Columbia International Affairs Online: Course Packs and Syllabi

Human Rights and International Law

India's human rights diplomacy: Crisis and transformation policy
Sanjoy Banerjee
from Human Rights and Comparative Foreign Policy: Foundations of Peace, David P. Forsythe, ed.
United Nations University


I. Introduction

In the first decades after independence, India became an international advocate of human rights. Opposing European colonialism and apartheid, and later Israeli actions against Palestinians, it was a leader among non-aligned nations in a quest to end the state-enforced social inequality that had characterized the world order in the preceding centuries. India engaged in assertive diplomacy, criticizing states well beyond the reach of its limited material power. It twice intervened militarily outside its borders, invoking human rights: opposing the government in East Pakistan in 1971 and aligning with the government in Sri Lanka in 1987. Before the end of the Cold War, external human rights pressure on India was low, in spite of events that might easily have occasioned such pressure. For example, there were anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, with the clear involvement of politicians in the ruling Congress Party, yet India faced little criticism about this from other states.

India's foreign policy environment changed abruptly in 1991. The disappearance of the USSR was accompanied by a multifaceted domestic crisis in India. The USSR had been India's primary arms supplier and its rivalry with the West had created the possibility of non-alignment for post-colonial states. India went from being a non-aligned country with room for manoeuvre in a bipolar world to being a vulnerable state in a unipolar world. The US performance in the Gulf War demonstrated its overwhelming military supremacy, and the continuing deadly sanctions on Iraq after the war were a powerful demonstration of unipolar discipline.

The period after 1989 witnessed a profound transformation in India's human rights diplomacy, which switched from an assertive to a defensive mode. The new world order brought in its train an invigorated but highly inconsistent international human rights regime dominated by Western states and by influential non-governmental organizations (NGOs) rooted entirely or mainly in the West. India and other developing countries struggled to preserve their sovereignty in the face of the changed regime. The early 1990s saw the peak of secessionist insurgencies in the history of independent India, and police and security forces committed human rights violations while combating insurgents. The government faced the dilemma that punishing members of the security forces severely or openly was expected to harm their collective morale. India entered a severe economic crisis in the early 1990s, which also brought home an awareness of how far India had fallen behind its Asian neighbours in economic development. The conjunction of international and domestic circumstances led the Indian government to the conclusion that the diplomatic activism of the past was no longer wise and India needed to put its own house in order before giving advice to others.

Although retreating from assertive diplomacy, India became aggressive in the preservation of its sovereignty, in both substance and appearance. Sovereignty was understood as a necessary condition of democracy. The structural changes in India during the 1990s did serve to reconstruct internal unity sufficiently to preserve effective sovereignty. Delhi mounted an energetic diplomatic campaign to rebut some of the accusations and to persuade several sections of the international community that it had no deliberate campaign to violate human rights, and that the excesses of its forces were being mitigated through administrative discipline. In the defensive mode, India's domestic policies and politics became more directly linked to its diplomatic posture. As the Indian polity stabilized, human rights violations began to decline and India began to enjoy a modicum of success in its campaign of defensive human rights diplomacy.

India's human rights diplomacy in all periods has been based on a moral consensus of fluctuating strength within the polity. Through most of the post-independence period the vast majority of people and parties have agreed on certain broad values, in particular upon the desirability of democracy within India 1 and opposition to colonialism and racism abroad. The point of Indian human rights diplomacy has been to promote, at least rhetorically, selected values in that moral consensus, and to prevent foreign initiatives in India that would undermine its sovereignty and the effective supremacy of those values. In the early 1990s the strength of the moral consensus in the Indian polity reached a nadir. Centrally, the value of secularism came under effective assault as Hindu nationalists broadened their popular support using anti-Muslim appeals and as secessionist movements grew. This contraction of the moral consensus diminished the credibility, even in the domestic scene, of assertive human rights diplomacy. As the 1990s progressed, a moral and constitutional consensus was restored. The challenge to secularism was politically marginalized by the tide of lower-caste political mobilization and upper-caste acquiescence, and by the moderation of Hindu nationalism. A period of political leadership free from charisma enabled the judiciary and other non-political institutions to establish unprecedented programmes of action against various forms of illegality and corruption, with wide popular acclaim. The restored moral consensus strengthened domestic confidence in India's institutions and in its defensive human rights diplomacy.

There have been limits to the moral consensus, even within the state apparatus. The inability of the political leadership to discipline the security forces reflects the limitations in its own credibility. All major political parties have agreed that the security forces should respect human rights in their operations. Yet widespread corruption as well as divisive politics has diminished the capacity of political leaders convincingly to represent a national moral consensus in commanding the security forces. The result is an enfeebled administration that must rely exclusively on bureaucratic means and face a stringent tradeoff between morale and discipline in the forces. This condition in turn generated a stream of human rights violations, especially in the first half of the 1990s, and forced Indian human rights diplomacy on to the defensive.

Indian foreign policy on human rights

A state's human rights diplomacy may be assertive or defensive. Assertive diplomacy will use a variety of means to influence global human rights practices, agreements, and institutions. It will accuse other states of violating human rights and pursue those accusations in international institutions or in its direct relations with the accused and other states. Assertive human rights diplomacy often entails the implication that the assertive state has superior knowledge and practice of human rights compared with accused states. In recent decades, the United States and other Western states have conducted assertive human rights diplomacy with such broad claims implicit or explicit. Pakistan, in spite of many domestic and international problems, has conducted assertive human rights diplomacy against India regarding Kashmir. Defensive human rights diplomacy opposes other states' assertive diplomacy. It usually proclaims state sovereignty and the adequacy of the state's human rights performance under existing local conditions and global agreements. It denies the legitimacy of intrusions by international human rights institutions and foreign NGOs. Defensive diplomacy criticizes other states primarily to question their standing to conduct assertive diplomacy. China's human rights diplomacy, especially after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, has been defensive. The United States has pursued defensive diplomacy regarding Israel's actions in its occupied territories.

Defensive human rights diplomacy may be the defence of democracy and sovereignty against imperialist or aggressive stratagems disguised as human rights concern. Or it may be the use of the state's power and international institutions of sovereignty to protect a programme of human rights violations. Assertive human rights diplomacy, similarly, can range from being what it claims to be to being imperialism or aggression in disguise. One must independently judge the truth of the claims of the instances of human rights diplomacy.

In the Indian case, the post-Cold War period has witnessed very little in the way of assertive human rights diplomacy. Indian rhetoric about human rights violations in Pakistan has been more muted than that of Western human rights organizations. During the Cold War, India had criticized actions resulting in civilian deaths in the course of Western interventions in the third world. Indian rhetoric about civilian deaths during the 1991 Gulf War and deaths due to the embargo on Iraq was quite muted, couching its concerns as humanitarian, not invoking human rights. Both the government and non-governmental observers in India displayed limited sympathy for Western governmental, media, and NGO criticisms of other states. Most Indian observers did not consider Western criticism of India to be balanced, and concluded that Western criticism of many other developing states was equally unbalanced. In addition to disengaging from Western assertive diplomacy against other states, Delhi was not eager to strengthen the institutions of international human rights, expecting them to retain structures of adjudication disproportionately influenced by the West.

India and China arrived at an understanding to undertake joint defensive diplomacy on human rights, each remaining silent about the other's human rights violations. In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989, statements from Delhi avoided the suggestion that the Chinese government had violated human rights. That period was one of improving India—China relations. There was a series of meetings between Indian and Chinese officials in subsequent months, and Indian official statements avoided any comment on the incident. 2 China in turn came to India's aid at a crucial vote on a Pakistani resolution about Kashmir in 1994 at the UN Human Rights Commission.

