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A profound failure of public compassion

Deportation of seven Rohingya men to Myanmar

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Harsh Mander

On October 4, the Indian government deported seven Rohingya men to Myanmar. Hours before they crossed over, their return was validated by India’s Supreme Court. But this was less than a month after the United Nations Human Rights Council had unequivocally held that the Rohingya community in Myanmar was being subjected to the gravest crime against humanity, of genocide, a threshold that it applies in the rarest cases of mass targeted violence. By wilfully sending these men into conditions of genocidal violence and persecution, India has failed profoundly as a humane democracy. It has reneged on its constitutional guarantees and humanitarian obligations and in displaying elementary public compassion.

 

Even as the bus in which the men were being transported approached the international border with Myanmar in Moreh in Manipur, the Supreme Court heard an urgent plea to halt their deportation by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl Dsouza. They argued that the men had entered India to escape widespread bloodshed and discrimination in their homeland. To send them back into a situation that was credibly documented to be extremely dangerous and in which they could be tortured or killed violated their constitutional rights under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution. These fundamental rights apply not only to all “citizens” but all “persons” who reside in India. India was also bound by its obligations under international treaties and covenants, because there was enough evidence, including reports of the United Nations, that the situation in Myanmar did not assure the men safe repatriation. Still, the Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, was not convinced. The learned judges ruled that they found no reason to restrain the government from handing the men over to the Myanmar authorities.

Immediately after the Indian police handed them over to the Myanmar authorities, the seven men were taken into detention. The likely fate of these men, now in a detention centre somewhere in Myanmar, is grim. In August, Human Rights Watch reported the torture in Myanmar detention centres of Rohingya persons who returned to the country from Bangladesh, including of their being forced into stress positions, beaten with rods and sticks, and subjected to electric shocks. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement:

 

“The torture of Rohingya returnees puts the lie to Myanmar government promises that refugees who return will be safe and protected. Despite Myanmar’s rhetoric guaranteeing a safe and dignified return, the reality is that Rohingya who go back still face the persecution and abuses they were forced to flee.”

 

The seven men were arrested for illegal entry in 2012 after they were caught by the police in the Shilchori-Nagatila region of Assam. They served a sentence of three months for the crime of entering India without valid documents. But after they completed this sentence, they were incarcerated for six years at the detention centre in Silchar Central Jail. It is from here that they were eventually deported to Myanmar.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre has been raising a public alarm about the alleged security threat posed by the small numbers – around 40,000 – of extremely impoverished Rohingya people who live in India. I have visited their settlements in several cities: they survive in squalor, mostly by picking waste. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in September that Rohingyas in India were “illegal immigrants” and not refugees. He added that “we have to think about the human rights of our own people before talking about the human rights of people from other countries”, and that the “issue of national security is involved with regard to illegal immigration, which our country cannot undermine”. Kiren Rijiju, the Union minister of state for home, declared in Parliament on August 9, 2017, “The government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas.”

The Union government also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on September 18, 2017, stating that it had “authentic material” that Rohingyas had links to the Islamic State and Pakistan-based terrorist organisations. It said it would submit evidence of this to the Supreme Court in a “sealed cover”, but it has not done so. It has also not followed up these general allegations with specific charges based on evidence.

The portrayal of hapless and mostly indigent women, men and children escaping genocidal violence in the country of their birth as “terrorists” and a grave national security risk by the BJP government is worrying, but not unexpected. The BJP’s leaders routinely describe undocumented immigrants of Muslim identity from both Bangladesh and Myanmar as “security threats” to the Indian people, with innuendos of terror links. The party’s national president, Amit Shah, has stoked communal fires in the run-up to the 2019 general elections by describing undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar as “infiltrators”, likening them to “termites” who must be eliminated. The BJP government has proposed a law that will treat immigrants of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Christian faiths as refugees who would be eligible for Indian citizenship. There is no ambiguity in their hate iconography that only undocumented Muslim immigrants are the enemy and a threat to the nation. This leads to greater apprehension that as the general elections approach, this first deportation of Rohingyas to Myanmar may well be followed by many more.

