In January 2018, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) declared that the Right to Equality was the most violated human right in the world. What proof did they have? Between 2015 and 2016, the SAHRC received more than 4,000 human rights violation complaints, of which the majority were regarding the Right to Equality violations. This was revealed in the annual trends analysis report that the SAHRC generates every year.
To add to it, the report also showed that less than half of these complaints were accepted. A major part was either rejected or referred. Also, out of all the complaints received o human rights violations, most were against racial discrimination, including the use of racial slurs and derogatory undertones.
So why is racial equality such a rare virtue in the world? And what counts as a violation of the right to equality? The only way to fight this battle and protect a basic human right, like that of equality, is by creating more awareness around it. The law enforcement authorities and human rights commissions are doing their bit in preventing violations. But unless the common people are more aware of the severity and impact of racial discrimination, or any other form of discrimination, bringing about a sustainable change is difficult.
What is the Right to Equality?
The Universal Declaration by the United Nations, says in Article 1 that “All human beings are
born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
Article 2 elaborates this by saying that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms outlined in the Declaration without any distinctions, be it based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or any other status.
There can also be no distinction based on the political, jurisdictional, or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs. It may be independent, trust, non-self-governing, or under any other limitation of sovereignty, according to the Article.
Also, according to Article 7 of the Universal Declaration, every individual should be treated equally by the law. The law cannot discriminate against anyone and in case someone faces discrimination, in violation of the Declaration, they are entitled to equal protection of the law.
The Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination is also contained in the regional instruments of most countries.
So, in simple words, the United Nations prohibits discrimination of any kind against anyone and allows equal protection under the law for all. But sadly, these rights to a large extent are still only in writing. All around the world discrimination based on race, religion, and color is rampant.
In fact, according to the report generated by the SAHRC, after race, the next highest number of complaints were related to discrimination based on disability and ethnic origin. So, while racial discrimination was acknowledged as endemic by the Commission, other forms of discrimination are not far behind.
What is discrimination in violation of the Right to Equality?
Discrimination, in violation of the Right to Equality, is to deprive someone of their basic rights simply because of who they are or where they are from. Amnesty International, an international non-governmental organization working on human rights, describes discrimination quite comprehensively.
According to the organization, “Discrimination occurs when a person is unable to enjoy his or her human rights or other legal rights on an equal basis with others because of an unjustified distinction made in policy, law or treatment”.
Discrimination can occur in various forms, as laid out by Amnesty International. It may be direct, indirect, or intersectional.
Direct discrimination is when the distinction or bias against a certain group of people is explicit and evident, preventing them from exercising their rights the same way as others do. This may be seen not only in the case of racial discrimination but also in discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, caste, or some other status.
Indirect discrimination is when a certain law or policy, or even a general practice, is seemingly neutral and does not make any distinctions explicitly, but it still has a bias against a specific group of people. Such a policy or practice can put the particular group at a disadvantage disproportionately.
Intersectional discrimination is when several discriminations intersect to put a particular group of people at a greater disadvantage.
For instance, racial discrimination in some regions does not give people from minority groups access to good schools and colleges, nor are they given equal opportunity in employment. Also, say, the employment policies in the region do not give equal opportunities to people with disabilities. This puts people with disabilities from the minority group in a far more disadvantageous position as a result of intersectional discrimination.
Why is discrimination still prevalent?
Discrimination is rooted in prejudice. In most cases, the discriminatory attitude towards a certain group of people is based on certain stereotypes and ideas that are wrongly associated with the identity of the group.
Because someone identifies with a different race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or some other status, some people tend to think of them as lesser than themselves. This leads to intolerance and undue hatred against them as well as wrongful treatment.
How can the Right to Equality and non-discrimination be protected?
The solution to this lies in addressing the problem at the root. An overall change of mindset is the primary goal here. When more people are aware of what human rights mean and how violation of these rights causes tremendous suffering for some groups all over the world, they are likely to change their own outlook. Awareness can also help them prevent acts of discrimination from occurring, by educating others and stopping such incidences before they happen.
There is also a pressing need to revisit the laws and policies of every nation. Any discriminatory laws must be changed and new policies that promote diversity and inclusion in every sphere must be introduced.
