concern and the competitive vote bank politics over the Sri Lankan question is unmistakable. What, however, is intriguingly complex is the Indian government’s dilemma and its balancing act. There was much dithering before India decided to become an active signatory to the previous UN resolution indicting Sri Lanka of war crimes against Tamil minorities before it succumbed to the pressures of potential and prospective Tamil allies. The dilemma is not driven by some exceptional attraction for Sri Lankan government but by the dubiousness of India’s own poor track record of human rights in Kashmir, north east and Maoist affected states. 

Indian government has failed to adhere to commitments of international humanitarian laws and conventions while dealing with several conflicts within its own boundaries. It continues to excessively use and abuse draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives the army unbridled freedom to detain, interrogate and harass any individual in the states including Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland and Manipur where the act has been extended. Such draconian acts have become a lethal weapon in the hands of the men in uniform and in the face of that, the feeble response of the government has not translated beyond the ritual lip sympathy of maintaining zero tolerance to human rights violations. In practice, the tolerance level to excesses is infinite. The patterns of impunity go beyond the AFSPA and much of the violence is perpetrated by the security forces in north eastern states and Kashmir through the unbridled powers vested in the forces inclusive of the police and the political and official patronage they enjoy. This patronage reveals itself more evidently through botched up investigations and fudged evidences, besides delay and denial of means of providing legal justice. 

The same is true of Chattisgarh and other areas where Maoist violence is prevalent, even though AFSPA exists in these states. In all the conflict zones, the manner in which weapons and money are liberally spent in the name of territorial integrity and fighting counter insurgency without a system of accountability lies at the root of the criminality that has crept into the security network, allowing security personnel to indulge in unlawful acts with impunity and resort to large scale human rights violations. The increasing levels of custodial killings and enforced disappearances reveal the systematic and planned genocide perpetrated by the security forces which prevails mainly because of a lack of a system of accountability. The security personnel are encouraged to kill and harass ordinary civilians by ways of rewarding them with medals and promotions which has also made the forces not just brutal but also criminal. 

In Kashmir, the most militarised region in the world, despite diminishing levels of militancy, the Indian government has been unable to respond with a sincere process of engagement and confidence building through scaling down human rights abuse or through a process of institutionalised justice. Instead, the Valley has only seen a spiraling rise in anger and alienation, exacerbated by the events of 2008, 2010 killings and the more recent Afzal Guru hanging. The Indian government needs to grapple with these uncomfortable truths and its own dichotomy before taking the high moral ground it has taken on excesses in Sri Lanka. This hypocrisy may sooner or later come to painfully haunt the government and before that does, it should begin sorting out its own created messes in the conflict zones without succumbing to any vote bank politics or business lobby pressures that disable any fruitful resolution of these existing tangles, where human rights abuse is exceptionally high.