Indian human rights diplomacy in the post-Cold War period has been primarily defensive. It has consisted of rebutting charges against India in international forums, making common cause with some developing countries, using its economic reforms to seek favour with wealthy nations, and, to a degree, getting better at fighting insurgencies without killing civilians. Although the Indian political establishment considered many specific human rights accusations by Western sources to be politically biased, its members were deeply embarrassed by them, and acknowledged that Indian security forces were committing real human rights violations. The several facets of the predominant Indian attitude on these matters were well summarized by Atal Behari Vajpayee, a leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after he led an Indian delegation that successfully blocked Pakistani assertive diplomacy at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in 1994: "For a great nation like us, there was a certain humiliation involved in having to go around begging for votes on a human rights issue. Let us now use this reprieve to clean up our act in Kashmir or there will be a Geneva every few months." 3

India has faced numerous armed challenges from groups that are extremely small in relation to the whole of the country. Active militants in Punjab never numbered more than about 10,000. In Kashmir, militants have never exceeded 12,000, while the Indian security forces have numbered over 400,000. Secessionist insurgents have pinned their hopes in part on the prospects of support from other states. Pakistan has supplied these groups with arms and training, and in Kashmir has sent Pakistani, Afghan, and other nationals in to fight with local insurgents. However, Pakistan is widely recognized by militant groups as being an insufficiently powerful ally. A long-term goal has been to gain US and Western support. It is significant that when Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in 1984, a group of pro-separatist Sikh immigrants in New York danced in front of the Indian UN mission waving American flags. Pro-separatist Sikh and Kashmiri immigrant groups in the United States have energetically lobbied members of Congress. Accusations of human rights violations have been at the heart of the lobbying rhetoric. Groups aligned with the insurgent movements have played a key role in generating human rights accusations against the Indian state. These accusations are part of the global political strategy of the insurgents. They understand the West to dominate the international adjudication of human rights accusations. Their hope has been to mobilize the centres of world power in their favour to the extent they can in an otherwise unequal struggle.

The Indian state and much of society have viewed Western and Islamic accusations of human rights violations in the context of the international strategies of the militant organizations and Pakistan. Indians, inside and outside the government, have viewed international organizations, human rights NGOs, and foreign governments less as sincere adjudicators of human rights accusations than as objects of political struggle and as politically motivated actors.

Although India's economic globalization and liberalization were undertaken for mainly economic reasons, the benefits in terms of defensive human rights diplomacy were well recognized. Further, throughout the 1990s there was a sustained government effort to reduce the number of actual human rights violations, especially in Kashmir, again mainly for domestic reasons, but with its international reputation being in second place among the expected benefits.

India's efforts to improve the international reputation of its domestic human rights performance did enjoy some success. The US State Department's annual human rights report in 1996, although critical of India on many issues, said of civilian deaths in Kashmir:

Civilian deaths caused by security forces diminished for the third consecutive year in Kashmir. The explanation appears to lie in press scrutiny and public outcry over abuses in previous years, increased training of military and paramilitary forces in humanitarian law, and greater sensitivity of commanders to rule of law issues. The improvement has taken the form of increased discipline and care in avoiding collateral civilian injuries and deaths (i.e., deaths in crossfire). 4

The international context of Indian human rights diplomacy

James Ron observes that in the period 1982-1994 the frequency of use of the phrase "human rights" increased six-fold in Reuters World Service news reports, seven-fold in British Broadcasting Corporation reports, eleven-fold in the Xinhua General Overseas News Service, and four-fold in stories in the Current Digest of the Soviet Press. 5 This clearly reflects its increasing frequency of use in overall international and national discourses as well as a growing sensitivity of the international media to the phrase. All this does not necessarily mean that states, weak or powerful, are more willing now to make sacrifices to avoid violating the unconditional prohibitions of the doctrine of human rights in their conduct at home and abroad. Nor does it mean that the international discourse on human rights is gaining in honesty and consistency.

The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights without a negative vote by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 brought into being a qualitatively new international regime of human rights. 6 It is useful to define the term "international regime" broadly. The regime as a whole includes a complex of formal international agreements and institutions, a culture of diplomatic practice, as well as a global array of NGOs advocating human rights. The reason for calling these various elements a single international regime is that they closely affect each other. In particular, the NGOs can promote a climate of opinion that influences diplomacy on certain issues, as well as the functioning of international human rights institutions. For example, Human Rights Watch regularly testifies before the US Congress.

The ending of the Cold War, in transforming international politics as a whole, suddenly transformed the politics of the international human rights regime. During the Cold War the regime had elaborately defined norms and standards but weak enforcement. 7 After 1989 it became a regime with elaborate norms and stronger yet selective enforcement, and with asymmetrical informal roles for different states and NGOs within the emerging monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. The international human rights regime is a political structure, and its participants have unequal power and conflicting objectives.

India's human rights diplomacy in the post-Cold War era has been both constrained and enabled by the politics of the international regime on human rights. The impact of the regime has been multifaceted. There is a widespread perception in India that the international institutions, diplomacy, and rhetoric of human rights are biased according to the larger inequalities of power and wealth in the world. Indeed, many Indian observers have expressed the suspicion that Western governmental and non-governmental human rights accusations against India are part of a strategy of Western power maintenance. At the same time, most Indian observers perceive the institutions and practices of the regime at least partially as reflecting values that India holds and cannot ignore in its domestic or foreign actions. All actors, state and non-state, who have impinged on Indian human rights diplomacy have also perceived a formal and informal regime of human rights in the world and have acted on that basis.

An assessment of the performance of the post-Cold War international human rights regime must acknowledge some major failures and some successes. At present, the regime is best judged not only by its limited ability to prevent or stop human rights violations, but also by the consistency and even-handedness with which it criticizes and punishes them. It is clear that many genuine human rights violations have been criticized and sanctioned by states and international human rights institutions in the post-Cold War era. Violations in the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Rwanda are such cases. In Haiti, the United States took action in 1994 with the support of the UN Security Council to remove a regime that was violating human rights from power. Yet there have also been massive failures of the international human rights regime since the end of the Cold War.

The UN sanctions against Iraq after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 have caused the largest number of civilian deaths of any coercive programme in the 1990s and constitute a massive human rights violation. The sanctions prevented the purchase of food and medicines by Iraq, until they were relaxed slightly in 1997. Deteriorating nutritional and health conditions in the nation of 17 million have led to sharply higher death rates. The mortality rate for children under 5 in Iraq has risen six-fold since 1989/90. 8 Two scientists from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 1995 that 567,000 children had died as a result of the sanctions. 9 Adult deaths owing to the sanctions also number in the hundreds of thousands. The sanctions against Iraq have been the most effective and indiscriminate of the post-colonial period. The UN sanctions resolution against Serbia and Montenegro in 1992 was worded similarly to the resolutions against Iraq, but those sanctions were expected to be and were far less effective. 10 Thus the sanctions against Serbia did not have a comparable human impact. The sanctions against Iraq did not merely prevent weapons or industrial imports. Initially the sanctions explicitly prohibited imports of food and medicine, and later just prohibited exports, achieving similar results. 11 The United Nations Security Council is the legal agent of the sanctions, but the United States, and to an extent the United Kingdom, are the principal political agents. The United States used its political power to maintain the sanctions even as other states have sought to loosen them. The United States viewed the sanctions as a lever to force the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam Hussein. President Bush said to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1991 that the sanctions should remain in place until Saddam Hussein was out of power. 12

The principal moral debate about the sanctions against Iraq has been not about the number of deaths in Iraq, but over responsibility for them. The United States has advanced the argument that the Iraqi government is responsible for the deaths because, had it agreed to the conditions set by the United Nations, or had Saddam Hussein left office, the sanctions would have been eased or lifted. The logic of human rights, as advocated by the United States itself, is that certain actions are forbidden regardless of the behaviour of others. The US position is tantamount to asserting that there are no unconditional human rights constraints on economic sanctions.

