By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13 Oct 14
For decades, Amnesty International has been New Delhi’s gadfly in Kashmir, its crusading officials seldom questioning local accounts of human rights (HR) violations, compiled into reports that shone a bleak light on the Government of India.
On March 20, 2005, while US President Bill Clinton was visiting New Delhi, unidentified gunmen massacred 35 Sikhs in Chittisinghpura village in Kashmir. Amnesty International, as was its practice at that time, made a few phone calls and put out a report that suggested that Indian soldiers has staged the massacre.
Amnesty’s fanciful report said, “Several witnesses have said that about 20 men, clad in olive green combat fatigues, arrived in the village at 7.15 p.m. They told the people that they were Indian soldiers, and ordered the men out to be questioned…. As they started firing, the gunmen shouted 'Jai Mata Di' and 'Jai Hind'. In theatrical fashion, one of them took swigs from a bottle of rum (liquor popular with the army) even as the killing went on. While leaving, one of the men called out to his associates: "Gopal, chalo hamare saath" ("Gopal, Come with us").”
Since then, numerous analysts, including former CIA official, Bruce Riedel, have been convinced that the Laskhkar-e-Toiba conducted the carnage. Yet, Amnesty’s report still resonates. Most Kashmiris still believe the Indian Army killed the innocents of Chittisinghpura during President Clinton’s visit to highlight Pakistan’s meddling in J&K.
After decades of slamming New Delhi with such poorly sourced and inadequately verified reports on HR violations in Kashmir, Amnesty International has realised that it had marginalized itself in the world biggest democracy.
Since 2010-11, Amnesty --- which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and has 4.6 million members worldwide today --- has overhauled its structure and style, seeking to work with, rather than talk down to, New Delhi.
Since it was founded in 1961, Amnesty was controlled from London, since a majority of its donors are from wealthy western democracies --- the so-called “Global North”. Now Amnesty wants to extend its influence to the “Global South” --- the less developed countries (LDCs), and growing powers like Brazil, China, India and Russia.
“We want to be taken seriously in India. So we decided to be Indian in character, obtain funds from Indian donors, and be led by an Indian. Amnesty India’s business strategy aims to be fully self-reliant by 2019”, says V Shashikumar, who is joint head of Amnesty India, along with V Anantapadmanabhana.
This new approach has disconcerted Kashmiri separatists who have long been accustomed to pliant HR reportage. When an Amnesty team visited Srinagar in 2012, local newspapers complained that a “compromised Amnesty” could not be fair. Separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik told the delegation that only foreigners could be trusted.
The militants, including Hizbul Mujahideen chief, Syed Salahuddin, were even more scathing, declaring that Amnesty worked “hand-in-glove” with New Delhi.
“They (Amnesty) are shedding crocodile tears to mislead people. Tell me how many times they have taken the issue of atrocities on civilians in Kashmir by forces to international forums” Salahuddin told Srinagar-based Kashmir News Service (KNS) over the phone on April 7, 2013,
Amnesty India is now a 50,000-member organisation that no longer relies on London for direction or funding. Its team of 80 workers reach out to potential Indian donors and members through a sophisticated social media campaign.
“We have told the government that we are eliminating any dependence on foreign funding. That means laws like the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA) will no longer be a bugbear”, says Shashikumar.
Yet Amnesty intends to continue its “campaigning” approach, releasing reports publicly, and goading New Delhi to act. This contrasts with the “advocacy” approach of other HR bodies like Human Rights Watch (HRW), or the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, which work behind-the-scenes with the government.
In 2011, Amnesty published “A ‘Lawless Law’”, a report on the draconian J&K Public Safety Act, 1978, under which Amnesty says 8,000-20,000 citizens have been detained without charge or trial over the last two decades.
Amnesty is also campaigning against the Armed Forces Special Powers (Jammu and Kashmir) Act, 1990, especially Section 7, which mandates prior permission from the central government to prosecute a member of the military in areas where the AFSPA is in force.
New Delhi remains suspicious. An Intelligence IB report, prepared soon after the Narendra Modi government came to power, has painted foreign-funded NGOs as encumbrances to India’s economic growth --- responsible for a presumptive loss to India's GDP of 2-3 per cent. The report named several NGOs including Greenpeace India, Amnesty and ActionAid, accusing them for stalling industrial projects, such as those floated by POSCO and Vedanta, by operating through local organizations such as PUCL and Narmada Bachao Andolan.