WHEN IT CAME TO THE UPRISINGS in Tunisia and Egypt, where military forces overwhelmingly refused to fire on their own people gathered in mass unarmed protests, New Delhi resorted to platitudes, releasing a statement in support of the “articulation of the aspirations” of the people and backing a peaceful resolution.
Now, India is facing a challenge called Syria. The Syrian military, with the exception of some brave individuals within its ranks, has followed the government’s instructions to gun down ordinary people peacefully demanding their rights. The Syrian government insists that the protests are fuelled by “armed terrorist gangs”. On-the-ground reports are difficult to come by because Syrian authorities refuse to grant access to journalists and independent observers. But several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, are gathering information from local activists and Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. They have found that the majority of protests have been peaceful.
Despite strong evidence of widespread human rights violations, including rampant torture, committed by Syrian security forces, New Delhi initially accepted the Syrian government’s claim of nonaggression at face value. Together with Brazil and South Africa, India at first resisted efforts to raise the issue of Syria’s crackdown at the United Nations Security Council, a move which was largely motivated by concerns over NATO action in Libya. When the Syrian deputy minister of foreign affairs, Dr Faisal Mekdad, came to India seeking diplomatic support, India’s public expression of concern was mild, encouraging his government to exercise restraint and “abjure violence”.