The international community has had very little to say about the human rights implications of the sanctions against Iraq. The Security Council votes on sanctions have usually been unanimous, with no state prepared to challenge US power. India joined the rest of the international community in its diplomatic silence on the human rights aspects of the sanctions, voicing only "humanitarian" concerns about the impact on the Iraqi people. The gap between proclaimed values and performance has been even greater for leading Western human rights organizations. Amnesty International's 1995 annual report, for example, has only two sentences on the topic of the sanctions against Iraq, neither of which suggests that there are any human rights constraints on the imposition of economic sanctions. 13 Human Rights Watch has been equally silent on the issue. Physicians for Human Rights issued a strong and detailed criticism of the sanctions on Iraq in 1991, but fell silent afterwards. 14 The absence of human rights pressure on the United States on this issue has been all the more tragic because the interests the United States pursued through the sanctions in their severe form were of secondary priority. Over the years it became clear that the sanctions were not effective in forcing a popular rebellion in Iraq, yet the United States felt no need to take further action to that end. More carefully focused sanctions could have prevented the rearmament of Iraq while sparing the lives of over 1 million people.

The case of the sanctions against Iraq reveals a power structure and a resulting bias in the international human rights regime in the post-Cold War era. Because the sanctions were promoted by the dominant power of the era — the United States — other states chose to maintain a discreet silence. Western human rights organizations have largely excluded the topic of civilian deaths in Iraq resulting from sanctions from their reports. The regime has instead focused on accusing weaker states. Biases in the international human rights regime were keenly recognized within India, and its credibility suffered accordingly.

II. Historical origins

Human rights concerns were central to the Indian independence movement. Above all, the movement abhorred the systematic racial discrimination the British empire embodied. The independence movement also promoted social reform within India. Of greatest concern was the elimination of caste discrimination and avoidance of religious bigotry. The adoption of the Constitution in 1951 gave a legal basis to the quest for social reform. Universal suffrage was implemented in India at a time when European imperial states continued to disenfranchise their colonized peoples and the United States disenfranchised most African-Americans.

Indian human rights judgements have been based on a set of traditions and concerns rooted in Indian history. The independence movement, and the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, recovered from the long philosophical and religious debate of Indian history a political ideology that transcended the opposition of a modern West and a traditional India that the British empire had circulated.

Mahatma Gandhi received his professional training as a lawyer in London. He returned to India from South Africa as one who believed in the ideals of civil liberty in the rhetoric of the British empire. The 1919 massacre in Amritsar of unarmed and peaceful Indian demonstrators by troops of the colonial army was a turning point in Gandhi's attitude toward the British. The light punishment of General Dyer, the British commander on the scene, and the indifference of the British public convinced Gandhi and many Indians that the British rhetoric about the ideals of civil liberty was insincere.

In Gandhi's conception, freedom was indivisible. Freedom from colonialism was morally inseparable from the elimination of untouchability and other "social evils." At the 1926 meeting of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi debated with a party colleague about the link between self-rule and untouchability. Srinivasa Aiyengar said: "Neither foreign nor domestic critics are right when they assert that untouchability is a formidable obstacle for Swaraj (self-rule). We cannot wait for Swaraj till it is removed anymore than we can wait till caste is abolished." 15 Gandhi responded that, although the existence of untouchability was not a valid excuse for Britain to resist the move toward independence,

Real organic Swaraj is a different question. That freedom which is associated in the popular mind with the term Swaraj is no doubt unattainable without not only the removal of untouchability and the promotion of heart unity between different sections but also without removing many other social evils which can easily be named. That inward growth which must never stop we have come to understand by the comprehensive term Swaraj. 16

In 1928, in an impassioned argument against untouchability, Gandhi compressed his understanding of freedom into a metaphor: "No man takes another into a pit without descending into it himself and sinning in the bargain." 17

The Gandhian conception of Swaraj was different in its logic from the Western conception of human rights over the course of its evolution since the seventeenth century. It was based on prevailing Indian assumptions about the nature of persons. Conceptions such as "heart unity" and "inward growth" were more rooted in the Indian philosophical tradition. The Gandhian prescriptions were directed at society and not the state. As Donnelly correctly notes, what is distinctive about the Western conception of human rights is that is formulated as rights against the state. 18 Western liberal ideas arose as a philosophy for the regulation of bureaucratic states in the metropoles and colonies of empires. Comparable state development or state-focused discourse outside the West was precluded until the late colonial and post-colonial period because bureaucratic states developed in the West during the colonial era. Gandhi's conception of organic Swaraj, not divisible between the national and interpersonal levels, stands in sharp contrast to imperialist and racist ideas and practices prominent within Western liberalism around 1926. The Gandhian discourse of Swaraj was the leading edge of a profound transformation of social thought over the course of the independence movement and, more effectively than Nehruvian socialist rhetoric, provided the ideological underpinning of a democratic state in a society with deep inegalitarian traditions.

India's moral reasoning about international human rights is guided by a model of political evil that has been profoundly shaped by two experiences and by the prevalent constructions of those experiences in Indian political discourse. The two experiences are the British Indian empire of 1757-1947 and the separation of Pakistan at the end of the colonial period. 19

British colonialism transformed India from one of the world's wealthiest societies to one of the poorest, entailing a series of massive unprecedented famines. The first major famine of the British period was in colonial Bengal in the early 1770s, in which 30—40 per cent of the population of Bengal died. 20 It was the first major famine in Bengal in 150 years. 21 In the nineteenth century, there were at least 20 million famine deaths in the British Indian empire. The last major famine in India was in 1942-1943, again in Bengal, and it cost 2—3 million lives. British actions during this famine, such as refusing to allow food shipments into Bengal from other parts of India, continuing wartime food procurement from Bengal, and destroying parts of the food transportation system ostensibly to deny its use to would-be Japanese invaders, clearly exacerbated the famine.22 22

The British empire also exacerbated, by deliberate action or by precluding or delaying corrective action, a host of social evils. There was a resurgence of sati (widow immolation) mainly in and around Calcutta in the 1790s after centuries of relative infrequency throughout India. 23 The British empire initially gave sati legal sanction and did not ban it until 1829. The British presided over an intensification of caste discrimination during the first century of their empire. C. A. Bayly writes: "hierarchy and Brahmin interpretation of Hindu society which was theoretical rather than actual over much of India as late as 1750 was firmly ensconsed a century later." 24 The British colonial authorities, under the leadership of Warren Hastings, began to enforce the Laws of Manu, a severely hierarchical ancient code, in 1794. The British also took other steps in this period to give legal sanction to caste hierarchy. Finally, there is a record stretching back to the mid-nineteenth century of high-level British statements about the advantage to the empire of Hindu—Muslim disunity, and a record of actions to match. 25 The colonial experience, a combination of immiseration, political manipulation, and racism, deeply shaped the Indian understanding of political evil in the twentieth century.

