Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nation building can not be just done by speeches

Dr. Mohan Lal Panda is well known and renowened development professional in India

How was your experience in working in a liberal foundation?
All ideologies had its own interpretations of the social and economic dimensions of the society. And believers of those specific ideologies formulate policies accordingly. You do not have to agree with everything that organizations preach. But you have to agree with the certain common values. In this case, liberals lean heavily towards free market where I have my reservations. But liberals also preach for strong democracy, human rights and religious tolerance.

What do you think about the human rights situation in India after implementing the Project on “Preventing Torture”?
Bad, very bad. People in this country have not been taught to protect their rights. In fact very few people know about their rights. Constitution in this country is seen as a technical book only to be referred by the legislature and sometime by the media. If you are poor, women, and children or belong to the minority communities then the chances of being at the receiving end of the state atrocities are very high. Approximately 125 human rights institutions created in this country are performing below expectations. These institutions have failed to generate confidence among the common victims that they are approachable and can provide immediate relief. In this project we have established that torture exists and police enjoys impunity. Base on our data we project 1.5million cases of police torture in India per year. This figure is unacceptable in a civilized country that is aspiring for a seat in the Security Council.

Where is the problem?
The problem lies in failure of governance. Nation building can not be just done by speeches. People representing certain sections of the society can not be excluded from the development process. We have to rethink our understanding about democracy, development and dignity.

Which sections?
Be it Muslims, Dalits or Women. All of them are fighting for their self respect. You can not have growth by excluding people in the name of religion, caste or gender. We misuse our human capital. Unfortunately our politics need to change. Look at the way people reacted to Sachar Commission Report. What is wrong with that Report? Is it not true that Muslims do not have access to basic as well as quality education and as a consequence to the job? The same with the dalits. Even these people do not have access to resources? Law must change and there has to be process reform in favour of the deprived section of the society.

You have played an important part in implementing role in the successful completion of the project on Preventing Torture in India. At the end of the three years project how does feel?

The project was an absolute challenge. It was the biggest funding by EU on human rights in India. The same with Friedrich Naumann Stiftung(FNF). Creating physical and human infrastructure in nine states covering forty seven districts in India considering the diversity, providing common training to staff coming from seven linguistic backgrounds and motivating the local staff to document police torture were the three most important challenges we had to confront. No one in this country likes to document cases of police torture.
On the basis of collected data we established that torture exists and it happens everywhere. Police enjoys impunity. Through our limited lobby initiatives we took the findings to the policy makers in the Indian Parliament.

Every project has its limitation. We hope someone initiates a mass movement to take forward the political objective of the project to the next level. It is also necessary to consider the importance of witness protection and rehabilitation of the victims of torture.