In 1992, Panun Kashmir, the premier organization of the exiled religious minority community in the Indian part of Kashmir, asked me to take to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva the case of violation of human rights of our three hundred thousand people forcibly thrown out of their age old habitats in Kashmir valley by the religious extremists. I thought of making big news of the event in Geneva.
In Geneva, I came into contact with many NGO representatives and also some delegates, especially from the African continent, who had traveled all the way to present before the UNHRC the case of the IDPs in their respective countries.
We, the Kashmiri (Indian part) displaced persons were denied the right to be nomenclatured as IDPs in accordance with the definition of the Charter of UN Human Rights Commission. Though our religious minority comprised only 2 per cent of the total population in the Kashmir region, yet the Indian National Minority commission had not recognized us as a minority. Nearly one hundred and fifty million Muslims of India are formally recognized a religious minority and thus are entitled to various privileges provided by the Indian State.
At Geneva. I had the opportunity of interacting with many NGO representatives and others seeking an opportunity to present the cases of violation of human rights of minorities before the Human Rights Commission. I also attended several briefings, which dealt at length with specific cases of IDPs in many parts of the world.
My impression was that I was representing the largest chunk of IDPs 300,000 at the Human Rights commission. But very soon I found that according to a conservative estimate there were no fewer than 30 million IDPs all over the world. Most of them were in African countries, Somalia, Rwanda, Congo, and Ethiopia etc. From the NGOs with whom I interacted, besides the office of the Secretary General’s Special Representative for IDPs, I heard depressing stories of atrocities against the IDPs. I found that they lived in inhuman conditions and in inhuman environs.
It changed my whole thinking that my people were the worst sufferers. Undoubtedly, there were much worse sufferers in different parts of the world. I sat back, hung my head and ruminated over the whole phenomenon. Why do I restrict myself to only my compatriots and their suffering? Why not reach the wider sections of humanity all over the globe. Why to compartmentalize care and empathy, and be selfish and conservative in rendering service to broad humanity?
These questions disturbed my mind. I began distancing from my earlier style of thinking and approach. In Geneva, I began participating in the meetings and briefings of many well-reputed NGOs. I found their universal outlook and their broad – based approach evoking far greater response than just restricting to a small community or area. This was a challenge.
I spent much of my time in the UN library in Geneva studying the Characters, the aims and objectives of the UN and its various subsidiary bodies. I concentrated on the rights of Minorities elaborately discussed and explained in UN documents. This was a huge fund to be read and devoured. Every day I was born a new man with wider and wider vision of things. I began thinking myself a part of the UN and the broad humanity, living, working and struggling for its highly laudable aims. I thought this was the only platform we the mortals had evolved and it was here that we could tackle problems and address our deprivations. I yearned to be part of active and reputed NGOs so that I did not lose the sight of universal, all-embracing outlook without discrimination whatsoever. Had I seen the light?
From 1992 to 1997, I spent my time in theoretical and practical study of sustained effort for promotion of universal human rights. Each year, I traveled to Geneva – through the generosity of many good friends and organizations – to acquaint myself with the ins and outs of Human Rights Commission.
The day dawned
Equipped with a vast fund of knowledge, mostly of academic nature, of NGOs, the UNHRC, the ECOSOC and the UN, I embarked on a dream of formulating an NGO that would dedicate itself to the dissemination of knowledge on human rights. I contacted many like-minded friends in my own country (India) and abroad. I debated the subject with them and I found that it was possible to convince many about the scheme of floating an NGO of our own.
What should be the name of the NGO under contemplation? I had something in my mind and I said it freely and frankly to my colleagues who were interested in the enterprise.
The Soviet Union had collapsed in 1991. Being a retired professor of Central Asian Studies, I always kept track of what was happening in the region of Central Asia. Many big and small things happened there. I adjudged these happenings in the context of past and future history. It was revealed through my personal study and through my interaction at the UNHRC in Geneva that the people of Central Asia had very sketchy knowledge or awareness of human rights as provided under the Charter of UN Human Rights Commission.
In 1996, I happened to visit the Central Asian state of Tajikistan, which was still gripped by an internecine war. I focused on the human rights situation there. Through my close friends and known circles, I came to know that there was dismal ignorance about the human rights scenario. Rights were trampled under foot, and even the governments hardly conceded that they were answerable to their people and to the international community if the human rights of the multitudes of people were violated.
With this whole scenario hanging at the back of my mind, I told my colleagues that we should take special care of the Central Asian region, fully realizing that it would be a stupendous task to bring awareness to the peoples of a great landmass. Thus we chose Asian-Eurasian Human Rights Forum as the name of our organization.
Luckily, an outstanding scholar of Tajikistan, namely Prof. Ulmas Mikrsaidov, who was the President of Tajik Academy of Sciences and a Senator, agreed to be our President. Through his good offices we were able to enlist about 20 senior professors of different states of Central Eurasia as members of our organization. This made it really an international forum.
Many friends volunteered to be its member. We gave shape to it in New Delhi. We had to give it a name and get it registered with the Registrant of Charitable Societies with the Government of India. The Treasurer, Mr. Indu Bushan Rangroo was assigned the duty. He ran the errand for several months, running from pillar to post, contacting members, convincing them, debating the aims and objectives and responding to all the requisite formalities. The NGO was registered formally after having completed all the formalities, and a bank account was opened with the State Bank of India in New Delhi. Some small contributions came in trickles, some from the members and some from philanthropists.
It was essential that our NGO’s statutes were fully compatible with the main clauses of the UN Character. In fact the UN Charter was a great guiding light. Our lawyer took pains to formulate the statutes and we wished to remain restricted to the education, dissemination and protection of human rights. The statutes were thoroughly debated and many amendments were proposed. We had the legal assistance available and after nerve-braking debates, we could build consensus of opinion on the statutes, which are now the guiding principles for the AEHRF.
We needed an official organ to tell people what we believed and what we stood for. We had to introduce ourselves and prove our credibility. Thus we floated the monthly journal titled Asian-Eurasian Commentary. It carried articles from scholars and journalists well versed in the affairs of Central and South Asia. These essentially pertained to human rights issues, informative and educative and also drew the attention of NGOs towards some hard and pressing situations in the region.
After we had been registered, we got affiliated to two NGOs in Geneva with ECOSOC status. These were Interfaith International and Commission of African Peoples for Education and Human Rights (CAPSDH).
It has been our policy not to demonstrate hostility towards a defaulting government or institution. That was the lesson we had learnt from our Geneva experience. We are mostly suggestive, and at best, persuasive.
We took up scores of cases with the Indian National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi about the displaced persons regarding their left behind properties, the losses they had suffered, their healthcare and sanitation etc.
We opened a small dispensary in Jammu (Indian part of Kashmir) where the members of displaced community are given free medical advice and treatment. The doctors working in the dispensary are also displaced persons and they render this voluntary service in the name of service to humanity.
We adopted about 80 destitute children in the age group of 6 to 15 and provided them assistance towards their books, school fee, uniform, mid-day meal, healthcare and stationery etc. We have maintained a complete and up to date record of what assistance was extended to them. All of them opened bank accounts and our cheques always went to their saving fund account.
In 2001, we organized a grand seminar in New Delhi on the topic Prospects of Democracy in South Asia