Democracy a 'farce' in India

June 24, 1992

By Michael Karadjis
and Sue Bull

SYDNEY — "Human life is very cheap in India. Democracy has been reduced to a farce", according to K.G. Kannabiran, president of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee.

Speaking to about 50 people at a meeting on June 10 organised by the Parramatta Amnesty International Group, Kannabiran claimed that "the last decade of the 20th century is going to be a decade of gross human rights violations".

He presented a particularly damning picture of India: of massive arbitrary arrests and huge numbers of police killings. His report may come as a surprise to those with illusions in India due to its role in the Non-Aligned Movement and its parliamentary system, which is relatively stable by Third World standards.

Kannabiran, a lawyer, has been an activist and advocate for human rights over the last 30 years. Between January 1985 and December 1991, four of his colleagues were killed, the last one shot dead in his house.

He claimed that 1969 was the watershed year of Indian politics, when all of the socialist pretensions had failed. President Indira Gandhi decided it was time for populist politics. Blaming all problems on the "conservatism" of the judiciary, she destroyed the judiciary and subverted police and state leaderships.

From then on, emergency powers were no longer necessary in order to repress opposition and put down unrest.

He pointed to Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Kashmir as states where police killings are the worst and people are arrested by the hundreds daily.

Immediately after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, 2000 to 3000 Sikhs were lynched in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh; even in the south, Sikh students were lynched. Even now, everyone who wears a turban and has a beard is stereotyped as a terrorist.

In the case of Kashmir, the people there had none of the rights that Indian citizens in the rest of the country had, due to the way it was incorporated into the Indian union.

In the central state of Andhra Pradesh, there was long a strong peasant movement, led by the Communist Party in the 1950s and later by the Naxalites. The government's response has always been repressive; many people were shot, and 5000 tribal people were detained.

Asked if he thinks the Indian government is likely to increase its attacks on human rights, he replied that it has no alternative, given that it is rapidly introducing the free market. "The introduction of the free market will mean nothing but chaos." Foreseeing increased unemployment and lowered living standards, he said, "Human rights violations cannot lessen in these types of conditions".

Eighty per cent of people in India are poor, and "underprivileged and poor people have a right to resist. If they organise themselves, then you can't see this as a crime and kill them."

While condemning indiscriminate violence from all sides, and emphasising that communities under attack from the government should not imitate the government's methods, he stated that he is not personally against all violence, because "no real change happens without violence" since "the rulers will not simply hand over their power". He pointed to the English and French revolutions as illustrations.

Kannabiran said that "human rights violations against women, sophisticated in the west, are not so sophisticated in India". He pointed to violence for purposes of dowry, custodial gang rape and the continuation in many parts of the country of the burning of brides, which are usually "proven" to be suicides.

He said there were a large number of women's organisations doing excellent work in trying to combat these violations and to change men's and women's attitudes.

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