The rhetoric of the Pakistan movement and the violent partition was the second experience that shaped the Indian understanding of political evil. The conflict between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League in the decades before independence in 1947, and then between India and Pakistan, was between an ideology of unity in diversity and one of Muslim nationalism. The Indian conception of secularism took form in opposition to the ideology of the Pakistan movement in the decade before independence. The Congress spoke of Hindus and Muslims as having a common Indian identity, common obligations and social bonds, and equal rights. The League spoke of Hindus and Muslims as two separate nations with no valued social bonds. For the League, the morality linking the two states was to be international in form; their obligation was to recognize their separation and for each nation to treat the other fairly and to respect minority rights. On the subcontinent, tens of millions of Hindus and Muslims lived in areas where they were intermixed. When partition came, millions found themselves on the "wrong" side. The process of separation just prior to independence turned violent and cost half a million lives. The Indian secular view has been that there is a contradiction between proclaiming a religious basis for nationhood and equal rights for religious minorities. A person officially defined as of a secondary religion could not be consistently treated with equality by the state.

The newly independent state became a strong voice in world affairs for human rights concerns generated by the model of political evil described above. India was a prominent and consistent supporter of independence movements in the remaining colonies. It denounced the atrocities of European imperialists in their colonial wars. India was the first state to denounce apartheid in South Africa as a violation of human rights. India's criticism of Zionism was based on analogies to the Indian experience of both colonialism and religious nationalism. India also criticized the bombing campaign by the United States in the Vietnam War for causing civilian casualties. India's major military intervention in the name of human rights was in the war in 1971 to aid the secession of Bangladesh after the Pakistani Army had killed, by conservative estimates, 1 million civilians there and 10 million refugees had walked to India.

The focus on eliminating colonialism and neocolonialism and on opposing religious nationalism made independent India less sensitive to the new structures of human rights violations that emerged in the twentieth century. Dictatorial states where oppression was not based on ethnic inequality did not fit the Indian model of evil. Indians were relatively uncritical of human rights violations in and by the Soviet bloc. One reason was that the Soviet bloc buttressed India's political autonomy by serving as a counterweight to Western power, but another was the misfit between the bloc's mode of human rights violations and the Indian model of political evil.

III. Domestic factors

India's human rights diplomacy after 1989 has been profoundly shaped by structural transformation that has taken place within India in this period. There was an unprecedented crisis with economic, political, and social facets in 1991 and a new order afterwards. The year 1990 ended with the collapse of a coalition government of anti-Congress parties that had included both the BJP and secular parties. India nearly ran out of foreign exchange in the first half of 1991. Economic growth in the year ending in March 1992 was 1 per cent, after 15 years of growth averaging 5 per cent. In May, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, ending the dynastic leadership of the Nehru family. At that point it became difficult to envision effective national leadership on the basis of historical experience.

The secular ethos that had governed Indian politics since independence was gravely weakened in 1991. The BJP and its allies had chosen to claim that a sixteenth-century mosque in the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh was built on an important temple, although archaeological evidence strongly suggests otherwise. This campaign triggered a wave of Hindu—Muslim violence in many parts of India. The polarization between Hindus and Muslims worked to the advantage of the BJP. India's communal crisis peaked in the period December 1992 to March 1993. In December, a mob assembled by BJP leaders destroyed the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, with the acquiescence of the BJP state government in Uttar Pradesh. That triggered a wave of Hindu—Muslim violence. The central government dismissed all four BJP state governments on the day after the mosque demolition. The presence of such moral contradiction and uncertainty within the Indian polity further disabled it from conducting assertive human rights diplomacy. Instead, India had to defend itself against human rights criticism from Muslim and Western sources.

The early 1990s witnessed the greatest level of separatist insurgency of any period since independence, attracting the support of up to 5 per cent of the Indian population. An insurgency in Punjab, seeking an independent Sikh state to be called Khalistan, peaked in 1991. The Kashmir insurgency, which began in late 1989, gained momentum in 1991. There was also a significant insurgency in Assam, in the north-east. Although the insurgents had little chance of seceding, the combination of terrorist actions against local minorities loyal to India and strong support for insurgents from a majority or large minority of their co-ethnics created conditions ripe for human rights violations by ill-disciplined security forces.

The 1990s also witnessed some important social trends with human rights implications. The 1991 census recorded an Indian literacy rate of 52 per cent, far below that in East and South-East Asian countries that had had levels close to India's decades earlier, but above the majority point for the first time. The women's literacy rate was only 39 per cent. In the 1990s a large literacy movement by the government and NGOs made over 66 million people literate, about two-thirds of them women. By 1997, the Indian literacy rate had reached 60 per cent. 26 The 1991 census also recorded a decline in the ratio of women to men since 1981, down to 927 to 1000. This reflected profound discrimination against girls and women within families and within society. Income distribution in India remained one of the more egalitarian in the world, with the richest fifth of households earning 4.7 times the income of the poorest fifth. 27

The conjuncture of the early 1990s precluded assertive human rights diplomacy and made India vulnerable to human rights criticisms in a variety of ways. The deterioration in the sex ratio as well as continuing dowry murders, sex-selection abortions, and other discriminatory practices against females drew national and global attention to the severity of discrimination against girls and women in India. There was also an upsurge in actions by the security forces and mobs that violated human rights. In the politics of the period, the erosion of the moral consensus, especially on the question of secularism, made coherent moral judgement by the polity difficult and undermined both assertive and defensive human rights diplomacy. There was also a political polarization of society that led dissatisfied minorities, and their kin living abroad, to appeal to Western states and human rights organizations for support. And finally, India's heightened economic weakness reduced the cost of accusatory human rights diplomacy toward India.

The Indian state reacted to the crisis of 1991 primarily by a series of reforms, some planned from above, others initiated by middle levels of the state. The period also witnessed the renegotiation of a moral consensus through the workings of the democratic system. Economic liberalization brought an end to the foreign exchange crisis within a few months. The crisis and the reforms intensified poverty in the first year, but that was reversed in later years. After the reforms began, economic growth accelerated, averaging 7 per cent per annum during the three years before March 1997. One effect of the reforms was that India became a far more attractive investment destination and export market than it was before, though still far behind its neighbours in East and South-East Asia. The economic attraction of India proved to be a lever by which it could limit Western human rights accusations and defend its sovereignty.

Politics were also profoundly restructured in the 1990s, leading to new patterns of empowerment and participation. That restructuring has enabled a restoration of moral consensus on basic political questions. The break in the rule of the Nehru—Gandhi dynasty in 1991 brought in its train four critical trends with implications for human rights and human rights diplomacy.

The first important trend is a substantial growth in parties based on middle and lower castes, leading to the empowerment of these castes in relation to the upper castes. Previously, most leaders of established parties, especially in northern states, came from the upper castes, and they sought support from the rest of society. In the 1990s, parties led by middle and lower castes scored crucial victories. The most critical instance was the 1993 state elections in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state. The BJP, in the aftermath of the demolition of the sixteenth-century mosque in Ayodhya, was riding a wave of militant Hindu nationalism in the state, but in 1993 it was defeated by a coalition of middle- and lower-caste parties. Subsequently, the BJP gave support during two brief periods to governments in Uttar Pradesh of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), led and supported mainly by Dalits (ex-untouchables). The BSP used its brief stints in power in Uttar Pradesh to make substantial and lasting changes in the state administrative personnel, land reforms, and the development of villages with large Dalit populations. The empowerment of the lower castes has substantially reduced the social inequalities among castes.