Though the reports released by the SAHRC show the statistics for South Africa alone, the situation is not very different in most other countries either. The rate of discrimination and violations of the Right to Equality is concerning and change cannot be brought overnight. But with persistent efforts to break stereotypes and make people more tolerant of other races, cultures, and identities, a positive outcome is possible.
The Scope of inter-religious pluralism within Islam
Even though pluralism is a loaded term, its generic meaning suggests a phenomenon of peaceful coexistence between entities of diverse cultural, religious, and political inclinations. It is important to remember that pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, nor does the word “tolerance” do justice to its intended purpose. Pluralism is not merely tolerating the other but engaging with the beliefs of others with peaceful dialogue and action. The scope of inter-religious puralism within Islam proposes this kind of pluralism.
What does Pluralism mean in Islam?
Looking at the subjective meaning of pluralism within the ambit of Islam, the proponents of various Islamic discourses have proposed that pluralism is a pronounced feature of Islam. Many Muslim intellectuals claim that pluralism is central to the fundamental essence of Islam. A convincing case can be made for the presence of a compelling pluralistic ethos within the Islamic scriptures.
In his essay, Reformist Islam in Comparative Perspective, Mehran Kamrava claims that the rise in the level of religiosity amongst Muslims has given rise to other forms of Islam. One of which according to him is “likely to have the most resonating consequences for Islamic jurisprudence in both the near and the distant future” and calls it “intellectual Islam”. He claims that it is through this form of Islam that a Muslim reformist discourse is introduced. Which has produced significant work to locate the place of inter-religious pluralism in Islam. He further derives some themes out of the reformist discourse, very important with their reference to pluralism in Islam:
“First is a deep and abiding conviction in Islam as faith and a system of belief. In its current manifestation, the discourse of reformist Muslim intellectuals does not seek to instrumentalize Islam for purposes of achieving modernity in a manner palatable to the masses at large. Islam is not a means to an end; it is an end in itself. It simply needs to be re-thought and reformulated. The reformists’ reliance on and endless references to the Qur’an bespeaks of the text’s cultural centrality to them.”.
Such display of absolute faith by Muslim reformists whilst having reformist inclinations bespeak of their balanced position. A flexible modern vision can develop interfaith dialogue. The abiding conviction to Islam earns a sense of authenticity for their thought process in the eyes of fellow Muslims.
Read here, Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women
What is Democratic Pluralism?
The next theme of the reformist discourse is “democratic pluralism”: “Pluralism, the reformist discourse’s proponents maintain, is a salient feature of the spirit of the Qur’an and the hadith.” (Kamrava )
To support his claim he cites another Muslim intellectual Abdulaziz Sachedina who quotes:
The challenge for Muslims today, as ever, is to tap the tradition of Koranic pluralism to develop a culture of restoration, of just intrareligious and interreligious relationships in a world of cultural and religious diversity. Without restoring the principle of coexistence, Muslims will not be able to recapture the spirit of early civil society under the Prophet.
In the globalized world, the facets of modernity like its political model of the nation-state have become a governing principle for all ethnic, cultural, and religious pluralism. This means the only larger identity governing the religious identity of the people is that of the nation-state. In the religiously pluralistic society of today, people may have different identities, but the model of the nation-state promises all of them the same status. People might identify with different religious inclinations, but the state identifies them as either citizens or residents of the state. This is exactly the kind of challenge that Sachedina talks about when he implores Muslims to revive the tradition of pluralism that is central to the Islamic texts for peaceful coexistence in the globalized world.
The Case of Muslims living as a minority
If Muslims live in a minority in a nation-state that runs on one of the political models of modernity like democracy or secularism, then for the sake of the welfare of Muslims they need to fulfill the duties that the nation-state demands from them. Andrew March talks about the jurisprudence of Muslim minorities also called Fiqh al-aqalliyyat al-muslima in Arabic:
Fiqh alaqalliyyat tends to be a discourse where departures from traditional Islamic commitments are not seen as desirable, and certainly not goals in and of themselves, but where creative rethinking often occurs in subtle and pragmatic guises. It is thus an important object of study for those interested in the ideal moral encounter between a public religion like Islam and modern/post-modern secularism. (March 6).
