Amnesty India staff complain of harassment and discrimination

Karen McVeigh — The Guardian Feb 18, 2019

Prominent Indian rights activists have withdrawn their support for Amnesty India amid allegations of caste discrimination and harassment within the organisation, the Guardian has learned.

The allegations include claims that staff were humiliated, ill-treated and discriminated against because of their caste, a system of social hierarchy among Hindus.

A further 32 Indian lawyers and civil rights campaigners have written to Amnesty International’s secretary general in London to demand an independent investigation into the claims from staff members. Parts of the letter were seen by the Guardian.

It comes after the human rights group released a report last week identifying a “toxic” work culture at Amnesty International with widespread bullying, discrimination, public humiliation and other abuses of power. The review of workplace culture was prompted by staff concerns after researcher Gaëtan Mootoo killed himself in his Paris office.

Amnesty India (AI) said it is “deeply troubled” about the claims made by two senior campaigners and has launched an investigation, chaired by an independent expert.

One of the two campaigners resigned in protest last year after her workplace discrimination and harassment claim was dismissed by AI. The second said she was forced to leave after her project was closed, a few months after her allegation of caste-based discrimination was dismissed as unproven.

Caste-based discrimination is illegal in India, where 200 million people belong to lower caste, underprivileged communities.

Prejudice nonetheless continues, particularly in rural areas. Last year, 11 people died after violence erupted when hundreds of thousands of Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, took part in a mass protest to highlight discrimination they face.

Raja Vemula, son of Radhika Vemula, a leading activist on Dalit rights, said his mother has withdrawn her support for AI until the organisation addresses discrimination claims.

“Amnesty India and the international secretariat should properly examine the claims that voices of lower caste people inside the organisation have been suppressed,” he said.

Continues …