Asma’s meeting with Bal Thackeray was a damning indictment of state complicity in India’s communal problem
In 2009, lawyer and rights activist Asma Jahangir visited India on a special mission. She represented the United Nations (UN) to investigate the situation of freedom of religion and belief in the neighbouring country.
During her visit to India, she met Hindu radical group Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, a meeting which was used to malign her in Pakistan. In her own words, Asma said that “I went there to investigate the atrocities and if you read the UN report, I condemned them for mistreatment of minorities.”
The two discussed sensitive matters, particularly those pertaining to human rights, including the “Marathi person” issue, Muslims, dictatorship and democracy.
The report titled Promotion And Protection Of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social And Cultural Rights, Including The Right To Development, Asma highlighted key topics including the situation of religious or belief minorities; justice for victims and survivors of communal violence; freedom of religion or belief in Jammu and Kashmir; the negative impact of laws on religious conversion in several states; and implications of religion-based personal laws.
Here Are Some Of The Findings
About The Conditions Of Muslims In India
Muslim interlocutors told Asma that many of them have been arrested on trumped up charges of terrorism. Moreover, it was said that families of those arrested face problems finding a lawyer because no one is willing to defend a terror suspect.
The Lucknow Bar Association had at the time passed a resolution that none of its members should represent the accused of a terrorist act carried out in the state.
It was also said that Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir were facing persecution as they were finding it hard to have passports and security clearances issued to them.
About The Babri Masjid Commission
Asma reported that the Central Government appointed a Commission of Inquiry to probe the Babri Masjid incident within two weeks of the attack. The commission, however, did not submit its final report till the filing of Asma’s UN report.
‘Government Was Complicit’: Asma Jahangir On Gujarat Riots
Asma criticized the authorities for inaction, including complicity by the government, in Godhra train burning and the failure to probe whether it was an accident or a deliberate criminal act.
“A large number of criminal cases relating to the communal violence in 2002 remain un-investigated or have been closed by the Gujarat police and the plight of those internally displaced from their home continues. In addition, there is increasing ghettoization and isolation of Muslims in certain areas of Gujarat, for example in one part of Ahmedabad which is colloquially called “little Pakistan”.”
Asma Faced Harassment At The Hands Of Gujarat Police
In the report, Asma also said that at various meetings with members of the civil society, plain-clothed government agents noted names of her interlocutors. At times, Asma had to insist that police officers left the room during her non-government meetings.
About Kashmir, Asma wrote that “the Muslim community remains vulnerable to excesses of the security forces, while the entire population is a victim of violence perpetrated by militant groups.”
She mentioned that Muslims living in Srinagar reported incidents of extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances and rape committed by Indian forces. They also said that they were denied entry into hotels simply because their passports said ‘Muslim from Srinagar’.
Asma Jahangir On Institutionalized Impunity For Exploitation Of Religion
She also mentioned impunity for exploitation of religion by some groups. “Organised groups claiming roots in religious ideologies have unleashed an all pervasive fear of mob violence in many parts of the country,” Asma said, adding that the security forces were reluctant to take action against individuals or groups that perpetrate violence in the name of religion.
Asma demanded Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Jammu and Kashmir
On her findings about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, Asma said that inquiries into large-scale communal violence must be prioritized by investigation teams, the judiciary or any commission that is appointed to do so.
Furthermore, the State could envisage setting up of truth and reconciliation commissions to create a historical account, contribute to healing and encourage reconciliation in long-standing conflicts, such as the one in Jammu and Kashmir.
Asma On Racial Discrimination In India
Through her report, Asma recommended the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to restore the eligibility for affirmative action benefits of all members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes having converted to another religion.
She recommended that the Scheduled Caste status be delinked from the individual’s religious affiliation.