Articles of NRI relevance

April 01, 2004
Human Rights Experiences: People of Indian Origin in the Caribbean, Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe was the theme of an all-day conference held at St John's University, in Queens, New York on Saturday, March 20, 2004. Sponsored by the University's Center on Latin American & Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and co-sponsored by the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), GOPIO-New York and the Guyanese East Indian Civic Association (GEICA), the daylong conference was inaugurated on Friday, March 19th at the World's Fair Marina Banquet Hall.

Former Trinidad and Tobago prime minister Basdeo Panday was the Guest of Honor and former Fiji PM Mahendra Chaudhry delivered the keynote address.

The day-long conference was organized into four sessions. The conference discussed the human rights experiences of people of Indian origin (PIO) living in different countries outside of India with significant PIO populations. These countries and regions included Fiji, USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana.

According to Ashook Ramsaran, GOPIO Secretary General and conference co-organizer, the conference focused on the nature, causes and elements of human rights abuses as they affect Indians living outside of India. "We examined those countries and regions where the experiences of Indian assimilation have been both harmonious and contentious," Ramsaran said. "We are pleased with the interest and support that St John's University has provided for this global forum to address a crucial issue of concern to over 20 million people...  of Indian origin living outside of India. There is no doubt that this conference has indeed advanced the discussions on an important subject at this critical time in the history of the Indian diaspora", Ramsaran continued.

The conference organizers brought scholars, rights advocates, PIO political leaders, and policy makers the world over to examine the causal nature, extent and consequences of such abuses and to address some of the underlying issues therein. "The lessons so learned", Prakash Singh, GEICA's director and conference co-organizer, "can be a yardstick for other groups in tackling this ubiquitous problem now simmering in many regions of the world".

GOPIO has been involved in the human rights issues of PIOs since its inception in 1989 at the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin. The primary motivation for the first convention was the dismissal of the duly elected Indian dominated government in Fiji. GOIO had filed with the United Nations cases of human rights violations of PIOs in Fiji and Sri Lanka in 1991 and 1992 respectively. "Although we have seen some improvements in the PIO human rights issues in the later part of 1990s, rights violations of people of Indian origin continue to be a major issue," said Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chairman of GOPIO.

In May 2000, when the democratically elected government in Fiji, headed by Mr. Mahendra Chaudhry, along with his cabinet colleagues were taken hostage by an extreme political group, GOPIO launched a campaign for his release and the restoration of democracy in Fiji. GOPIO met with the UN Human Rights Commission and campaigned at the Commonwealth Ministers' Meeting to restore Fijian democracy. At the GOPIO convention in Zurich in June 2000, immediately following the Fiji crisis, GOPIO passed the famous Zurich declaration, which says "when any person of Indian origin is abused, attacked or discriminated against in any part of the world because of his or her ethnicity, all persons of Indian origin around the world will deem such an act or action directed against all of them and will stand together in the pursuit of justice." This declaration was re-iterated by Dr. Abraham at the conference inauguration.

GOPIO president Inder Singh said that GOPIO would continue its commitment to help our communities around the world. "GOPIO's Human Rights Commission is being constituted to include representation from all regions of the world," said Singh.

The conference commenced with opening remarks by St. John's Vice Provost Dr. Brian Nedwek, conference Chairperson Dr Alina Camacho-Gingerich of St. John's University and GOPIO chairman Dr. Abraham. Congressman Gregory Meeks complimented GOPIO for its determination to make a better world. "Racial profiling of some communities in the US is not acceptable," said Meeks.

In his keynote address, Mahendra Chaudhry has said that racism is not less than terrorism and in this day in age, people often fail to recognize that racism is a form of terrorism. "People usually associate racism with just one race feeling more superior than the another, and forget to think that it is a form of terrorism," said Chaudhry. "The extreme elements are responsible in promoting paramount of one race over the other," Chaudhry added. He has also said that thereis suffering in silence and that these experiences should be known. Chaudhry, who made a special trip to the conference, has been fighting violation of political rights of Indo-Fijians in Fiji. "Fiji Indians suffered indenture and now they are suffering by widespread discrimination and violation of political rights," Chaudhry said.

Basdeo Panday, former PM and leader of the United National Congress in Trinidad and Tobago, in his keynote address at the conference said that the Indian Diaspora would not be able to help the Indians living in Trinidad, Suriname, Guyana and other countries because the Diaspora is not well organized yet although some initial progress has been done by GOPIO. "The Indian Diaspora indeed is certainly big and it is very difficult to organize and make it work together because of the size," Panday Said. Panday complimented GOPIO for bringing the consciousness of the Indian government about the powerful Indian Diaspora.

In his keynote address, Prof. Vinai Lal of UCLA said that Indian Diaspora is making a great impact in transnational economic and cultural exchange. However, Lal said that Indians can be oppressed without much happening to the oppressors. "Indian govt. is not capable of providing help at times of crisis except toothless response," said Lal. According to Pravasi Bharatiya Divas organized by Govt. of India is deceptive exercise.

Prof. Parasram Thakur, Vice Provost of University of Bernice, Guyana, spoke on the subject, "Negotiating My Rights - Rights to Negotiate." Prof. Thakur highlighted the problem of negotiating with the larger community.

Dr. Dwijendra Battacharya and Dr. Jitendra Roy spoke on the atrocities against Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Bangladesh and asked Govt. of India to take an active role with Bangladesh Govt. to stop the atrocities. Dr. Balgopal Pallasana, professor Emeritus at University Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, spoke about personal and national identity and said when they do not compromise, the problems arise.

