Letter: India's declining secularism

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The Independent Online
Sir: On 5 December, the day before the Babri mosque was gouged out by the forces of Hindu bigotry and spurious nationalism, Hriday Nath Wanchoo was shot dead in Srinagar, Kashmir by three unidentified gunmen. Mr Wanchoo was the most important human rights activist in Kashmir. He devoted all his time to the documentation of the violations of human rights committed by the Indian security forces. A Hindu and retired trade unionist, he sought, with his evidence, to move the judicial process by employing the much-vaunted system of courts, of appeals, of petitions and of judicial review. His petitions to the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir were for judicial inquiry into the killing of innocent Kashmiris by the security forces, the torture of detainees in custody, rapes committed by soldiers, information regarding numbers and identities of detainees and conditions in jails.

It is a matter of shame that he met with no success. Even when the High Court passed directory or mandatory orders in response to his petitions, the local administration simply did not obey them. The orders of the High Court were ignored brazenly, unblushingly and insolently, as continues to be the case to date with all court orders concerning questions of human rights.

Mr Wanchoo sought to fight his battle within the legal framework, yet he was the first to admit that the rule of law had broken down in Kashmir, where the courts, as he found to his dismay, are mute spectators to the reign of repression, unable (sometimes unwilling) to exercise any restraint on the administrative and security authorities. The judicial process, impotent and forlorn, exists on paper alone.

There was a supreme nobility, paradoxically, in the sheer futility of his obsession with the courts. He is now dead and with him has died a part of India's secularism and its humanity. I challenge the Government of India to find, prosecute and punish his murderers.

Yours sincerely,

P. M. VARADARAJAN

Trinity College

Oxford

14 December

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