After Independence, and with the adoption of the Constitution, secularism became a value of civil society in India. Even though Partition was a traumatic experience for many, the co-existence of religious communities was essentially peaceful. Then, in the 1984 anti-Sikh ‘riots’ (more aptly named ‘massacres’) 2,700 Sikhs were brutally killed and maimed. Eight years later 1,800 Muslims were massacred on the streets of Bombay, and in 2002 over 2,000 Muslims were killed in the state of Gujarat. Today, communalism in India continues in epidemic proportions as evidenced by the 2007-08 Orissa riots where over 20,000 Christians were forced into refugee camps due to burning and looting of hundreds of houses, churches, convents and seminaries. The struggle for justice in all these cases continues. Against this backdrop, HRLN’s Secularism and Peace Initiative works in solidarity with the victims of communalism to bring cases to courts, and educate people about their rights and dispel myths that fuel the rise of communal unrest.
What We Do?
Together with other human rights organisations and secular groups, the Secularism and Peace Initiative works in solidarity with the victims of communalism to provide legal aid and file public interest litigation to seeks justice for victims of communal crimes. We organise awareness-raising programmes for advocates and law enforcement personnel, conduct workshops in different states that address socio-political perspectives on communalism and address myths related to communalism, democracies and conversions, communal fascism and fundamentalism. These workshops equip participants to use the legal system to intervene to both ensure state protection from communal violence, and to secure restitution for victims and prosecute perpetrators.
The initiative undertakes fact-finding visits and produces report to educate the public about massacres, including injustices done to minority communities, which otherwise might have been overlooked by the mainstream media. People’s tribunals expose and investigate communal disturbances. One such tribunal held in Orissa in 2005 investigated criminal activity and human rights violations by Hindu rightwing organizations, predicting the anti-Christian riots that took place two years later.
The initiative organises meetings across the country for activists, paralegals, lawyers, community members, judges, journalists, academics, police persons and bureaucrats, on agitating for the rights of people affected by communal violence and produces know-your-rights materials on matters relating to communalism and the law.
Issues Of Concern
- Police atrocities on religious minorities
- Communal riots and unrest
- Rehabilitiation and compensation for victims of communal riots
- Holding perpetrators, including state-sponsored actors, responsible for the persecution of religious minorities
- Sexual violence and violence against women of minority communities.
In the Gujarat massacres, a team of lawyers and social workers from the network played an active role in pushing for the prosecution of the errant police officers, and also to get civil relief for the victims of the carnage. A large portion of the cases were successful, thereby providing closure to the families of those who suffered. Our lawyers, activists and senior judges participated in and co-organised the concerned citizen’s tribunal working on trainings and publications to make people aware of their rights and dispel myths that fuel the rise in communal acts and crimes. This resulted in spreading awareness of the atrocities and provided factual evidence which was used to secure State aid for the victims.
In the 1991-92 Bombay massacre, members of our team were active in fact-finding teams, in the official commissions of enquiry, and in the class action litigations that were filed in the high court and the Supreme Court. HRLN jointly organised a ‘communalism and the law’ workshop, which succeeded in encouraging the use of the legal system to combat communal practices. The workshop equipped paralegals, activists and lawyers with the necessary information and skills required in getting persons released on bail, defending appropriate cases in trials, getting compensation for deaths, injuries and damages to property.
HRLN continues to play a leading role in responding to the 2008 Orissa riots. Four local offices have been set up in the worst affected areas providing legal aid for victims, A PIL has been filed which to date has resulted in orders demanding the State Government provides protection, compensation and fast track courts for speedy delivery of justice. HRLN has made a concrete difference in the lives of those who have been directly and indirectly affected by this most recent wave of violence and set legal precedents that will help to relieve the suffering of victims of religious and communal persecution in the future.
“In many cases, police officers indicted by the enquiry commissions were, in fact, promoted by the government – thus rewarding them for their heinous acts. The greatest challenge in combating communal violence is overcoming the obstacles put in place by the very people who are meant to protect society”