03/17/2008, 00.00

Human rights in India: between democracy, caste, and official complicity

A well-known activist speaks of the struggle for the protection of rights, against the caste system. The main enemies are silence and the complicity of the public authorities. The grave violations of the communist government of Bengal.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - The Indian government "generally respected the rights of its citizens; however, numerous serious problems remained", says the recent 2007 report on human rights from the U.S. state department. Lenin Raghuvanshi, the director of the Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights and the winner in 2007 of the prestigious Gwuangju Prize for human rights, talks with AsiaNews about this report and about the situation in the country.

Among India's greatest problems, the report indicates extrajudicial homicides, and the disappearances and tortures carried out by the security forces and terrorists. Raghuvanshi is critical of the United States, which he says is not looking above all at the human rights violations taking place within its own borders.  But concerning India, he considers the report "objective and fact based", although it is necessary to give greater attention to the connection between human rights violations and "caste based discrimination".

The Indian authorities, he says, often silence the denunciations of rights violations, and do "practically nothing to prevent human rights violations in India, particularly concerning the right to food and caste based discrimination".

The report observes that the system generates many violations of the rights of the lower castes.  "The Indian caste system", he explains, "is entirely undemocratic, and based on the concept of inequality, and any attempt to change the system creates a reaction on the part of those who want to maintain the status quo".  "Homicides over dowries, honour crimes, female infanticide, feticide, human trafficking and exploitation, child labour, all these are consequences of a feudal patriarchal system founded upon caste".

But his criticism also extends to politics, above all "what the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has done in Nandigram (western Bengal)". "In order to set up a chemical plant belonging to a multinational group, and to create solid relationships with other multinationals, the [communist government] of western Bengal has inflicted indiscriminate violence upon its residents and has illegally dispossessed poor farmers from their property".  "The communist government has acted as an agent of the multinationals and has used its power, given to it by the people, against the people", working "for the benefit of a few" and "using means unimaginable  in a civil society to terrorise the population".

"We have been stunned", he continues, "in learning that women in Nandigram, who were peacefully protesting against the expropriation of their land, have been attacked, raped, and killed", in an atmosphere of violence created by the police and communist party (CPM) activists. "It is a great shame" that the women of the CPM, who are in the millions and have great power, have done nothing and have remained silent over this violence committed against women by the state". (NC)

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