Dr. Leonard Baynes, professor of Law at St. John's University said that discrimination and rights violations stem from acts of colonialism which is still in the US to some extend. Prof. Surendra Kaushik of Pace University of New York said that all discriminations and rights violation of PIOs should be noted in a global registry. Dr. Jagat Motwani, a community activist and author, said that some of PIOs whose rights are violated bring it to themselves because of the disunity of the community.

Attorney and rights activist and Dr. Dolly Hassan spoke about the problems and rights violations of PIOs after 9/11 terrorist acts. Bal Naipaul of St. Catherine, Canada spoke about the divisiveness of Indian community in Canada and the lack of networking with the African community to fight discrimination and rights violations in Canada. Dhanendra Kanani, a member of Council of Racial Equality in UK said that the main problem is how to create a sense of commonality for people of Indian origin. "British Indians were able to connect more locally than nationally," said Kanani.

Dr. Prem Misir, Pro-Chancelor of University of Guyana said the current Guyana Govt. under Bharrat Jagdeo has made many constitutional amendments, constituted many commissions to protect the rights of children, women and indigenous people and that there is a constructive dialogue between communities now in Guyana. However, Guyana community activist and founder of Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA) Ryaan Shah contested that argument and provided statistics of increasing violence against Indians in Guyana. This was also contested by Prof. Rishi Thakur of University of Guyana.

Anthropologist Dr. Kumar Mahabir of Costaatt Community College in Trindiad and Tobago spoke of the increasing violence and discrimination against PIOs in Trinidad and Tobago. "PIO Businessmen and professionals have imposed a night-time self-curfew, and hire private bodyguards and armed escorts while their children are leaving to USA and Canada," said Mahabir. Dr Mohan Gautam of Leiden University, The Netherlands said "Human rights beings at home; we must get together to develop useful and effective strategies to confront the various problems we face as Indians in diaspora".

Indo-Trinidadian Dr. Christendat Mahadeo from University of Illinois said that Indo-Caribbean should actively participate in the political process and take more civic responsibility in the US. The last speaker of the conference, Hon. Ravi Dev, a member of the Guyana Parliament representing ROAR, said that PIOs' human rights can be respected only if the community advances its political rights. The conference session ended with concluding remarks by St. John's University's Vice Provost Dr. Willard Gingerich who thanked the organizers for putting together the conference at the university.

The conference concluded with a plenary session on Sunday, March 21st, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel where the delegates passed the following resolutions:

  1. Resolution on Fiji
  2. WHEREAS all citizens of Fiji are duly entitled to equal justice and freedom as provided under United Nations charters,

    AND WHEREAS the constitution of Fiji guarantees appropriate representation of all its people in the government,

    AND WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Fiji has determined that the constitution of Fiji must be observed and democracy restored by the Government of Fiji,

    AND WHEREAS persons of Indian origin in Fiji are still being denied their legitimate constitutional and legislative representation,

    WE call on the Government of Fiji to fully implement the decision of its Supreme Court and restore all rights and privileges to persons of Indian origin in Fiji.

  3. Resolution on Trinidad & Tobago
  4. WHEREAS all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are duly entitled to equal justice and freedom as provided under United Nations charters,

    AND WHEREAS there exists in Trinidad and Tobago a heightened state of atrocities stemming from abduction and kidnapping of persons of Indian origin in Trinidad and Tobago,

    AND WHEREAS there is deep concern that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is not effectively dealing with this crisis which continues to terrorize persons of Indian origin in Trinidad and Tobago,

    WE call on the Government of Trinidad and Tobago take immediate actions to bring an end to the abuse of human rights against persons of Indian origin in Trinidad and Tobago;

    AND FURTHER, we call on the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to immediately file a report with the United Nations International Human Rights Commission detailing what direct actions the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has taken to bring a cessation of the abduction and kidnapping perpetuated against of persons of Indian origin in Trinidad and Tobago.

  5. Resolution on Bangladesh
  6. WHEREAS all citizens of Bangladesh are duly entitled to equal justice and freedom as provided under United Nations charters,

    AND WHEREAS we are fully cognizant of the many atrocities being committed against the minority citizens of Bangladesh, especially against Hindus, Christians and Buddhists,

    WE call on the Government of Bangladesh to take immediate actions to put an end to this abuse of human rights being perpetuated against minority groups in Bangladesh.

  7. Resolution on Bangladesh
  8. WHEREAS all citizens of Bangladesh are duly entitled to equal justice and freedom as provided under United Nations charters,

    AND WHEREAS we are fully cognizant of the many atrocities being committed against the minority citizens of Bangladesh, especially against Hindus, Christians and Buddhists,

    WE call on the Government of India to take immediate steps with the Government of Bangladesh to put an end to this abuse of human rights being perpetuated against minority groups in Bangladesh.

  9. Resolution on Guyana
  10. HEREAS all citizens of Guyana are duly entitled to equal justice and freedom as provided under United Nations charters,

    WE condemn the on-going human rights abuses perpetrated against persons of Indian origin in Guyana.

    AND we call on the Government of Guyana to take all additional and necessary measures to remedy the abuses forthwith. AND WE further condemn any and all groups that perpetuate such violence against persons of Indian origin in Guyana.

  11. Resolution to Government of India
  12. WHEREAS all citizens are duly entitled to equal justice and freedom as provided under United Nations charters,

    AND WHEREAS persons of Indian origin living in various countries outside of India are faced human rights abuses in various forms,

    WE call on the Government of India to closely and actively monitor the human rights abuses perpetuated against persons of Indian origin living in various countries outside of India, and to take all necessary measures and seek appropriate remedy to put an end to those abuses.

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