MANHATTAN, N.Y. A dinner meeting was held by the Sikh Women’s International Organization to honor Prof. Rajni Kothari at the Moghul Restaurant in the Penta Hotel, Manhattan, New York, on April 19th, 1987. The subject of Prof. Kothari’s speech was “Law and Politics as related to Human Rights and Civil Liberties in India today”.
Prof. Kothari has been invited by the Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at the Fulbright 40th Anniversary Distinguished Fellow Program Symposium held in March and Apmil, 1987.
Prof. Kothari is the past President of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties in India and the Director of “LOKAYAN?” in New Delhi, an organization formed to integrate the grass roots organizations on Human Rights and Civil Liberties in India.
The dinner meeting was attended by nearly hundred people, among them representatives of diversely interested organizations, such as Prof. Parveen Chopra, President elect, Federation of Indian Associations in America; Dr. Shobha Singh, the President of Indian Overseas Congress in Ameri a; Mr. Prakash Parekh, the regional Vice-president of National Federation of Indian Associations in America; Prof. Gurcharan Singh of the Sikh Heritage; S. Ujagar Singh of Akali Dal and Sikh Students Federation in America, and members of some United: Nations Organizations; research scholars, and political scientists from precious Universities; Representatives from the Indian consulate in New York and Prof. Embree from Columbia University the Director of South Asian Studies, who had spent many years in the Consulate of India, were also present.
Welcoming and introducing Prof. Kothari and the distinguished guests Dr. Satwant K. Dhamoon said that Prof. Kothari stood for the institution of democracy and worked for it through the preservation of Human Rights and Civil liberties of the populace. He was the “voice of conscience” of the oppressed millions, she said.
His most remarkable and historic works are the two daring investigative reports published in the form of booklets:
- “Who Are The Guilty?”
- “The Oppression in Punjab”.
The latter was intially banned in India and one of its authors Mr. Pancholy was jailed, and charged with sedition. The report “Who are the Guilty?” details the orgy of Sikh genocide that took place in New Delhi after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Enlisted therein are those who were guilty. Even the Mishra Commission has failed in its mission to unravel the truth, she said.
Dr. Dhamoon said that we are here today to bridge the gaps that separated the oppressed and the suppressed in India and to clear the cotton wool mesh of disinformation propagated by the long arm of the Indian government news agencies in collusion with foreign governments and the media. This, she said, has clogged our minds and that has kept nonresident Indians divided, apathetic and sometimes hostile towards each other.
Prof. Kothari gave a preview of the genesis of India as a nation emerging out of British India which was a conglomeration of diverse, ethnic, social and religious groups with different languages, cultures and sociopolitical histories. He said that India is a pluralistic society and its democratic set up was different from the western societies which are relatively more homogeneous in their social and ethnic pattern.
Referring to secularism in India, he said it was not a division between the State and Church as such but primarily meant equal respect for all religions and as well as cultural equality, since many social groups are ethnic and not religious, he said. He said that rifts between people are bound to occur in any diverse society.
He traced fundamental problems in India to the hunger for power in the Congress in its bid to reestablish itself under Mrs. Gandhi. To reacquire power the Congress Party started the virus of aggressive communalism of which Mrs. Indira Gandhi became a victim herself, he said.
The concept of minority was not Indian. The Indian society, he said, had not adopted a democratic model in which there would be a majority or a minority or several minorities taking part in the political system. While India did have a strong center because of historical necessity it was planned to be federal. Because of over centralization and because of the wish of the center to control everything, that various sections of the society were becoming increasingly disenchanted with the system. All this arose because the Government was not concentrating on serious problems like economic hardships of the people and the demand for more autonomy in various states all over the country. But recently there is an aggressive communal virus in which minority aspirations are portrayed as a threat to the country’s unity. Communal feelings amongst different communities are used for staying in power or coming to power or surviving in power somehow. The disturbing phenomenon he said was the Government aiding and abetting such a communal virus. This it did thru the machinery of the ruling party.
Kothari said that there was no such thing as Hindu majority. It was only a minority speaking as if it was the majority.
A lively and very educative. Question and answer period followed Prof. Kothari’s speech. Referring to the massacre of the Sikhs in Delhi that followed’ the assassination of Indira Gandhi, he said, that he would like to repeat one thing that “the Sikhs would never knuckle under”, that three days after the violence they were out on the streets of Delhi, he said adding that he could think of no other community which could have shown such courage. .
He condemned the Mishra Commission report and said that justice would have to be done and the guilty punished otherwise “taw justice” would be done to them as in the case of Mr. Maken and Mr. Arjun Das. It was not desirable but it would happen he said.
He also said that very distressingly he found more divisions amongst the various Indian communities in the United States and Canada, than in India itself. Prof. Kothari also said the Sikhs were created by the Sikh Gurus to counter oppression and protect others, Referring to his interview published recently in India Abroad, he said’ that while the total interview conveyed much of what he said, his comment on Khalistan as a “banana republic” had been “torn out of context”. He said that in certain conditions and idea like that can be compared to ideas of many a banana republic; in fact India is fast becoming a banana republic itself.