More than the BJP government and party leaders, what is a source of greater disquiet is the role of the Supreme Court in this case. India’s highest court is often the last refuge for the defence of the human rights of the most vulnerable people when they confront a partisan and hostile state. But the Supreme Court summarily let the seven Rohingya men be sent back to Myanmar. It refused to stop their return because it accepted on face value the Union government’s claims that the men had consented to this, and that Myanmar had agreed to issue them documents as citizens or nationals. As Ishita Kumar and Nayantara Raja argue in a carefully reasoned critique of the court’s decision, “The key considerations based on which the Supreme Court refused intervention in the deportation of the Rohingya men were gravely misplaced.”

First is the question of consent of the men to be returned to Myanmar. I looked carefully at the Union government’s affidavit to the Supreme Court, in which they have actually made no such claim, let alone produced any document to prove the men had consented to their repatriation. But even if it turns out that the men did give their consent, what were the circumstances in which they made this choice? The men had already spent six years in a detention centre in an Assam prison. In June, I wrote of the hellish conditions in these detention centres that house those who have been deemed to be foreigners. In violation of international law, they are incarcerated indefinitely, with no recourse to secure their liberty. In these conditions, I speculate but have no way of being certain that maybe the seven men were told that their only chance of freedom was if they agreed to return to the country of their birth, and that despite all its perils, they accepted this as the lesser of two evils. I do not know if they actually made a choice, but if they did, was this a fair, humane and just choice to place before people who had committed no crime except to try to escape the violence and persecution of their homeland?

And as Kumar and Raja write, the second premise of the Supreme Court that Myanmar had agreed to accept the men as citizens was also deeply flawed. This is because “under the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982, the Rohingya ethnicity is not recognised as one of the ‘national races’ of Myanmar. While the law also stipulates that those who can definitively prove that their ancestors settled in the country before 1823 also qualify as citizens, and the Rohingya presence in the Arakan region can be traced back to 8th century, this ethnic group continues to be denied citizenship. Rohingyas have systematically been denied legal status in their country of origin and thus far there has been no law enacted or amended that proves that Rohingyas will be given Myanmarese citizenship”.

The Myanmar government did not give them any citizenship documents, only a Certificate of Identity, confirming that they were Myanmar nationals (not citizens). Human rights activist Tapan Bose points out that the Indian authorities have “accepted a separate nationality verification form issued by the Embassy of Myanmar and is coercing the Rohingya refugees to fill and sign this form… Rohingya refugees have said that the form given by the embassy is the same as National Verification Card [NVC] which falsely frames Rohingyas as ‘foreigners or foreign-born or those with foreign roots’”.

Bose observed, “It is appalling, that at a time, when the world community is moving towards prosecuting the Myanmar government for genocide, India, the world’s largest democracy has become the first country to deport members of the world’s most persecuted community back to Myanmar, where they have been systematically, torture[d], raped, butchered and forcibly evicted.”

It is sobering to recount the conditions in Myanmar – as reported by the United Nations Human Rights Council just weeks before – into which India has sent these seven men. The report concludes:

“The gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity. Many of these violations undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law. They are also shocking because they stem from deep fractures in society and structural problems that have been apparent and unaddressed for decades. They are shocking for the level of denial, normalcy and impunity that is attached to them…

“The United Nations and the international community must ensure that the repatriation of refugees and the return of internally displaced persons are allowed only when safe, voluntary and dignified, with explicit human rights protections in place, including citizenship. In the current circumstances, such returns are not possible…”

I have no idea what will be the eventual destinies of these seven men. I fervently hope that they are released soon from the detention centre in which they are currently housed, without having suffered torture or indignities, and are allowed to return with respect and security to their homes and families. I hope they are able to live with their families in peace, earning a living and raising their children with hope and in safety. But I know that the chances that this will be what life will give them are very slender. If instead they fall to the hate and bigotry of a fractured nation in tumult – one from which they had fled to India in search of a safe haven – I will carry on my conscience many burdens. Of their suffering. Of the precipitous collapse of public compassion of my country. And of the knowledge that my country – its elected government, its highest court and its people – so wantonly and pitilessly sent these innocent, unfortunate men into fear, hate and possible death.

