All countries in the region provide a guarantee of life and security to all their citizens. This includes minorities. Yet there is widespread physical violence and denial of right to life disproportionately of members of minority communities across the region. Minorities also suffer disproportionately when they are denied civil and political rights. We notice three broad trends here:
- Violence against minorities is, in essence, about state failure, that is, the state’s inability to protect minority groups from violence by private parties. This is an aspect of state failure given that the police is unable to protect vulnerable minorities from attacks by non-state parties (mostly militant arms of fundamentalist groups movements and individual and group acts of violence), and that law courts are unable to hold the perpetrators to account, thus failing in the state’s foremost duty to protect. In these situations state agencies are either overwhelmed by non-state actors or have weak capacity to protect minority citizens to begin with. Examples here include the violence by Afghan Taliban on Hazaras and women and other minorities in Afghanistan; by groups such as the Ansarullah Bangla Team and the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) on minorities and progressive bloggers in Bangladesh; by Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and other Hindu right wing groups affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh against Muslims and Christians in India; by militant Islamist groups such as Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Pakistan Taliban against Shias, Hazaras and other minorities in Pakistan; and in Sri Lanka in recent years against Muslims and Tamils by Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya.
- Besides poor state capacity, violence against minorities also represents weak rule of law, specifically the selective application of laws by agencies of the state denying minority groups’ protection under the law and access to justice. Poor efforts by the police and security forces to prevent anti-minority violence (either directed at individuals or the entire community) from breaking out, and once it has, weak efforts to contain it, is one aspect of this weak rule of law. Equally, other aspects of the criminal justice system including recording of crimes, investigating them and prosecuting perpetrators are all fraught, especially when it affects minority groups, in effect denying members of minority groups the right to equal protection under law. This selective application of the law is much more than weak capacity to protect; in most cases it represents collusion between state actors and anti-minority groups result- ing in systematic erosion of the rights of minorities to equal citizenship. These take many forms – state actors being influenced by majoritarian anti-minority ideologies and biases in discharging their responsibilities at best, to state actors abdicating their responsibilities allowing anti-minority groups to overwhelm state institutions and using those against minorities in its worst form. Biased policing and delivery of justice, much normalized across South Asia, is a good example of the former and genocides and pogroms not uncommon in the post-colonial history of the region that of the latter.
- In some cases, it is not so much the weak application of the laws that is problematic, but the laws themselves contain the seeds of violence against minority groups. Blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws in Pakistan, Vested Property regulations in Bangladesh and laws against cow slaughter and conversions in India are examples of regulations that provide opportunities (in how they are applied) for biased state actors colluding with private anti-minority groups to perpetrate violence against vulnerable members of minority groups.
- Finally, cases where the state directly denies the right to life to members of minority groups. Illegal detentions, torture, custodial deaths, extra-judicial killings and fake encounters and enforced disappearances are all human rights violations that occur with regularity in the region with minority groups disproportionately affected. Much of this takes place in the context of nationalistic conflicts – in Kashmir and the North East in India, Baluchistan, Karachi and NWFP in Pakistan, against Tamils in Sri Lanka (and in the past in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, besides against Maoists in Nepal). The global ‘war against terror’ has provided another setting for subversion of justice with national security providing a cover for large-scale violations of the right to life, minorities again suffering the most. In both contexts, harsh ‘extra-ordinary laws’, devised by the state to counter ‘anti-state’ violence provide the basis for systematic violations. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, 1990, the (J&K) Public Safety Act 1978 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2004 in India; Protection of Pakistan Ordinance 2013 and its amendment, the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations 2011 and Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 including its many amendments in Pakistan; Public Security Ordinance 1947,Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979 and Emergency Regulations, 2000, 2005 in Sri Lanka; and the Nepal Public Security Act 1989 and the Anti-State Crimes and Penalties Act 1989 in Nepal are instruments used by South Asian states against their peoples, mostly minorities. Besides violating due process, state impunity is a key factor here with law and the criminal justice system aiding impunity of state actors (to violate rights) and the systematic denial of justice, either juridical or compensatory.