Though many of the countries in South Asia share an experience of common colonial legacy, they also have their distinct problems in securing human rights. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives all had experienced anti-colonial struggles.
They have inherited the consciousness of the civil liberties. Nepal and Bhutan which were British protectorates remained as monarchies. The development of human rights consciousness always hinges upon the development of civil society which acts as a countervailing force to the authority of state. Because of the near monopoly of the nationalist elite during the anti-colonial struggles over the rights movement, there was naturally confusion in the perception of civil liberties thinking in the aftermath of independence. However, when the ruling elite failed to accommodate different sections in the nation-building process, there emerged severe unrest in different Parts of the South Asia region.
It primarily resulted in two-fold situation: on one hand, the legitimacy of the state authority started declining with the rise of many voices of marginalised sections, and on the other hand, the state apparatuses became more and more coercive and oppressive. This situation manifested differently in different countries of the region. In India, it resulted in the imposition of emergency during Indira Gandhi period in the 1970’s. Subsequently with the state institutions like political parties becoming less responsive there has been a surge of many autonomous non-party movements.
The authority of the ruling elite also severely constricted with the rise of Dalit and backward caste movements, women, environmental and sub-regional movements. These movements have questioned the social and development policies of the state. In Pakistan, it resulted in perennial military dictatorships with short honeymoons in constitutional experiments which never fructified in any meaningfull democratic rights to the people.
The state in Pakistan dominated by the nexus between military, bureaucracy and landed aristocracy never allowed civil society to grow. It has also resulted in communal strife such as massacre of Mujaahirs in Karachi, Sunnis in Punjab region of Pakistan. Though Sri Lanka experienced fairly a better democratic institutional set up, the society has been wrought with a massive ethnic violence since the early 1980s. The Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka seriously challenges the credentials of the state.
Efforts to meet the challenge of Tamil nationalism have resulted in the emergence of oppressive state without being able to provide basic security to the people. The Bangladesh experience is no different from other countries. Though it is a country of recent origins, it could never establish strong democratic institutions because of violent changes in the political establishment. Bangladesh with its lowest economic base in the world was never able to provide basic amenities to the people. In Nepal and Bhutan with their monarchical legacies, the human rights were the biggest casualty.
The Maoists violence in Nepal and refugee problem of Bhutan could be a good example of the way the human rights are shaped. Though there have been demands for democratisation of political institution in Nepal resulting in experiments such as reforming Panchayati or party based elections, the political power still rests predominantly with the king.