The second trend is that militant Hindu nationalism, which had surged in the late 1980s and peaked with the destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, has subsided. The defeat of the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh state elections in 1993 marked the turning point. Since then, the BJP and other Hindu nationalists have moderated their stance toward Muslims. They have ceased their emotional campaigns relating to contested places of worship and otherwise toned down their rhetoric in relation to Muslims. Popular support for the BJP has increased since 1993, but within the framework of its moderation. This has greatly reduced the scale of Hindu—Muslim violence. It has also restored a broad moral consensus among parties, and has thus strengthened defensive human rights diplomacy. An example of this effect is that it was the moderate BJP leader Vajpayee who headed the successful Indian delegation at the UN Human Rights Commission meeting in 1994, at the invitation of the rival Congress government.

The third important trend is that the non-political institutions have gained strength in relation to politicians and parties. This trend began with the aggressive approach taken by the Chief Election Commissioner T. N. Seshan from 1994 in enforcing election laws. He succeeded in reducing the scale of illegal spending by candidates and reducing other election abuses. That was followed by stronger action by the judiciary against political corruption. The enhanced independence and credibility of the Election Commission played a key role in giving some international credibility to the elections held in Kashmir in 1996.

The National Human Rights Commission was established in 1993 as a quasi-judicial body to investigate human rights violations. It was widely reported that this action was taken in response to international human rights criticism of India. Foreign governments and NGOs have responded positively to the establishment of the commission. 28 Although the commission has acted vigorously within its capabilities, it is fundamentally a supplement to the established legal system.

The fourth trend is the abatement of the Kashmir insurgency. The single most important issue in Indian defensive human rights diplomacy has been the insurgency and counter-insurgency in Kashmir that began in 1989. The Kashmir insurgency grew steadily until it began to lose popular support in the mid-1990s. India sent in 400,000 troops and the insurgents failed to deliver a quick victory. Pakistan's credibility as a power that could and would give adequate aid to the insurgency waned. The attraction of joining Pakistan declined as conditions deteriorated there. Pakistan's favouritism toward the pro-Pakistan insurgency over the pro-independence insurgency was unpopular. As the number of Kashmiri volunteers waned, Pakistan began to send Afghan and Pakistani militants into Kashmir. 29 They proved unpopular among Kashmiri Muslims. By the mid-1990s, Indian security forces succeeded in pushing the militants out of most urban areas in Kashmir, and this reduced the number of instances of troops killing civilians. In the Kashmir state election of September 1996, voter turnout was 55 per cent even though leading separatist politicians campaigned door-to-door calling for an election boycott. 30 Several previous election attempts announced by the Indian government had to be aborted owing to popular hostility and the insurgency. The successful holding of elections reflects a changed political balance in Kashmir. Moreover, voter turnout in the September 1996 elections can be taken as an accurate reflection of public sentiment in Kashmir. There were reports by Indian and Western journalists in Kashmir that in the July 1996 national elections voters were forced to the polls in Kashmir. There were few such allegations in the Indian or Western media about the September 1996 state elections in Kashmir. In the case of the July elections, no reporter in Kashmir claimed actually to have witnessed any voter being led to polls at gunpoint; rather, several journalists reported such claims by some people. There is some evidence of more subtle pressure to vote by security forces in the July 1996 elections. However, there were no reports of the security forces taking action against any of the majority of Kashmiris who did not vote in those elections. In both elections the voting lines were long and voters had to wait for hours. Kashmiri Muslims have a long record of public demonstrations, they had safety in numbers on voting days, and there was a large international media presence during voting. Given these conditions, it stands to reason that, had a significant proportion of voters been coerced, there would have been large protest demonstrations on voting days. There were not.

The stabilization after the early 1990s restored a moral consensus in the polity. The moderation of the BJP and the mobilization of the lower castes resurrected Indian secularism. The embracing of economic liberalization by the United Front government established a broad agreement about the need for a capitalist developmentalist state, although that consensus remains far from mature. Rival political parties agree on the need to fight corruption actively and to let the non-political state institutions function far more autonomously than before. There is a continuing consensus on the need to avoid "a second partition" of India through the secession of any region. This consensus set the agenda for India's defensive human rights diplomacy.

Yet this restored consensus carries its own contradictions. Although the mobilization of the lower castes has deepened democratic participation and increased equality in the public sphere, caste and other divisions in society continue. Relations between different castes and religions, and between political parties rooted in these groupings, remain filled with mistrust and manoeuvring. Marriages across traditional lines remain rare. In these circumstances, the moral consensus is restricted.

IV. Multilateral policies

Diplomacy in international institutions

India's human rights objectives within international institutions can be understood from some aspects of its rhetoric in those forums. Indian delegates to the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Commission have repeated certain themes during the 1990s. They have maintained that, in spite of differences in civilizations and culture, universal norms of human rights are desirable. Salman Khurshid, then Minister of State for External Affairs, said in 1996 to the Human Rights Commission that newly independent countries were among the first to give unconditional approval to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because of their expectation that the comity of nations was finally proceeding to realize a common vision of a world based on the sovereign equality of nations, where the same rights would be recognized and the same liberties defended in all parts of the world, despite differences of language, tradition, culture, and civilization. Khurshid added that "the course of human history has been marked by the search in different civilizations for ways of expressing and protecting the human dignity of every individual." 31 India did not intend to assert that cultural differences form the basis of different human rights across countries.

Indian delegates have consistently criticized Western diplomacy in international human rights institutions in the 1990s. Salman Khurshid continued in the speech cited above:

Today, we are concerned that the spirit of consensus and cooperation that had marked the adoption of the Vienna Declaration [of the World Conference on Human Rights of the UN General Assembly in 1993] is being steadily eroded through the politicization of the human rights agenda (and) the selective targeting of certain countries. Attempts to make human rights issues a matter of North—South or bilateral confrontation are an anti-thesis to what we had agreed a few short years ago. The politics of power in order to establish dominance and legally suspect theories of the right of intervention on humanitarian grounds unfortunately appear to have become popular with some countries.

Here Khurshid expressed perceptions central to India's defensive human rights diplomacy. Opposition to the unfair and intrusive use of the international human rights regime by Western countries has been conceived as a key Indian objective.

Indian delegates have proclaimed that intolerance and terrorism are both violations of human rights and have urged international human rights institutions to tackle the problem in a manner more sensitive to Indian concerns. For example, M. A. Baby, a Member of Parliament, criticized the responses of developed countries to terrorism in a speech in 1997 to the UN General Assembly:

We are however, dismayed, that despite a growing international consensus against the menace of terrorism and in favour of the need for collective action to combat it, not enough is being done to counter it. There is justifiable outrage against terrorist incidents when they occur closer to home. But when it happens elsewhere, even in other democracies in the developing world, the victims become pawns in a larger game of neutrality and causes, hostages of indifference, or an unwillingness to comprehend the occurrence of the same phenomena elsewhere. 32

Baby expressed India's frustration that militancy directed at India did not evoke a similar response from Western countries as militancy directed at them, and sought more intense expressions of outrage in such circumstances.

Indian delegates have emphasized the right to development as an important right and have criticized its neglect by human rights institutions. M. A. Baby, in the speech cited above, alluding to colonialism and the need to rectify its damage, said that "developing countries see the right to development as the broadest conception of human rights, one that incorporates the notions of history and telos, of the deprivations of time past, redress in the present, and the promise of the future." Baby lamented the marginalization of the right to development: "while the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and the ICESCR [International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights], and even their Optional Protocols, are seen as comprising an international bill of rights, the Declaration on the Right to Development is not." He proceeds to argue that "the right to development, like the ICCPR and the ICESCR, derives from concepts and values inherent in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." The critical point in the right to development is that it would restrict the rights of developed countries to impose economic sanctions on developing countries, restrict protectionism in developed countries, and impose other requirements on developed countries in furtherance of perceived development interests.

