South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

BANGALORE: Amnesty International may soon set up shop in India.

At a lecture on ‘Whether India could become a global leader in the area of human rights’ organized by the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI) on Saturday, Salil Shetty, secretary general, Amnesty International, listed the issues India faced despite managing to retain a host of vital institutions and a powerful Constitution.

He pointed out the increasingly entrenched divide between different communities in some parts of the country, the lopsided economic growth and, most of all, the inability of the Indian establishment to translate intent into reality.

”Amnesty has been involved with India for a long time. It was involved even during the Emergency when JP was a prisoner of conscience. Most of Amnesty’s work is done out of London, but the organization will soon operate out of India. You’d normally be wary of an organization with the word ‘International’ in the title — it usually means it’s North dominated. But Amnesty is different. It’s a membership-driven, democratic organization and all representatives are elected. We accept neither government aid nor corporate contributions. One of our most important tasks in India would be outreach,” he said.

Further, he said, Amnesty seeks to target schools and colleges for members and volunteers in India. ”Our priorities in India are currently around corporate governance and working with marginalized tribal communities. The agenda will evolve based on the direction of the membership,” he said.

Historian Ramachandra Guha pointed out that the most severe human rights violations in the Indian context resulted from the abuse of state power. He recounted the rich history of civil liberties organizations in India, dating back to 1936 and the founding of the Indian Civil Liberties Union by Jawaharlal Nehru and welcomed the arrival of Amnesty in India.