Report prepared on 9 July 2015 by Dr. Charles Graves, who chaired the above three meetings and took notes. Forwarded by Sanjoy Barua, UN Representative of Liberation.
Meeting 17 June 2015 on “Violence Against Women and Human Rights Defenders”
Dr. Charles Graves was moderator and introduced the session and the speakers. It was followed by a film on Manipur and ‘fake encounters’ manipulated by Indian security forces under the “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” in Manipur, and the impunity of these forces oppressing the population.
Mary Beth Sanate, Human Rights Defender, spoke of the need to defend families and children victims of Indian government oppression. The Manipur communities are being divided from the state by culture and language. Ms. Mangsatabam Sobita (“Women Action for Development”) noted that the regional government of Manipur has not implemented recent recommendations for solutions. 109 persons have been murdered by the armed forces and 376 cases of opposition have arisen vis à vis the security forces. Many people have been deported to Thailand and Singapore. She noted the work of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and advocated repeal of the ”Armed Forces Special Powers Act”. Under it women are forcibly kept within their houses, and during peaceful protests Indian government forces have brutally murdered opposition leaders and placed human rights defenders in jail who are sometimes tortured.
Mr. Sameer Taware, a Dalits’ Human Rights Defender noted the various problems facing the Dalit’s struggle for their rights vis à vis the caste system in India. Dalits wish to change employment, especially to leave from the scavenger profession which they are restricted to by those supporting the caste system.
Ms. Lala Iahadih, a Human Rights Defender, noted that Morocco prevented the independence of Western Sahara during the de-colonisation period (Western Sahara had been a colony of Spain). Refugee camps now include mainly Saharaoui women whose ambition is to return to their homes. They have lost children and husbands in the conflict. The United Nations has attempted to solve the problem between Morocco but the Saharaoui women still suffer.
In the discussion period, further details were presented by the representatives from Manipur about the “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” and its effect in India.
Representatives of Shaharaoui women who believe Western Sahara should be an ‘autonomous’ part of the kingdom of Morocco, spoke passionately about their cause, directing their comments at Ms. Lala Lahadih.
Meeting 29 June 2015 on “Violations against Christians and Other Minorities”. Dr. Charles Graves opened the session and acted as moderator.
The first speaker was Mr. Sameer Taware (cf. above) Dalits’ Human Rights Defender. He explained the Hindu view of Dalits (“untouchables”) – they are ‘polluted’ according to the Hindu community. If the shadow of a Dalit crosses the Hindu person, the Hindu receives such pollution (which of course he refuses). If Dalits try to improve their status in a caste-society this is considered by the Hindus as breaking the government “Prevention of Violence Act”. In this context Dalits are not supposed to ride horses (as Hindus do) and should not remember Dr. Ambedkar (principal Dalit human rights defender in Dalit history). Hindus ‘teach lessons’ (i.e. hit and thwart) to ambitious Dalits and especially target Dalit women. They do not approve of Hindu-Dalit romances or marriages. They also boycott attempts of Dalits to secure better jobs. In 2013, 30’000 crimes were committed in India against Dalits but only 20% were punished. The United Nations should establish a Commission of Enquiry about the treatment of Dalits in India.
The Rev. Bobby Thomas, Director of the Save the Christian Foundation, spoke about the growth of Hindu fundamentalism in India, with Hindu attacks upon Christians and Christian institutions in 2014 – in Mumbai, Jabalpur and West Bengal. In Delhi a Christian school was vandalized. Hindus were making forced conversions of Christians – particularly those Christians who had converted to Christianity from the lower classes or untouchable (Dalit) people. The police often look upon these human rights violations without intervening. One of the political parties which support the party of Prime Minister Modi wishes for India to become officially a ‘Hindu’ rather than a ‘secular’ nation and some Hindus are asking for changing the curricula in schools to promote such ideas. But 25% of education in India is directly or indirectly supported by Christian institutions in India and around the world. The United Nations should look into the issues raised.