 

 


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Opinion

Silence and mayhem go together in India

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Anand K Sahay

There is perhaps nothing more striking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s present tenure — which ends in a few months — than its silence on matters where the clear choice of right and wrong, moral versus immoral, ethics or the want of it, and adherence to the Constitution or its negation, has presented itself.

Since a clear endorsement of what society considers bad, wrong, undesirable or lacking in constitutional propriety or probity cannot be a public good, and may cost at election time, remaining quiet is designed as a clever tactic. Its purpose is to offer comfort to wrongdoers (sometimes evildoers) and suspected criminals, thus causing injury to the notion of what’s right, valid and appropriate conduct for an elected government.

That, in turn, amounts to a violation of the compact between the government and the country’s citizens, and causes visible injury to the oath every minister of the government takes at the time of being sworn in.

In the process the state and the government lose their authority. The emperor begins to be seen as being denuded. There may be murmurs of rebellion but the people do not rise in revolt because too much force is ranged on the other side. They would rather bide their time.

Two recent instances come to mind — though several more can be cited — of the regime’s sly silence. Consider first the case of M.J. Akbar in relation to the vigorous #MeToo campaign and the stunning allegations of sexual predation made against him by more than 20 women.

The minister of state for external affairs was eventually forced to resign under the weight of his omissions and commissions in the course of dealing with young women over whom he had authority. But the point here is the reaction of the BJP, the ruling party; the RSS, which holds that party’s moral compass and is its moral arbiter; and more importantly the government, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made Mr Akbar minister, and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj under whom he served.

It would be understandable if all the above had remained circumspect and quiet when the minister was overseas on assignment. But BJP and RSS spokesmen, speaking on television, were anything but discreet. They in fact went out of their way to attack the women who had accused Mr Akbar — asking for proof of allegations of sexual misconduct as if these can ever exist (by the very nature of the alleged crime) — and the RSS representatives, in particular, maintaining that India “is not a banana republic and the rule of law exists here”.

In effect, the victims of the minister’s alleged predatory conduct were sought to be demonised and traduced. Those engaging in this sport gave no evidence of appreciating that moral uprightness is a requirement in governance, not legal proof, when confronted with allegations of wrongdoing.

They had obviously not heard of a former Prime Minister, a man called Lal Bahadur Shastri (who had resigned as railway minister in the Nehru Cabinet, accepting constructive responsibility when a train accident occurred).

This may be the RSS’ idea of morality, but the Narendra Modi government should have had its own mind on the matter since, unlike the RSS, the government is a creature of the Constitution.

The Prime Minister was morally duty-bound to give the minister marching orders upon his return to India if only to make the point that a sustained record of alleged crimes against women cannot be tolerated as it robs the government as well as the society of its dignity, and the entire class of women of their very being and soul. But Mr Modi maintained a sphinx-like silence as is his wont, and this encouraged

Mr Akbar to file a case of criminal defamation — pointedly not civil defamation — against the first woman to have raised her finger.

The government’s ear-splitting silence was consistent with its lack of any communication with the public whenever serious crimes against women rocked the country, signifying that the Union government had no sympathy for the females whose bodily integrity had been criminally encroached upon.

Two shameful episodes illustrate this — the Kathua gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old child near Jammu and the subsequent open public defence of the criminals by ministers of the J&K government to the shock of the entire country, with the government at the Centre remaining stoical. The second numbing episode is that of a BJP MLA in Uttar Pradesh, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, raping a minor girl and having her father tortured and murdered at a police station when he went there to lodge a complaint.

The second recent instance of governmental encouragement through the use of silence as tactic concerns RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat. During his recent three-day outreach programme in New Delhi, the RSS leader declared, in effect, that while the Supreme Court may be adjudicating the Ayodhya title dispute, in reality it was the Temple Construction Committee (of the Hindutva outfits) that would decide the construction of the Ram temple (at the site where the Babri mosque was felled in 1992) — irrespective of the outcome of the court’s labours.

