A number of prominent Indian rights activists have withdrawn support from Amnesty International over allegations of caste-based discrimination and harassment. These include Dalit rights activists, Radhika Vemula and Chandrasekhar Azad, as well as women’s rights campaigner Mariya Salim who had worked for Amnesty.
Salim worked for Amnesty India for eight months before resigning in September, stating that she felt “humiliated, excluded and denied opportunities unfairly”. Speaking to the Guardian she said, she knew of “lower caste staff who had suffered discrimination but did not speak out for fear of losing their jobs”. She states that she was vilified for speaking out against Amnesty, an organisation which she says was” mostly staffed by individuals of a higher caste and class background”.
Amnesty India is also accused of “organisational resistance” to complaints about caste-based discrimination. Last year one of the two senior campaigners resigned in protest after her claim of workplace harassment was dismissed by Amnesty India. The second alleges that she was forced to leave her after her project was closed, only a few months after her allegation of caste-based discrimination was dismissed as unproven. In her statement, she claims she was dismissed because she was seen as a “troublemaker”.
This follows the release of a report by Amnesty which identified a “toxic” work culture with widespread bullying, discrimination, public humiliation and other abuses of power. In the report, one senior manager is claimed to have responded to the suggestion that lower caste person should be hired to work on caste rights by saying: “An animal need not be hired to work on animal rights”.
The report concludes that “The committee is of the opinion that it is not caste-based discrimination”. Instead, it claims it is a “behavioural problem” with managers. This review was prompted by the suicide of Gaëtan Mootoo, a researcher for Amnesty. He died in his Paris office.
Amnesty India’s head, Aakar Patel, has responded expressing his concerns over the allegations but denying the validity of the second campaigner’s accusation. He claims, that the organisation was forced to cut its workforce by 30% - 68 employees. In his statement, he asserts that “these decisions were completely unrelated to individual performance”. Amnesty India stress that it is working to tackle the issue and has launched an investigation chaired by an independent expert.
This follows over 32 Indian lawyers and civil rights campaigners having written to Amnesty International’s secretary general in London demanding an independent investigation.
This investigation follows a similar committee established last October to examine the allegations that the campaigner’s allegations were dismissed and re-evaluate the complaint procedure. It was chaired by an independent expert, Dr Syeda Hameed.
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