Mr. Iron Singhit Singh representing “Voices for Peace” in Manipur, spoke about this region of India where out of 2.7 million population there remained only 1.7 million of the original population and a million immigrants from India and Myanmar. His nation was occupied by England in 1791 and when the partition of the Indian Empire occurred in 1947 the Manipur people were allowed their own nation until 1949 but then it was forcibly merged with India. Neighbouring Tripura had the same fate and now the original population remains only 30% of the total.
Manipur people suffer oppression from the central government and the Indian military has declared war on its population. The “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” has been in force in Manipur for 57 years and many areas of the district are forbidden to the original population for settlement. The government of India tries to divide the original inter-religious and intercultural fabric where tribal; Maite and Muslims lived in peace. The speaker’s youngest sister Sharmila has been on hunger strike for over a decade in order to oblige the Indian government to lift the oppressive “Armed Forces Special Powers Act” and stop the harassment of the population and extrajudicial killings.
A film from Save the Christians Foundation was shown regarding the recent Christian converts from Hinduism being mistreated and forced to re-convert. They are being ’ritually cleansed’ making them again devout Hindus. In 50 villages the people are prohibited from engaging in any Christian activities. In Orissa the persecution is such that the Christians cannot have employment and reliable incomes.
Meeting 30 June 2015 on “Fundamental Freedoms”. Dr. Charles Graves opened the session and acted as moderator.
The Rev. Bobby Thomas of Save the Christians Foundation spoke again about the growing Hindu fundamentalism in India. Out of 1.3 billion India’s population, there are 59 million Christians or about 2% of the total. Since the advent of Mr. Modi as Prime Minister and his political backers, Hindu fundamentalism has spread. In Orissa province there are now laws against changing one’s religion. The untouchables and lower classes converted to Christianity consider themselves (according to the Biblical terms) as ‘the least of these’ (for whom Christ asked charity). The Reverend noted that 7000 institutions in India receive aid from abroad; much is from Christian donors. A film was shown illustrating how Christians are scourged and trampled upon, as was Christ while carrying his cross to his crucifixion.
Ms. Rosetta War, a Christian Human Rights Defender from Megalaya province of N.E. India noted the oppressive activities of Hindu fundamentalists. Some families have been driven from their homes, priests have been murdered, nuns raped. She also noted residents of Orissa province where Christian students are prevented from attending schools and young people run away from home to protect themselves from being re-converted to Hinduism. 2014 was the most violent year against Christians since a very long time.
Ms. Lala Iahadih, Women’s Human Rights Defender, spoke again about human rights in Western Sahara. She was assisted by an interpreter. She spoke about the 1975 origins of the Polisario movement on behalf of an independent Western Sahara and about the human rights violations against Polisario adherents in Layoun and elsewhere since then. Those in refugee camps are being assisted financially by UNHCR but they are otherwise without resources and their lands have been taken by Morocco. She noted torture practices against Saharaoui women during the visit of Christopher Ross (Special UN Representative) to Layoun, that women who had been beaten were prevented from receiving medical care and their complaints followed by the impunity of Moroccan authorities. She noted the ILO convention article on violence against women. She mentioned that political prisoners of Morocco were subject to degrading treatment and that these prisoners were much too far from the women located in the refugee camps so that visits were impossible. She complained that the media is prevented from covering the Polisario supporters’ protests and that there needed to be put in place a mechanism for protection of these people.
In the discussion following, those supporting autonomy for the Saharaouis within Morocco noted that some Algerian NGOs were supporting the Polisario. In answer Ms. Lahadih said that a referendum was needed in Western Sahara. The United Nations has a list of voters now and the referendum is possible but an implementation of the UN resolutions is necessary. Western Sahara needs self-determination she stated. In answer, the representative of those favouring autonomy within Morocco stated their case and the interpreter of Ms. Lahadih stated that Western Sahara needed independence. Both sides agreed that a vote must be taken.
Mr. Iron Singjit Singh commented that extrajudicial killings in Manipur continued. Manipur does not demand sovereignty outside India but ‘the right to life’ for its population, i.e. the same rights as other Indians.
The Rev. Bobby Thomas noted that India is showing itself not as a secular government at this time and cited Prime Minister Modi as saying that ‘every Indian is a Hindu’. The Reverend called for cultural freedom in India.
An Indian participant in the question and answer period replied that India was and would continue to be a secular nation.