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India has failed to replicate success in Tamil Nadu to halt other ethnic conflicts

14 December 2006

India has successively failed to manage its festering ethnic conflicts despite having a rare example of conflict resolution within its own shores, a London based human rights group says.

Minority Rights Group International says in its latest report that India has failed to replicate the strategies that helped avert a violent conflict in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in other areas like Punjab, Kashmir and Nagaland.

It blames the Indian government for constant interference in the politics of these regions and for failing to empower minority communities and protect their rights.

“India is the world’s largest democracy and it is gaining prominence as a global economic power but their handling of minority rights in these three conflict situations is appalling,” Zoe Gray, MRG’s Conflict Prevention Officer says.

Gray adds that even though, as the current debate shows, minority issues are on the agenda it is not dealt with in a substantial manner. “India has signed up to international treaties and guarantees minority rights in law but there is a shortfall in practice.”

In a rare comparative analysis of India’s major ethnic conflicts, the MRG report hails the country for the manner in which it quelled separatism in Tamil Nadu by integrating minorities through ethnic power-sharing. The south Indian state has mostly ethnic Tamil people, an Indian minority, who have their own distinct identity and speak the Tamil language.

“Tamil Nadu is not a perfect example of minority protection but the case underlines how minority autonomy and empowerment can turn a separatist movement into a force for democracy,” Gray says.

But in Punjab, Kashmir and Nagaland, India has failed to integrate minorities by denying them their democratic rights and engaging in human rights violations all of which have contributed to conflict.

The report says promises for autonomy and better minority political participation were not kept by continuous Indian governments in all three cases.

The report also says that one of the strong points in Tamil Nadu was the manner in which all minority communities, not just those with major grievances, were included in politics at a local level.

“In Tamil Nadu there was also minimal political interference by the Central Government. This was not the case in the other conflicts, specially in Punjab,” Gray says.

All three conflicts are long standing and thousands of people have lost their lives in attacks. Kashmir is the most prominent because of the involvement of neighbouring Pakistan. The conflict in Nagaland, involving the ethnically distinct Naga population, is less known, but is protracted and has claimed over 150,000 lives.

“The future for these areas of conflict, whatever their status, must be a future that adheres to protection of minority rights. Participation, justice and anti-discrimination are essential components of this,” says Gray

For more information, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].

Notes to editors

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • The report titled ‘Minority Rights and Conflict Prevention: Case Study of Conflicts in Indian Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Nagaland’ was launched in London on Thursday. Maya Chadda, the author of the report, is the director of the South Asia program at the William Paterson University of New Jersey. She has authored several books and articles on international relations and South Asia’s ethnic conflict.