Interview Human rights and justice go hand in hand, Chief Executive of Amnesty International India G. Ananthapadmanabhan tells CATHERINE RHEA ROY on World Human Rights Day
The office of Amnesty International India is serene and welcoming. It could have been the thick, tall trees that line both sides of the street, they stretched and yawned towards each other and left just a slit enough for sunlight to filter through. On the inside it is as unassuming – casually dressed researchers are bent over their laptops or in closed rooms discussing and propounding plans that might save lives, change the world or in the least instil hope. The posters that throng the walls keep you busy till G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Chief Executive of Amnesty International India comes introduces himself and takes over.
“The fact that India is big is definitely a challenge but also an opportunity. There isn’t much respect for human rights in our urban culture but as a society we have a keen sense of justice. The awareness that a human rights framework can lend to justice is low, but passion for justice is high and this creates exciting spaces for an organisation like Amnesty.”
Ananth is essentially responsible for doing whatever it takes to nurture the young organisation into a resourceful institution and to find the right focus areas. “It’s not about which problems are most important – we are aspiring to make a significant difference. There are other people and organisations who also work towards in this sector and we work through them and with them.”
He breaks it down further by dividing their work into two streams – striking a balance between striving for rights on contemporary burning issues and rights for education, building a new generation of citizens with a conscience. “It is not a matter of information. Unless we have a culture that is rights respecting the concept of rights will not take root.”Amnesty India works in tandem with about 30 schools in Bangalore as part of their Human Rights Friendly Schools Programme.
“We are now striving for rights of under-trials and prisoners in pre-trial detention, who are kept in prison longer than their sentence because they cannot pay bail or have no legal aid,” says Ananth. Rights in Kashmir, adivasi rights, freedom of expression, are all on schedule for Amnesty who plan on working in close partnership with other organisations, learn from them and contribute by bringing to the table quality research and the modern campaign techniques that they can afford.
Ask him about our Human Rights records and results and he says very practically, “You can find evidence for any narrative. If you say India is the worst place for women you will find enough evidence to back it or if you say India is on top for women empowerment you will find that as well. The Indian human rights institutions are weak, they have no teeth and with the delays in the criminal justice system any idea of speedy or fair justice is killed. It isn’t keeping with the interests of a country who aspires for a permanent seat in the Security Council.”
But Amnesty is seeing results, when two days ago a 16-year-old who was charged under criminal laws as opposed to juvenile laws was released as a result of Amnesty’s statement. “People see results when they want it, the act of making people active, standing up for rights is change in itself.”
Amnesty has always been very vocal about their position on capital punishment, “In India the death penalty is politically sensitive and the hiatus in executions was merely reflective of India’s ambiguity. In Kasab’s case while the crime was horrific and the victims have a right to justice, the death penalty does not act as a deterrent when people have been brainwashed into an ideology.”
Amnesty works towards adding value to society, being an independent, impartial voice and receives plenty of goodwill and support from the people of India. “People are enthusiastic, committed and active; there is a lot of untapped energy and passion for rights. And there are special interactive phone numbers telling people what they can do and how they can participate,” he concludes. To take a stand on World Human Rights Day call 088-828-84442 or visit www.act.amnesty.org.in