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Secessionists from India unite at UN's human rights jamboree - The Indian Express

Chitra Subramaniam ()
August 6

Title: Secessionists from India unite at UN's human rights jamboree
Author: Chitra Subramaniam
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: August

They are children of a generous god. They come from London and Tripura,
Paris and Chandigarh, Washington and Baramulla, Helsinki, Trincomalee and
Velvetithurai and are held together by an invisible string.

They are smart, they speak well, most of them are lawyers or businessmen,
and they are flushed with funds. Whose funds? Our supporters and
well-wishers, they coo in unision. They have something else in common -they
think India is a very bad idea.

They think the Indian Union is fate, that there can be no peace in
South-Asia unless India is tamed and they waste no opportunity, fax machine
or e-mail to tell the world that India's borders are drawn in blood. Tell
them they are secessionists and they get aggressive. Freedom fighters,
then, and you have an interview. The funny thing is that none of them have
anything negative to say about any other country in the region.

Who are they?

Officially, they are independent members of non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) seeking freedom from torture, imprisonment Indian imperialism and
socio-economic deprivation. Twice a year, they travel to Geneva to spend
anything between four to six weeks to speak out for the oppressed to the
world at the mother of all talk shops, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights
Commission (March-April) and its minor version, the Human Rights
Subcommission (July-August). Some years ago you could count them on five
fingers. Before 1992, they were all from Kashmir, this side and that.
Self-determination for the Kashmiris was their message. Five years ago they
did not mingle with each other, they did not use the same fax and
photo-copying machines.

Today, their numbers, noise levels in Geneva makes the UNHRC look like an
Indian railway platform. complete with bags and bundles. Their floating
population reaches 70 when there is a debate on India or when there is a
special agenda item on oppressed people. Otherwise they number around 50.
Their bosses live abroad with addresses in London and Paris. You can tell
who the bosses are - they are the ones who carry the portable computers.
Some of them have never set foot on India soil. The new hawkers are
aggressively anti-India. "Give Punjabis the right to self-determination,"
says a Khalistani." "India has used us and discarded us," says a Tamil.

"Stop the Indians, they are killing us," "Fifty years of blood and
lies...... India's designs on its small neighbours," "Indian repression and
death squads...... Slaughter of the Sikhs" are some headlines in flyers and
pamphlets they distribute. Over the years, these groups of men and women
have acquired the requisite media savvy. They brief the international
press, organise seminars where they serve sandwiches and non-alcoholic
beverages and schedule regular film shows where India is depicted in blood
and gore and where eyewitness accounts narrate atrocities committed by
Indian soldiers and paramilitary forces. Last year some women "freedom
fighters" ran after western diplomats with rakhis in hand saying they
needed new brothers as their brothers had been killed by India.

Something else is new - they may be defending human rights in Punjab,
Kashmir or Assam, but their's is a coordinated push. They openly share
information, they remind each other when it is their turn to speak and warn
each other in a code language at the sight of an approaching Indian
journalist. When a cash-strapped UN decided not to provide photo-copying
paper, these hawkers of anti-India wares helped each other find one. Tell
them you are an Indian journalist and they will tell you, as a Tamil from
London did last week, "The press in India is gagged."

Seeing a sinister design in the ways of these news hawkers maybe early
symptoms of paranoia. But, not seeing a well-orchestrated method in their
madness is foolish. Geneva is one of the world's most expensive cities.
Who is their generous God?

"I went to a house in Geneva and I was surprised to see them all sitting
together, comparing notes, chatting and laughing" an official of an
international humanitarian organisation told The Indian Express. Ask the
Sikhs, Tamils, Assamese, Kashmiris and a new addition this year, the
Tripuris, why they hang out together and they tell you they want to save
money. God, it appears, has set certain limits.

This solidarity surfaced when ULFA member on-the-run Anup Chetia was
prevented from addressing the UN. A Sikh stepped in and did the honours.

When Chetia gave India and an Interpol alert the slip, these modem-day
"freedom fighters" sought to muddy the waters by saying Chetia was never in
Geneva and that as usual, India was flexing its muscle.

There are 111 NGOs registered for this session of the subcommission and
most of them have consultative status with the UN.

Of these 17 have general consultative status and 84 have special
consultative status. That last category means you can take part in UN
debates. The 'freedom-from-India-fighters', have all managed to get into
the consultative status class, Chetia was registered under Liberation, one
of the world's oldest human rights organisations.

How he entered their ranks remains a mystery even to the liberation's
leader in Geneva.

She ducked a scheduled interview with this newspaper but apparently told
Indian diplomats she would run a thorough check of accreditation procedures
following this incident.

Ever since Yasser Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly in the early
'70s with a pistol in one hand and an olive branch in another, the world is
yet to recover from the "one man's terrorist is an other man's freedom
fighter" logic and rhetoric.

The UN says it has an obligation to make its forum available to every human
being in the world.

But this generosity has been put to misuse. Increasingly, diplomats ask who
is paying for this mess. They say they are tired of terrorists masquerading
as human rights activists.

Following one violent altercation with an NGO last week many diplomats say
they are beginning to wonder if the UNHRC is a safe place.

Who will fax this message to God.

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