This was nothing if not heaping humiliation on the highest court of the land. But the government just stood and watched in a neutral stance. Perhaps the regime’s thinking is in harmony with the outrageous proposition outlined by the top boss of a dangerous outfit whose mention comes up in “riot after riot” (to recall the title of a book authored by Mr Akbar in his pre-BJP days).

This is not the only serious infraction the RSS leader is guilty of. Just weeks afterward, delivering his Vijayadashami address on October 18, Mr Bhagwat referred to the permitting of the entry of women to the Sabarimala temple (by a recent order of the Supreme Court) in inflammatory and prejudicial terms, choosing to renew his assault on the top court with an emotional pitch to the target audience, doubtless with a view to rabble-rousing.

In the context of the Sabarimala judgment, the man actually said that “repeated and brazen onslaughts” happened to “Hindu society alone”. In a Hindu-majority country, this is a call to arms for the Hindus on a false and hypocritical premise. The call to arms is not against the Supreme Court, not even only against the traditionally targeted minorities, but on the Constitution itself. Once again, the government answered the challenge with silence.

It is time to ponder if the leader of the RSS would have thought it prudent to speak in this manner and idiom if he didn’t have under his command a trained paramilitary-style volunteer force, which receives the benign attention of the government. It’s also worth wondering what’s left of the sheen of the government and the majesty of the law. Big trouble lies ahead. We may as well brace for it.

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Opinion

The truth of BJP victory in Kashmir

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Rahiba R. Parveen

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed victory in the urban local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the “stupendous effort” of the party.

“I salute the entire team of @BJP4JnK for their stupendous efforts in the local body elections. I am glad that they reached out to every section of society and explained the Party’s development agenda,” he tweeted.

Both are factually correct. After all, the BJP did win 100 of the 624 wards in the Kashmir region — its best performance ever — and will head six municipal bodies.

It won over 212 of the 520 wards in Jammu, a notable feat in view of the anti-incumbency of the last four years.
However, there’s a subtext to the BJP’s big achievement.

No contest

Of the 100 seats that it won in Kashmir, the party had no opponent in 76. In at least two seats, even the party’s own candidate stayed away from the polling booth.

That’s not all.

Of the 157 wards won by the Congress, 78 were uncontested. Independents won 178 wards, of which 75 witnessed no contest.

Of the 624 wards in Kashmir, as many as 185 wards still remain vacant in the absence of any candidate willing to contest. A significant 231 saw a single candidate, while just 208 witnessed a contest.

In Nawakadal, for example, BJP’s Arif Majeed Pampoori got 27 of the 45 votes polled, while the total number of voters registered for this ward are 5,372.

In Karan Nagar, Ashok Kabul (BJP) won by 73 votes of 144 polled. All 73 votes were cast by migrants.

Another victory for BJP was in Bagh-e-Mehtab, where Bashir Ahmed Mir secured eight votes of the nine polled. This ward has 5,118 electors.

Nazir Ahmed Gilkar from Basant Bagh won 77 votes of 133 polled; there are 13,748 electors in this ward.

Farooq Ahmad Khan alias Saifullah (BJP) lost to Nakul Matto in Tankipora (ward 33). A former militant, Khan could only get four votes. Of the four votes, three were cast by migrants.

In four militancy-hit districts of south Kashmir, BJP won 58 wards. Around 34 winners in these wards are non-Muslims. In the Anantnag municipal committee, the BJP secured 29 of 132 wards. In Shopian, of the 17 wards, it won 12. In Kulgam, of the 47 wards, the party won eight. In the Pulwama municipal committee, of the 69 wards, the BJP won nine.

The Congress won 50 seats in Anantnag against the BJP’s 29. The grand old party won 16 wards in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, while independents, including former National Conference spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu, won 49 of the 66 wards.

In its stronghold Jammu, the BJP fared on expected lines. It won 13 urban local bodies, including the Jammu Municipal Corporation, and emerged as the single-largest party in eight others. The Congress managed to win just three committees.