Indian human rights diplomacy in international institutions served its overall defensive posture. The examples of rhetoric quoted above reveal a presumption of Western dominance of those institutions. Indian diplomatic rhetoric took the form of appeals to the West and signals to non-Western countries to join India in a countervailing coalition. Indian delegates repeatedly expressed concerns that the overall functioning of international institutions was excessively directed by Western countries and inadequately sensitive to Indian priorities. India sought to insert its concerns into the dialogue of those institutions, and to prevent them from intruding on its own sovereignty.

India's defensive human rights diplomacy on Kashmir

United Nations bodies have emerged as critical arenas of Indian defensive human rights diplomacy. This is the result of a Pakistani policy to pursue its claim on Kashmir, especially in the context of the insurgency there, in multilateral forums, where Pakistan's size disadvantage might be overcome. India has mounted defences and built international coalitions to block Pakistani initiatives.

India and Pakistan have struggled over Kashmir since their independence in 1947. Pakistanis have referred to the Kashmir dispute as the "unfinished business of the Partition." Because the British Indian empire was partitioned along religious lines in 1947, and Kashmir has a Muslim majority, Pakistanis reason that it should be part of Pakistan. Indians have rejected the theory that Hindus and Muslims form two separate nations, and thus deny that Kashmir's religious composition is a basis for allocating it to Pakistan. Indians argue that Kashmir has been ruled from Delhi for millennia and, further, that its inclusion in India is an important symbol of Indian secularism. For Indian Muslims, who are approximately as numerous as their co-religionists in Pakistan, India's possession of Kashmir is especially important since they more than anyone wish to avoid creating the impression that India is exclusively Hindu. Further, the accession to India by the Hindu king of Kashmir in 1947 following the armed attack on Kashmir by raiders from Pakistan is the legal basis of India's claim to the territory.

The Indo-Pakistani struggle over Kashmir has been conducted by various means, ranging from open warfare, to irregular warfare, to global diplomacy. The most crucial episode in the diplomatic struggle over Kashmir since 1989 was the meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1994 in Geneva. Pakistan had planned to introduce a resolution critical of the Indian human rights record in Kashmir. The stakes for both sides were modest but significant. A diplomatic victory for Pakistan would likely have raised the morale and credibility of Muslim militants in Kashmir. It was clear that all but a handful of states intended to abstain on the resolution. However, the votes of some Muslim countries appeared likely to tip the scales in favour of Pakistan. India's delegation was headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Salman Khurshid, a cabinet minister with responsibility for foreign affairs, and Farooq Abdallah, who had been and later became again chief minister of Kashmir. The delegation symbolized the unity between Hindus and Muslims in India over the Kashmir issue.

Indian diplomacy in the months preceding the 1994 UN Human Rights Commission meeting had worked on several tracks. A European Union delegation of ambassadors had been invited to visit Kashmir and speak with secessionists as well as Indian loyalists and government personnel. This helped to seal the European abstention. Moreover, economic liberalization had increased European economic interest in India. Iran had been a focus of Indian diplomacy as well. Narasimha Rao had visited Iran in the previous year and had offered to aid it in the area of defence-related technologies while challenging its fundamentalist ideology. 33 For Iran, Pakistan's quest for Western and US support against India undermined its own anti-American goals. Further, India had supported China in the United Nations in the face of Western criticism of China's human rights record. All these moves reaped rewards for India in Geneva. Iran and China, traditionally two crucial allies of Pakistan, pressured it to withdraw its resolution altogether. The failure of Pakistan in Geneva demoralized separatist militants in Kashmir. 34

The Organization of the Islamic Conference has regularly issued statements critical of the Indian human rights record on Kashmir. Indian diplomacy toward this organization as a whole has not been successful. It has been more successful in regard to most Muslim states. No other Muslim state has taken a vocal and consistent stand endorsing the Pakistani position on Indian human rights violations in Kashmir. Saudi Arabia is relatively sympathetic to the Pakistani position, but is muted in its public diplomacy on the issue. India has consistently sought to build ties with Muslim counties. The main commonality has been secularism and third world solidarity. This has been a key in building ties with Egypt, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In the case of Shia Iran, secularism as such has not been a factor, but the Sunni—Shia split and concern about third world solidarity have motivated Iran to view the Indian position sympathetically.

One issue where India has undertaken some assertive diplomacy is in the condemnation of international terrorism. The 1994 Human Rights Commission meeting did pass a resolution condemning international terrorism, with leadership coming from India. Accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir and other regions in India, the Indian government has sought to isolate Pakistan on the issue of international terrorism.

Debates about human rights conditions in India

Several groups participate in the global debate about human rights conditions in India: the Indian political establishment, constitutionalist NGOs, private media, and some opposition parties; unarmed and armed separatists; Western governments, NGOs, and media; South Asian immigrant groups; Pakistani government, parties, and NGOs; and Islamic countries. An example of this debate is in a publication by Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights that makes detailed claims about human rights violations by Indian security forces and separatist militants in Kashmir. 35 In an appendix, a press release by the Indian embassy in Washington rebuts some of the factual claims and challenges the validity of the report's ways of gathering and assessing evidence.

The international debate about human rights in India entails disagreement on the extent of violations by security forces. Indian governmental and non-governmental observers contend that a large number of specific accusations, including some endorsed by Western NGOs, are false propaganda. Secondary debates on this point revolve around the validity of evidence and the reliability of witnesses. Another debate involves the question of responsibility for the actions of soldiers. The Indian government has held that, when security personnel kill unarmed persons contrary to their orders, the sanction of dismissal is sufficient to absolve the state of responsibility for the crime. Only in the second half of the 1990s have criminal prosecutions against security personnel for human rights violations been pursued. Amnesty International and Asia Watch have argued that a far more severe punishment than dismissal is required.

Most of the specific accusations of killing against Indian forces in publications by Western human rights organizations are by people claiming to be witnesses. 36 The Indian government and media have held that there is a campaign among separatist organizations to plant disinformation by inducing people to make false claims. In some cases the evidence is incontrovertible, such as when the person making allegations has torture symptoms, or when large incidents are described consistently by many people and reported in the news media. But in allegations of extrajudicial killings, the evidence that the militant in question was arrested and did not die in battle is sometimes questionable. In the context of rebutting rape allegations endorsed by Asia Watch, the Indian embassy in the United States wrote:

Asia Watch's tendency to accept allegations as genuine is inexplicable considering that the report itself recognizes fear of militants among the population. It states that "most Kashmiris are reluctant to discuss abuses by militants out of fear of reprisal. It is the same fear and element of coercion which forces innocent civilians to make false allegations against security forces." 37

The Indian government has also challenged a number of generalizations and analyses of motivations made by Asia Watch about conditions in Kashmir.

The reports by Asia Watch and Amnesty International are vulnerable to criticism on several points, but nonetheless present a picture of human rights violations in Kashmir, Punjab, as well as other parts of India that is broadly consistent with information from other sources, notably the Indian news media. Indeed, what is distinctive about these reports is not the information they present. Rather such reports compile partially authenticated claims about human rights violations in India and present them to the international media. The reports have been the occasion of considerable embarrassment to the Indian government and concerned sections of society. Criticisms by NGOs and other international criticism of India's human rights record have been a spur to some corrective action, such as improved discipline among armed forces in Kashmir and the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission.

