British Asians call for accountability on human rights in India
August 15, 2002, London
British Asians called for accountability from the government of India and speedy justice for victims of human rights violations in Gujarat. Meeting in London on India 's Independence Day (August 15th), they resolved to form a coalition of Non Resident Indians to work for peace, the protection of the rights of all communities, freedom of conscience and the re-building of civil society. The coalition will take steps to monitor democracy, constitutional safeguards for minorities and protection of human rights in South Asia.
"Human rights are not the gift of the government", said Lord Meghnad Desai of the London School of Economics. "they inhere in individual citizens." Every country needs a 'health check' on its human rights record.
India 's successful, vibrant democracy stands at a defining moment, said Harsh Mander, Director of ActionAid India. The response of Indians and those concerned for India, around the world, will shape the future of democracy and development there.
The conference unequivocally condemned all forms of sectarian violence and resolved to encourage the growth of multi-religious, multi-cultural groups that will work together to address these issues.
Ram Gidoomal CBE, chairing the conference on behalf of a group of NRI business and professional people, and funded by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, explained why he had got involved:
"I am challenged by the words of Martin Niemoller who said: They came for the Communists and I didn't object because I was not a Communist. They came for the Socialists and I didn't object because I was not a Socialist. They came for the Union Leaders and I didn't object because I was not a Labour leader. They came for the Jews and I didn't object because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to object."
The purpose of the conference, he said, was not to apportion blame but to seek ways forward and hear all views. White ribbons were worn by all as a symbol of peace. The conference began with a moment's silence in memory of all victims of communal violence - including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, Christians and others.
"We must move forward from this tragedy of Gujarat" said Sir Gulam Noon, a prominent businessman and Muslim community leader. "There is so much that we can do together. The problem of the Babri Masjid will not go away: Muslims should re-visit it and accommodate our Hindu brothers" he added.
Maja Daruwala, director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in Delhi, pointed out that this can only happen if there is accountability NOW and speedy justice.
Dr Prem Sharma, a leading member of the British Asian community, called for transparency by the government and proposed an international conference in New Delhi to bring together religious and other leaders and take the message of reconciliation and understanding out to local communities.
The conference was moved by Gopal Menon's documentary of the Gujarat tragedy, as well as by a series of 30 second STOP THE HATRED TV messages featuring prominent media and sports personalities, brought by Shrikumar Poddar of the Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment and the Center for South Asian Studies in Michigan. He shared news of initiatives in the USA and a Sadbhavana Peace and Harmony Mission of NRIs to Gujarat and New Delhi in September.
Ram Narayan Kumar, a human rights activist, and John Dayal, journalist, both from New Delhi, expressed their concern for the erosion of democratic rights and the continuing encroachment of the state on its citizens.
There was vigorous exchange of views from many directions. The majority of the over 120 present affirmed their support for the recommendations of the conference committee.
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