Human Rights

The defense of human rights and upholding the rights of the oppressed is a fundamental Sikh principle. The Sikh Coalition is committed to working to ensure that this universal principle is upheld. The Coalition works with other human rights organizations objectively documenting and reporting on human rights violations.

Today, most of the world’s 25 million Sikhs reside in the Indian state of Punjab. For this reason, although The Sikh Coalition advocates championing human rights throughout the world, this section focuses on human rights issues in India, with an emphasis on the country’s following minority communities: Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Dalits (those labeled as Untouchables under the caste system), and women.

The Indian State and its proponents seek to blame past governments for human rights abuses and assert that India is no longer violating human rights. Independent research by numerous organizations, however, indicates otherwise. International human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, continue to repeatedly condemn India for its failure in preventing, and in many cases advocating, the violation of human rights against its minority and underprivileged communities, including women.

Amnesty International’s report published in 2000 clearly shows that the Indian state continues to pursue its policy of state terror against the Sikhs. (“Persecuted For Challenging Injustice: Human Rights Defenders in India,” Amnesty International, 2000.) Human rights violations are blatantly obvious in prisons throughout the country. In 1999, Human Rights Watch declared, “Virtually everyone detained in Punjab is tortured.” Common documented methods of torture by police authorities include: severe beatings; gang raping of women; application of electric shocks to genitals and extremities; inserting an iron rod onto which chili paste has been applied into the rectum; badly burning skin, often with hot iron rods; forcing apart hips, sometimes to 180 degrees, for prolonged periods; rolling heavy logs over legs to permanently destroy muscles; and immersion into foul water until near suffocation. These methods apply to members of all of India’s victimized communities (Human Rights Watch, 1999; Physicians for Human Rights, Denmark, 1999).

According to Dr. Cynthia Mahmood, “Many Western academics could also be accused of keeping their eyes shut in face of a dangerous turn in the Indian national mood over the past few decades, on which Paul Brass likens to the ‘murderous, pre-fascist stage’ of 1930s Germany (1994:353-354) . . . Urban pogroms against Sikhs and Muslims that have repeatedly taken place involved not just small bands of hired thugs but large numbers of people, and, furthermore, were never widely protested or repudiated by the Indian citizenry as a whole . . . Consider Bal Thackeray of the Hindu chauvinist group Shiv Sena . . . who when asked if the Muslims were beginning to feel like the Jews in Nazi Germany said that if they behaved like Jews in Nazi Germany, then there is nothing wrong if they are treated as Jews were in Nazi Germany . . . Anti-Sikh and anti-Muslim rhetoric that would be considered ‘hate speech’ in most Western countries is tolerated in major media outlets in India” (Jeffrey A. Sluka, ed., Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror, 2000).

With the goal of educating and encouraging further research in the area of human rights, we are providing this resource section. It is our hope that through heightened awareness of actual conditions in Punjab and India in general, people and governments around the world will take a strong stand against state-sponsored human rights violations.

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