Protect the Indian People's Tribunal- Orissa sign now

To: Ambassador Ronen Sen, Washington DC
Cc: Ambassador B.S. Prakash, Consul General of San Francisco
From: Concerned Students and Allies to the Indian People's Tribunal in Orissa

June 15, 2005

Dear Ambassador Sen:

We are shocked and appalled to hear about the Sangh Parivar's violent targeting of the Indian People's Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights (IPT) on June 14th in Orissa, where the Tribunal was conducting hearings to investigate issues of communalism. The convenors of the Tribunal are: Professor Angana Chatterji, an associate professor of anthropology in the United States and a scholar-activist that has been working with social movements in India for more than twenty years, and Mr. Mihir Desai of the Indian People's Tribunal and an Advocate in the Mumbai High Court and the Supreme Court of India.

During a hearing with Hindu nationalist organizations, a fax arrived from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-Orissa, which made libellous and defamatory claims against the Tribunal members and process. After the arrival of this fax, Sangh Parivar members threatened Tribunal members (including the threat to rape and parade naked the female members), and sought to seize information gathered during the investigations. For more information about the threats, please see the IPT press release following this letter.

The fax from VHP-Orissa alleged that the Tribunal was foreign-funded and that its members are "Hindu baiters", when in truth the Tribunal has not solicited private funds or grants and has provided for its own expenses. The Indian People's Tribunal is a prestigious democratic process committed to social and ecological justice, and its members include scholar-activists, local activists, retired and present court officers of High Courts and the Supreme Court. Those involved are doing so on a voluntary basis and hold incredible courage, expertise, and urgent commitments to justice. In enacting this justice, they deserve the fullest protection of the Government of India, and those who threaten them and obstruct their work should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

In the nation of India, which has vibrant histories of dissent, we are concerned with the impacts upon marginalized communities when academic freedom is limited. Professor Angana Chatterji (California Institute of Integral Studies, USA), Professor Asha Hans (Utkal University, India), and Professor Chetan Bhatt (University of London, UK) are all members of the Tribunal and should be allowed to speak and conduct their work without an environment of aggression. Limits on the work of the Tribunal (by forces within and outside of India) are a detriment to those on the margins and violate the responsibilities of the state to its people.

We deplore the violent conduct of the Sangh Parivar and the attempt to undermine democratic processes and ask urgently for the Government of India and Orissa to:

1) Hold accountable those that have made threats against Tribunal members for their aggressive behavior and criminal conduct (e.g. taking pictures of Professor Chatterji, making threats to rape and parade naked female Tribunal members)
2) Protect the members of the Tribunal to the fullest extent possible, and
3) Preserve law and order in the state so that the Tribunal can continue its work.

The derailing of the Tribunal's work is a shameful assault upon democracy in India and academic freedom in the world. We ask that the Government of India respond quickly and appropriately in this matter.

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Leonor ThomasBy:
Petition target:
The Indian Embassy, Washington DC


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