The winner of the Dutch Human Rights Tulip 2012 is barred from traveling to the Netherlands to receive his award. Marimuthu Bharathan, a Dalit human rights defender from Tamil Nadu, has been refused a passport by the Indian authorities.
When Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans presents his country’s award, the Dutch Human Rights Defender’s Tulip, at a ceremony later today in The Hague, the recipient will regrettably be absent for the second year in a row.
Last year, Chinese activist Ni Yulan was in custody awaiting trial during the award ceremony. This year, the Indian human rights defender, Marimuthu Bharathan, 52, has been prevented from travelling abroad due to the Indian authorities’ refusal to renew his passport. According to Indian human rights organisations, this refusal appears to be connected with a false murder charge.
The independent award jury in the Netherlands has recognised Marimuthu Bharathan as a “tireless champion of better living and working conditions for his country’s Dalits”. Himself a Dalit, he works against caste discrimination by supporting Dalits who as manual scavengers are condemned to clean dry latrines with their bare hands. He also sets up Dalit organisations, campaigns for reforms of the corrupt police system, and fights for compensation and rehabilitation of Dalits who suffer human rights violations.
Mr Bharathan’s work as director of the Human Rights Education and Protection Council in Tamil Nadu has put him on a collision course with the state’s authorities who consistently prohibit demonstrations for Dalit rights organised by him and disrupt his work. The false accusation of murder was apparently obtained under duress from a jailed suspect in a case from 2009 where Bharathan had supported a number of Dalit suspects.
“The passport refusal is yet another example of the disenfranchised position of the 200 million Dalits and the defenders of their rights in India. The Indian authorities clearly fail in combating discrimination and exclusion of Dalits and are themselves often the perpetrator of crimes against them. The systemic abuse and torture in police stations is an example of that,” said Gerard Oonk, director of the India Committee of the Netherlands and co-ordinator of the Dalit Network Netherlands.
Mr Bharathan’s difficulties can also be seen in the context of a generally shrinking space for civil society in India. One very clear example of this is the new and more stringent version of a law that regulates the access of NGOs to foreign funding. Opponents of this legislation say that it may lead to abuse by the Indian authorities against organisations critical towards them.
In a resolution on caste discrimination in India, the European Parliament recently called on the Indian authorities to repeal those provisions in the law that “potentially undermine the work of NGOs, including Dalit organisations”. The Dutch Foreign Minister has praised the resolution and said that the topic of caste discrimination ought to be “put higher on the agenda of the European Union.”