Important questions of interest toward non-Islamic institutions have been addressed from within internal Islamic discourses that advocate for a positive Muslim attitude concerning the issue of pluralism.
Islam’s relation with other Faiths
The third theme within the reformist Islamic discourse is “Islam’s relations with other great faiths”. An important aspect central to the Muslim understanding of pluralism is the conception that god’s message in the Quran is universal and that the revelation was made through more than just one prophet, which means that the revelations had multiple manifestations. The basic underpinning for this idea can be seen in the Quran which mentions the monotheistic traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Far from denying the Quran in fact validates that Torah and Bible were predecessor scriptures affirming that their message has come from the same god. Many Quranic verses echo the sentiments which envisage a world where diversified people are united by their pious intentions and mutual devotion to God.
Also, read Islam in 2075: World’s Largest Religion!?
Some Important Milestones in the Islamic History
Apart from the theoretical contributions to promote Islamic pluralism, efficient action has also been taken within the Muslim discourse on a practical level to perpetuate inter-faith harmony.
One such historic step was the “1981 adoption of the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, whose article XIII states: Every person has the right to freedom of conscience and worship in accordance with his religious beliefs.”.
Apart from this, another significant step was taken in 1990 when the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam was adopted, Article 1(a) of which states:
“All human beings form one family whose members are united by submission to God and descent from Adam. All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the grounds of race, color, language, sex, religious belief, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. True faith is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human perfection.”
Islamic Tradition of Peaceful Coexistence
The Quran recognizes fundamental rights for all humankind whether Muslims or non-Muslims and explicitly forbids compulsion in faith. The Islamic texts also provide a practical model of implementing pluralistic ideals which have greatly affected the treatment of non-Muslims in Muslim lands. Contrary to the Islamophobic stereotypes, Islam not only acknowledges pluralism, but it also goes beyond the reductive concepts of tolerance and intolerance to endorse and encourages a tradition of peaceful coexistence.
Also, read Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women
The Forgotten Jammu Massacre
In November 1947, thousands of Muslims were murdered in Jammu by paramilitaries under the command of Maharaja Hari Singh’s army, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. Although the precise number of victims in the killings that lasted for two months is unknown, estimates range from 20,000 to 237,000. Nearly half a million Muslims were compelled to flee across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan. These Muslims had to settle in the part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s administration. The massacre of Muslims in Jammu and the forced migration of others set off a chain of events that included a war between India and Pakistan, two newly independent countries. These incidents also gave rise to the Kashmir issue. The massacres occurred as part of a British-designed strategy to divide the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, as millions of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs crossed the border from one side to the other.
An Orchestrated Massacre
Before the two-decade-long massacre against Jammu’s Muslim majority really began, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders from Amritsar met in secret with the Maharaja and his officials. They chose Poonch as the beginning place for the massacre of Muslims because of its record for fierce resistance. A two decade long and horrifying anti-Muslim pogrom began with the murder of a herdsman in the Panj Peer shrine and a Muslim labourer in the centre of Jammu city in the first week of September. Extremist Hindus and Sikhs committed the murders with the help and complicity of the Maharaja Hari Singh-led armies of the Dogra State. The RSS leaders and workers were complicit in organising and carrying out the atrocities.
Idrees Kanth, a fellow at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam who studied the history of Kashmir in the 1940s, told Al Jazeera that the immediate impact (of partition) was seen in Jammu. “The Muslim subjects from different parts of Jammu province were forcibly displaced by the Dogra Army in a programme of expulsion and murder carried out over three weeks between October-November 1947,”.
The Dogra Army personnel started evicting Muslim peasants from Jammu province in the middle of October. The majority of the refugees were housed in refugee camps in the districts of Sialkot, Jhelum, Gujrat, and Rawalpindi after being directed on foot toward West Punjab, which would eventually become a part of Pakistan.
On November 5, Kanth claimed about the Dogra Army forces’ planned evacuation of Muslims that “Instead of sending them to Sialkot, as they had been promised, the trucks drove them to wooded hills of Rajouri districts of Jammu, where they were executed.”