V. Bilateral policy

Three important bilateral relationships in India's human rights diplomacy since 1989 are with the United States, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. India has refrained from human rights criticism of the United States for either international or domestic actions since 1989, in line with its shift to a defensive posture. Instead India has sought to moderate US human rights criticism of India. The post-Cold War era has been one of unprecedented US criticism of India on human rights grounds. Although the level and intensity of US criticism against India were a fraction of those against China and some other states, Indian sensitivity to that criticism was high.

The United States began to criticize Indian counter-insurgency methods in Punjab and Kashmir. It also criticized India for child labour, dowry murders, and other abuses. In the case of Kashmir, the Clinton administration revived the formulation that Kashmir was a disputed territory. A series of American statements in late 1993 and early 1994 were perceived by Kashmiri separatists as indications that the United States was growing more sympathetic to their cause. 38 These statements raised fears in India that the resolve of the militants would be strengthened by them. In the case of Punjab, several resolutions in the US Congress, which came close to passing, condemned India for alleged human rights violations there. These were pressed at the behest of persons in the American Sikh community who had made significant campaign contributions to US Congressmen. American newspapers harshly criticized India's human rights record. US news media accounts of Indian human rights issues in the 1990s were sharply negative and paralleled those of Western human rights organizations. 39

The US Congress and administration, like some other developed countries, pressed criticism of India for child labour. Child labour is far from being eliminated in some of these developed countries, including the United States and Britain, in spite of their wealth. The United States has been especially concerned about child labour in export industries, such as carpets, even though these account for a small fraction of overall child labour in India. The majority of child labour in India is in agriculture. The United States and other wealthy nations have taken steps to reduce imports of carpets produced by child bonded labour, without adequate provisions for alternative sustenance for the children. Government programmes and NGOs within India that rescue children from bonded labour educate and feed the children afterwards. Rescue efforts that neglect to support the children afterwards have frequently failed, with the children returning to bonded labour. India has opposed the inclusion of clauses in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that ban trade in goods produced by child labour on the grounds that these would do little actually to reduce the problem and would harm the exports of developing countries. The only realistic remedy for child labour is the universalization of primary education. Expenditure on primary education in India has increased sharply in the 1990s, and a national programme of free lunches for some schoolchildren began in 1995. Yet India will take several years to attain universal primary education even if the current growth rate of expenditure is maintained.

There have been some trends limiting US accusatory diplomacy against India. India's policies of economic globalization have played a key role. Indiana Republican Congressman Dan Burton, who is on the right wing of his party, introduced a bill every year from 1993 to cut US aid to India on the grounds of human rights violations in Punjab. In 1995, his bill lost by only 19 votes, whereas by 1997 the margin of defeat had broadened to 260 votes, mainly owing to pro-India lobbying by US corporations. 40 Indian immigrants in the United States have also courted allies in the US Congress. There are significant pro- and anti-India groups in the US Congress, cutting across party lines, which fight regular skirmishes of letters to colleagues. 41 Finally, the growing power of China has made the United States more conscious of the need to court other Asian states to balance China's power, and this has also limited America's critique of India's human rights record.

In 1987, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka as part of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord. The original intention was for the force to disarm the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in order to enable political reforms on the island to proceed. India itself had originally aided the LTTE in reaction to anti-Tamil action and sentiments promoted by the Sri Lankan state. 42 The Tigers chose not to disarm and instead to fight, and the IPKF fought an unsuccessful three-year war against them. Several aspects of Indian human rights diplomacy became entangled with this intervention. Throughout India opposed the division of Sri Lanka on religious lines, seeking to enhance the credibility of its domestic ideology of secularism and unity in diversity. Over the years, India shifted its assessment of the main threat to its ideology in Sri Lanka. Prior to 1987, India had accused the Sri Lankan government of human rights violations against its Tamil minority. After the intervention, the focus of Indian accusations shifted to the LTTE itself. The IPKF was also accused of committing some human rights violations, and India prosecuted some soldiers and defended itself internationally against charges it considered exaggerated. After the withdrawal of the IPKF in 1990, the Indian focus on Sri Lanka abated for a year, until it was suddenly reactivated in 1991 by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE team. However, Indian human rights diplomacy toward Sri Lanka remained muted. The Sri Lankan state disciplined its armed forces more effectively and massacres of Tamils ended, while the LTTE continued a campaign of attacks against civilians. Indian diplomatic sympathy has remained with the government, and it regarded LTTE violations in Sri Lanka as crimes under the jurisdiction of the Sri Lankan government.

Indian human rights diplomacy toward Pakistan is highly revealing of the new overall posture. Pakistan has maintained an aggressive posture of accusatory diplomacy toward India with regard to Kashmir, and briefly over the Ayodhya issue. India has accused Pakistan of supporting terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of India, and has held it responsible for human rights violations committed in terrorist actions in Kashmir and elsewhere. Yet India has been muted in its criticism of human rights violations committed by Pakistani security forces within Pakistan. The 1990s have been the most violent decade in Pakistan since 1971. Although the Indian government has made a few critical statements, it has not engaged in a diplomatic campaign of criticism. This approach reflects the commitment to defensive diplomacy, as well as a desire to keep international human rights institutions disengaged from South Asia.

The course of the struggle over Kashmir has been decisively influenced by domestic trends in both India and Pakistan. During the 1990s, events have conspired to shift the balance of power and influence regarding Kashmir in favour of India. In the summer of 1990, Pakistan appeared to many, especially in Kashmir, to represent the future. The USSR was in decline and its intervention in Afghanistan had been defeated by the steadfastness of the US—Pakistani alliance. Pakistan had kept a more open economy than India since independence and had just instituted a fresh round of market reforms. Its Islamic political orientation appeared more authentic and coherent than the confusion of inconsistent secularism, violent separatism, and communal antagonism prevalent in India. And Pakistan was riding the wave of Islamist sentiment throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. In Kashmir, the examples of the Afghan mujaheddin and the Palestinian intifada gave new credibility to Islamist sentiment and an insurgency favouring accession to Pakistan gained a foothold, alongside a pro-independence insurgency. 43 It is clear that Pakistan gave large-scale material support to both these insurgencies, although aid to the pro-independence insurgency was later cut off.

As the 1990s progressed, India's economic and political recovery coincided with a multifaceted crisis in Pakistan. The end of overt military dictatorship upon the death of General Zia ul-Haq in 1988 gave way to an electoral system without civilian supremacy, what an earlier military dictator of Pakistan had called "guided democracy." Pakistani presidents, supported by the military, dismissed three elected governments before their terms ran out. Unelected caretaker governments then carried out far-reaching reforms. Further, the military kept a tight rein on the nuclear weapons establishment, Kashmir policy, and the military budget. Spending over 6 per cent of its GNP on the military, Pakistan could not keep its budget and trade deficits in check. Its economy has stagnated and it has been forced to borrow from the IMF with severe conditions. Pakistan also came to be listed by the World Bank as one of the most corrupt states in the world, and corruption was cited as the main cause in each of its three government dismissals. Pakistan's two main Great Power allies, the United States and China, began to distance themselves from Pakistan's stand on Kashmir, especially after 1996. In 1997, the Pakistani Muslim League won elections by a landslide and amended the constitution to ban presidential intervention. It has begun to reduce military spending and to initiate talks with India. Yet the ideological disagreement between Muslim-nationalist Pakistan and secular, Hindu-majority India remains large, and that makes the Kashmir issue difficult to solve. The swing of the balance of influence in India's favour has created a modicum of stability in Kashmir, and has led third states to move to a position on the issue more to India's liking than Pakistan's. This in turn has facilitated India's defensive human rights diplomacy regarding Kashmir.