Of the 37 urban local bodies, the BJP won in 212 wards while Congress won just 110 wards, with the number two spot going to independents — 185 wards.

For the opposition Congress, the loss of face in Jammu, what with the BJP facing huge anti-incumbency, would be worrisome, observers said.

The saving grace for the Congress was that it won all 13 seats of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh and five of 13 seats in Kargil. The BJP won the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat in 2014.

With the worst-ever polling percentage in the Kashmir Valley, the elections were always going to attract questions.
Adding to the controversy was the claim by governor Satya Pal Malik that a foreign-educated person would be the next mayor of Srinagar. That person, it now seems clear, will be Junaid Mattu. Immediately after the results were announced, separatist-turned-politician and People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone nominated Mattu as his party’s mayoral candidate.

“Congratulations to PC Mayoral Candidate @Junaid_Mattu and the victorious candidates from PC for heralding a new change in Srinagar and thanks to Irfan Ansari and all my senior colleagues for his successful campaign management during the ULB elections,” Lone tweeted.

Governor Malik, who’s currently in charge of the state’s administration, said his government had managed to conduct “successful” elections under immense pressure.

“A biased person will count the percentage. My assessment of the election is everyone — both the mainstream parties, small parties, Hurriyat and terrorists — all of them opposed this election, but people still came (to vote),” Malik told ThePrint.

“In 2002 as well, the percentage was as low as it was (this time). So that way, I see no reason to feel very good or exalted. But yes, the basic thing which we should take note of is that entire election was violence-free. Not even a bird was harmed. In other elections — parliamentary and assembly — nine people died.

“We held these elections successfully. We could thwart the threats we (the administration) and the voters were given, and fight it out.”

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Opinion

TRANQUILITY OF PRESENT GENERATION: LOST LOVE AND CARE

The Kashmir Monitor

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By SEHRISH SHAFI

Tranquility is a state of physical ease that has several dimensions. In this digital world every work is carried out by artificial machines like robots, mixers, washing machines etc. Our life is has been made very easy with these artificial machines and our lives have become dependent on these machines. Before a decade people were served by the food that was cooked on firepot, (Daan in Kashmiri) and it was having the best taste. Nowadays, we cook food in rice cookers and on electric heaters that has some dangerous aspects associated with these electronic gadgets and some of the diseases and risks have been related with the use of these gadgets.

In olden days people were busy in their work which they were doing manually, like washing clothes by hands, cooking food on fire pots, going one place to another by foot etc., thereby consuming less resources, that was having double benefits like keeping environment free from pollutants and those who were doing manual labor remained always fit and healthy. Their minds were also busy with their work with limited wants. They always feel themselves in a relaxed and comfort zone. Currently, humans are full of desires and wishes. They make themselves busy with different types of modern electronic gadgets. People want to do things with more and more comfort.

Those muddy and wooden houses with joint families, listening the folklores of our ancestors were full of love and affection. The joint meals, the sharing of happy and sad moments, the visit of neighbors and relatives, the harmony of villages, the celebrations of festivals all are missing from the present generation, and the credit goes to mobile phones. The irony is that if a daughter or a son wants to share something with their parents they can’t as their parents are either busy in offices or in parties or with mobile phones. This has made life of present generation very strained, full of anger, disloyalty etc. We have left that comfort or placidity in the houses of mud, where all family members lived together with love and reminding us the culture that was prevalent in valley before few decades.

Everyone in this digital world wants the comfort zone and in every nook and corner people searches the calmness and peace. The digital world has transformed almost every aspect of our life. No doubt present generation is having unlimited facilities still they are lacking the love and care. The artificial technologies will not provide them the care and love which they are of basic need. If we want to build a house, it must have a strong base and if the base is weak the house may fall at any time. So, is the case of present generation our base is so weak that we can fall at any level where it is difficult to recover and in teenage we need proper guidance and care from our parents or our elders that will have direct impact on our bright future and improper guidance or no guidance may make our future bleak.

Therefore, parents and elders have a role in shaping our future towards a better and happy life. They have to think, they have to ponder.

(The author is B. Sc I year student at Govt degree college Bijbehara)

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