After the deaths and expulsion, the Muslims, who made up more than 60% of the population in the Jammu region, became a minority. According to a story from The Times, London, dated August 10, 1948: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.”.
According to historians, the executions carried out by the Sikh and Hindu ruler’s armies were part of a “state sponsored genocide” to alter Jammu’s demographics, which had a predominately Muslim population.
Reports mention that Muslims who earlier were the majority (61 percent) in the Jammu region became a minority as a result of the Jammu massacre and subsequent migration.
According to PG Rasool, the author of a book The Historical Reality of Kashmir Dispute “The massacre of more than two lakh (two hundred thousands) Muslims was state-sponsored and state supported. The forces from Patiala Punjab were called in, RSS was brought to communalise the whole scenario and kill Muslims.”
Covering up of the Jammu Massacre
While it is unknown how many people were killed during the two-month-long killing spree, Horace Alexander’s report from The Spectator on January 16, 1948, is frequently cited. Alexander claimed that 200,000 people had died and that nearly 500,000 people had been displaced across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan and the region of Kashmir that it controls.
India has ever since tried to free itself from the accountability of the past. The Jammu massacre has not only been left out of J&K’s historical narratives by the Indian state, but it has also been openly denied in its entirety.
Khurram Parvez, a noted human rights defender in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir has its roots in 1947 massacre. “It is deliberately forgotten. Actually, the violence of that massacre in 1947 continues. Those who were forced to migrate to Pakistan have never been allowed to return,” he said.
Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir
What Does the Jammu Massacre mean for Kashmir today?
The Jammu massacre gave India the opportunity to rewrite history, therefore relieving the Indian government from owning up to any responsibility for the atrocity. The Indian government is attempting to replicate this pattern in the Kashmir valley by systematically killing and exterminating Muslims and then covering it up. As more and more Indians obtain Kashmiri citizenship and are granted the ability to vote in state elections, this provides the necessary motive and encouragement for non-Kashmiris to relocate to Kashmir. While the right-wing BJP government has been milking the targeted killings of Kashmiri pandits in Kashmir. The communal violence against Muslims and the Jammu Massacre is the least talked about and written about in the history of the region.
Mahsa Amini: Iranian Women Are Leading an Extraordinary Revolution
The Death of Mahsa Amini Ignited an Unprecedented Wave of Protests Across Iran
On the 16th of September 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, died in the custody of Iran’s morality police following her arrest for improper wear of hijab. Both Mahsa and her brother were beaten at the time of her arrest.
Iran’s morality police routinely arbitrarily detain women who do not comply with their discriminatory and compulsory veiling laws. The death of Mahsa Amini was the powder keg moment that ignited this most recent uprising resulting in seven weeks of protests. This has been the most significant threat the theocratic Iranian regime has witnessed since the 1979 revolution.
It is becoming apparent that this isn’t about reform; it’s about outright regime change. In the eyes of the Islamic Republic, the compulsory hijab is not just a mere piece of cloth. The hijab is one of the critical pillars of the ideology of this regime.
Women are protesting on the streets, removing their hijabs and setting them on fire while cutting their hair in protest. Many have been arrested and sent to psychological re-education centres, beaten, raped, and murdered. The most unprecedented part of these protests is that they’ve been led by women. This shows how courageous Iranian women are in leading an extraordinary revolution.
Hundreds Have Been Brutally Murdered By Iranian Police After Masha Amini’s Death
The Islamic Republic does not allow its citizens the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. This right is guaranteed under Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Instead, the Islamic Republic kills protesters with batons and bullets. As of the 8th of November 2022, the death toll from the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on Iran’s 2022 protests increased to 304 people, including 41 children and 24 women. Repressive regimes lack transparency, so the actual number of protesters killed often goes vastly underreported.
A Long History of Women’s Resistance in Iran
Mahsa Amini’s death follows decades of women’s resistance in Iran. Women played a critical role in Iranian society by establishing women’s associations, joining protests and supporting strikes. This is the first time since the inception of the theocracy in 1979 that people openly and fearlessly oppose Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Challenging Iran’s supreme leader is one of the most significant revolutions in modern-day history.
Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian women launched massive protests after hearing rumours regarding a mandatory hijab mandate. These protests were influential as they postponed its enactment. However, the mandate was eventually instated in 1983. Women showed their strength in actively protesting against the regime.
Comparatively, in recent times the enormous bravery of women like Sepideh Rashno, Mahsa Amini and Nika Shakarami against Iran’s restrictions on women’s rights has sparked a catalyst for change. The Iranian authorities have consistently dealt with waves of mass protests. Including those held in November 2019, January 2020, July 2021, August 2021, November 2021 and May 2022, with a militarized response.
The Establishment of the “Woman-Life-Freedom” Movement
Following the death of Mahsa Amini, Iran has seen the rise of the “Women, Life, Freedom Movement”. This is a widespread protest that has now entered its fourth week. The movement’s slogan is a declaration of opposition to the Islamic Republic, a regime built on anti-woman, pro-martyrdom, and repressive ideologies.
Thousands of Iranians protest against the Islamic regime’s repressive treatment and continuous human rights violations. Iranians are speaking up against the regime carrying signs saying “Death to the dictator”. Young schoolgirls chanted, “we don’t want the Islamic Republic.” In recent weeks, Iranians have been actively fighting against security forces while tearing down billboards and burning pictures of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Although the protests initially started over the frustration of the mandatory hijab, they developed into representing a much broader movement of overthrowing the entire regime. These restrictions have intensified under President Raisi, who took office in August 2021, leading to further tension among Iranians.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, Iran ranks 143 of 146 countries. The Islamic Republic exemplifies why countries with gender-discriminatory laws experience the most significant turmoil, compromising international peace and security.
The Islamic Republic Detained Thousands of Protesters and Activists
Thousands of protesters and human rights activists are now facing unfair trials, with some facing the risk of the death penalty for protesting against Mahsa Amini’s death.
Human Rights Watch has reported on security forces’ unlawful use of excessive or lethal force. Moreover, on October 31, 2022, the Tehran Province’s judiciary held that it had issued approximately 1,000 indictments against protesters and activists.
Furthermore, the Iranian authorities have subjected detainees to various forms of physical and psychological torture and other ill-treatment. Two female detainees arrested in Kurdistan reported that Iranian police tortured them with batons, electric shocks, sexual and verbal assault, and threats.
“Iran’s vicious security apparatus is using every tactic in its book, including lethal force against protesters, arresting and slandering human rights defenders and journalists, and sham trials to crush widespread dissent,”Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Iranian authorities have arrested 308 university students and 44 children. Security forces have targeted universities with excessive use of force and arbitrarily detained students.
According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, the protests have reached 133 cities and 129 universities, as well as several secondary schools.
International Response to Iran’s Uprisings
Solidarity protests in support of Iranian women’s rights have erupted across Europe, the United States, and parts of the Middle East.
According to Amnesty International, more than one million people across 218 countries have signed their petition. This petition demanded an establishment of an independent UN mechanism to conduct an investigation in Iran. Therefore, this would ensure Iran faces the consequences for committing some of the most serious crimes listed under international law.
Failing to establish accountability encourages impunity, further emboldening the Iranian authorities to continue to intensify human rights violations. The United Nations Human Rights Council should urgently hold a special session on Iran.
Read also: The US and Israel are Weaponizing Iran Protests.
The protests over Mahsa’s death and the officials’ refusal to be held accountable have resulted in frustration and resentment over the political status quo. This has increased demands for democracy.
It takes immense courage and bravery for any woman to participate in this extraordinary revolution happening in Iran. Young girls risk arrest, school expulsion, and death when exercising their freedom of expression.
The world’s silence on this issue enables continued human rights abuses in Iran. The international community must stand up against the Islamic Republic and demand its adherence to binding human rights obligations.
Politics, money and states’ interests continue to come before human rights. The United Nations has repeatedly failed to adequately address human rights violations committed by authoritarian regimes. Despite this, we must rebuild our trust in this global governance mechanism. The United Nations intends to protect states regardless of geographical borders, race, religion, ethnicity, gender or social class.
This begs the question; will the United Nations stand with the women of Iran in upholding their human rights?
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