VI. Conclusion

The period since 1989 has witnessed a broad transformation of Indian human rights diplomacy. It has moved from an accusatory approach to a defensive one. This transformation has been caused by both global and national trends. At the global level, the emergence of unipolarity led to a changed international regime of human rights. There was a much stronger emphasis on the violations committed by governments of developing countries against their citizens, deliberately or through negligence. Civilian deaths caused by the international actions of Great Powers were ignored.

At the national level, India has gone through a profound multifaceted transformation during the 1990s that has affected its human rights diplomacy in a variety of ways. The economic crisis at the start of the decade was accompanied by crises in its political leadership structure, national unity, and Hindu—Muslim relations. As the decade progressed, India resolved most of its immediate crises and emerged with new structures that replaced the older collapsed ones. The new stronger structure led to an improvement in the domestic human rights performance, in tandem with a decline in violent challenges to the state. There was also a moderation of Hindu nationalism, as the simplistic violent techniques of the early 1990s led to critical electoral defeats. Peace was restored in Punjab. India's human rights and overall security performance in Kashmir improved. The improved situation led to a more successful defensive diplomacy in multilateral institutions and bilateral relations. Yet the road back to assertive human rights diplomacy will be a long one for India.


Note 1: Some parties and factions did reject key features of the Indian Constitution. Among communists, there have been parties rejecting the parliamentary path and favouring armed revolution. Some Hindu nationalist and communalist groups have openly rejected the equal rights of Muslims. Secessionist and minority communalist groups have been present. Open support of caste discrimination by political parties has been rare, although tacit support has been more common. Nonetheless, before 1991 parties openly opposing central features of the Indian Constitution did not command more than 20 per cent of popular votes or informal support.  Back.

Note 2: Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Foreign Affairs Record, vol. 35, 1989.  Back.

Note 3: India Today, 31 March 1994, p. 26.  Back.

Note 4: US Department of State, "India Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996" ( Last visited on 16 February 1998  Back.

Note 5: James Ron, "Varying Methods of State Violence," International Organization, 51/2 (1997), 280-281.  Back.

Note 6: David P. Forsythe, Human Rights and World Politics (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), 11; and Jack Donnelly, "International Human Rights: A Regime Analysis," International Organization, 40/3 (1986), 599-642.  Back.

Note 7: Donnelly, "International Human Rights," op. cit., 602-603.  Back.

Note 8: World Health Organization, "The Health Conditions of the Population in Iraq since the Gulf Crisis," WHO/EHA/96.1 ( Last visited on 16 February 1998.  Back.

Note 9: Sarah Zaidi and May C. Smith Fawzi, "Health of Baghdad's Children," The Lancet 346 (2 December 1995), 1485.  Back.

Note 10: New York Times, 31 May 1992, p. 8.  Back.

Note 11: World Health Organization, "The Health Conditions of the Population in Iraq," op. cit. A detailed chronology and criticism of the sanctions are contained in Geoff Simons, The Scourging of Iraq: Sanctions, Law, and Natural Justice (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996), 33-104.  Back.

Note 12: Guardian, 29 September 1991.  Back.

Note 13: Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1995 (New York: Amnesty International, 1995), 166.  Back.

Note 14: Physicians for Human Rights (gopher:// Last visited on 16 February 1998.  Back.

Note 15: Dennis G. Dalton, Indian Idea of Freedom: Political Thought of Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghosh, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore (Gurgaon, Haryana: Academic Press, 1982), 168.  Back.

Note 16: Ibid., 169.  Back.

Note 17: Ibid., 167.  Back.

Note 18: Jack Donnelly, "Human Rights and Human Dignity: An Analytic Critique of Non-Western Conceptions of Human Rights," American Political Science Review (1982), 76.  Back.

Note 19: The most salient construction of the colonial experience is in Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1960).  Back.

Note 20: Dharma Kumar and Meghnad Desai, The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume 2: c.1757-c.1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 528; Ashis Nandy, At the Edge of Psychology (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1980), 4.  Back.

Note 21: Nandy, At the Edge of Psychology, op. cit., 4.  Back.

Note 22: Paul R. Greenough, Prosperity and Misery in Modern Bengal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 97—98.  Back.

Note 23: Nandy, At the Edge of Psychology, op. cit., 3.  Back.

Note 24: C.A. Bayly, Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 158.  Back.

Note 25: Bipin Chandra, Communalism in Modern India (New Delhi: Vikas, 1984), 242-245.  Back.

Note 26: Deccan Herald, 4 February 1998 ( Last visited on 4 February 1998.  Back.

Note 27: United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1996 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 171. In comparison, the figure for China was 6.5, the United States 8.9, and Norway 5.9 (ibid., 170, 198).  Back.

Note 28: For example, qualified praise was given by Amnesty International to the commission in its 1995 annual report, Amnesty International Report 1995, op. cit., 157.  Back.

Note 29: Sumit Ganguly, The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes for Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 169-171.  Back.

Note 30: India Today, 30 September 1996, p. 26.  Back.

Note 31: Address by Mr. Salman Khurshid, Minister of State for External Affairs and Leader of the Indian Delegation, 52nd Session of the Commission on Human Rights, 20 March 1996. Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations Office, Geneva.  Back.

Note 32: Statement by Mr. M. A. Baby, Member of the Indian Parliament, on agenda item 112 (b to e): Human Rights Questions, at the Third Committee of the 52nd Session of the General Assembly, 19 November 1997, New York. Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations.  Back.

Note 33: India Today, 31 March 1994, p. 30.  Back.

Note 34: Ibid., 36.  Back.

Note 35: Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, The Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir: A Pattern of Impunity (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993).  Back.

Note 36: Asia Watch does assert that it follows a procedure, whenever possible, that would indeed have a high probability of accurate findings from witness claims. Ibid., 12.  Back.

Note 37: Ibid., 205.  Back.

Note 38: India Today, 15 March 1997, p. 37.  Back.

Note 39: Some examples of critical US newspaper coverage are: "India's Shallow Democracy," New York Times, 29 January 1995, p. 14; "US Proves Once Again That It's Business, Not Human Rights, That Matters," Boston Globe, 23 January 1995, p. 11; "India's Dirty Little War," New York Times, 6 September 1994, p. 18; "Valley of Blood and Tears," Los Angeles Times, 4 September 1993, p. B7; "2 Reports Find Wide Abuses by India in Kashmir," New York Times, 8 November 1992, p. 21; and "Radicals Hearten Many in Kashmir," New York Times, 21 December 1989, p. 11. There was a much smaller volume of coverage sympathetic to India's human rights performance in the mainstream US media, such as the editorial "Why India's Unity Matters," New York Times, 20 June 1991, p. 22.  Back.

Note 40: Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, "US Corporations, Our New Foreign Policy Allies," Times of India (, 7 September 1997. Last visited on 7 September 1997. A parallel interpretation was put forward by a critic of India's human rights record. See also Patricia Gossman, "The US Proves Once Again That It's Business and Not Human Rights That Matters," Boston Globe, 23 January 1995, p. 11.  Back.

Note 41: Dawn, 31 July 1997 (  Back.

Note 42: David Little, Sri Lanka: The Invention of Enmity (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1994).  Back.

Note 43: Ganguly, The Crisis in Kashmir, op. cit., 41-42.  Back.