We just passed Human Rights Day which is celebrated across the globe. But what does it mean in India today? We take a look at the recent issues of rights violations in India. Where does India stand in terms global human rights ranking? If you are a conscious citizen of this country, you must be aware that the examples of fundamental human rights violation in our country are many.
The BJP won the May 2019 elections with a majority. This led Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return to power for a second term. Unfortunately, the examples of human rights violations over the past few years have increased rapidly. Freedom of expression, consensual decisions have turned into crime. The Modi government utilised its strong numbers in both Parliament and Rajya Sabha to turn bills into laws.
The Centre continued its widespread practice of harassing and sometimes prosecuting outspoken human rights defenders, and journalists for criticizing government officials and policies. Here we discuss some of the human rights issues in India.
Here 6 major human rights violation issues in India recently
1. J&K special status revoked
On August 5, 2019, the Centre revoked the Valley’s special status. Before doing this, it imposed a security lockdown and deployed additional troops in Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre allegedly made the decision without consulting with those it will affect, the Kashmiri residents. As a result, thousands of locals got detained without charge, including former chief ministers, political leaders, opposition activists, lawyers and journalists. The government shut down internet and phones. The government said it was to prevent loss of life, but there were credible, serious allegations of beatings and torture by security forces. This was sheer example of rights violation. The residents spent months with phone, internet, transport and other important services.
The government blocked opposition politicians, foreign diplomats, and international journalists from independent visits to Kashmir. In July, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights shared an insight from its 2018 report. The update raised serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in both Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. The Modi government dismissed the report as a “false and motivated narrative” that ignored “the core issue of cross-border terrorism.”
2. Centre did not review AFSPA
The Centre continued with its old principles and did not review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. This can be considered as another major violation of human rights. The Act gives soldiers effective immunity from prosecution for serious human rights abuses. The law is in force in Kashmir and in several states in northeast India. Despite numerous independent recommendations, including by United Nations experts, the Centre didn’t initiate any process to repeal it.
And the repercussions of this were disastrous. In UP, police continued to commit extrajudicial killings with impunity. According to a report, as of June, at least 77 people had been killed and over 1,100 injured since the BJP state government took office in March 2017. As a result, in January, four UN rights experts raised concerns over the killings, and over police threats against those pressing for justice in these cases. A petition demanding a court-monitored independent probe is still pending in the Supreme Court. The killings clearly highlighted lack of accountability for police abuses and the failure to enforce police reforms. This remains as a major human rights violation issue.
3. Violence against religious minorities, Dalits
This is nothing new in a country like India. Undoubtedly, the violence and crime against religious minorities have increased since the BJP government came to power in 2014. Incidents of harassment and violence against Dalits, tribals and Muslim communities have soared like never before.
According to reports, mob violence against minorities by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP continued since 2014. People got killed and injured amid rumors that they traded or killed cows for beef. If we see the data, since May 2015, 50 people lost lives and over 250 people got injured in such attacks. Muslims were also beaten and forced to chant Hindu slogans. Cops clearly failed to properly investigate these crimes, In several cases they stalled investigations, ignored procedures and lodged criminal cases against witnesses to harass and intimidate them.
Dalits are facing violent attacks and discrimination similarly. Hathras is the recent and one of the most prominent incidents. For example, in September, the Supreme Court issued notices to authorities to examine caste-based exclusion at universities across India. This followed after mothers of two students—one Dalit and one from a tribal community—who committed suicide allegedly due to discrimination filed a petition.
Nearly 2 million people from tribal communities and forest-dwellers remained at risk of forced displacement and loss of livelihoods after a February Supreme Court ruling to evict all those whose claims under the Forest Rights Act were rejected. Amid concerns over flaws in the claim process, the court stayed the eviction temporarily. In July, three UN human rights experts urged the government to conduct a transparent and independent review of the rejected claims, and evict only after it exhausted all options, ensuring redress and compensation.
4. Freedom of expression muffled, privacy violation
The Centre used sedition and criminal defamation laws to stifle peaceful dissent. Police in Bihar filed a case of sedition against 49 people, including well-known movie personalities, for writing an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing concerns over hate crimes and mob violence targeting minority communities. Following widespread condemnation, authorities closed the case within days.
We have also seen that journalists faced harassment, even detention, for their reporting or critical comments on social media, and faced increasing pressure to self-censor. Therefore, India stands poorly in the Global Press Index. India continued to lead with the largest number of internet shutdowns globally as authorities resorted to blanket shutdowns either to prevent social unrest or to respond to an ongoing law and order problem.
Now if we look into the privacy front, there is human rights violation too. In July, the parliament passed amendments to the biometric identification project, Aadhaar Act, paving the way for its use by private parties. The amendments raised concerns over privacy and data protection and were made in the face of a September 2018 Supreme Court ruling restricting the use of Aadhaar for purposes other than to access government benefits and to file taxes. In December 2018, the government proposed new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules that would greatly undermine rights to freedom of expression and privacy of users. In October, the social media company WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, confirmed that 121 users in India were targeted by surveillance software owned by NSO, an Israeli firm, out of which at least 22 were human rights activists, journalists, academics, and civil rights lawyers. The government denied purchasing the software.
5. Harsh citizenship and refugee rights laws
Modi government doesn’t review or alter its decision despite widespread mass protests or even sacrifice of lives. Several anti-human rights laws have been passed despite protests. Decisions like introducing CAA, NRC, demonetization were imposed from top down. Then endless miseries of commoners began.
In August, the government in Assam published the National Register of Citizens, aimed at identifying Indian citizens and lawful residents following repeated protests and violence over irregular migration of ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh. The list excluded nearly two million people, many of them Muslims, including many who have lived in India for years, in some cases their entire lifetimes. There are serious allegations that the verification process was arbitrary and discriminatory, although those excluded from the list have the right to judicial appeal. The Assam state government said it will build ten detention centers for those denied citizenship after appeal. In September, India’s home minister declared that they will launch National Register of Citizens across the country and that the government will amend the citizenship laws to include all irregular migrants from neighboring countries apart from Muslims.
In 2019, the government deported eight Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, a family of five members in January and a father and his two children in March, after deporting seven people in October 2018. In April, five UN human rights experts condemned the deportations saying they violated international law. They also raised concerns over indefinite detention of some Rohingya in India.
6. Rights violation of commoners
The incidents of crimes against women are rampant. Right from rape, murder to the present day Love Jihad law, all these are different forms of gross human rights violation. High profile rape cases during the year, including against a BJP leader, highlighted how women seeking justice face significant barriers, including police refusal to register cases, victim blaming, intimidation and violence, and lack of witness protection. The accused leader was arrested in September after widespread condemnation, including on social media.
— Congress (@INCIndia) December 10, 2020
The parliament amended the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012, introducing the capital punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault of anyone under 18 years, and increased the penalty for other sexual offenses. This was despite concerns raised by child rights groups that it could lead to a decrease in police complaints because in nearly 95 percent of reported cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim, in positions of authority, or family members.
India’s scenario of human rights of sexual minorities or LGBT people is equally bleak. Though homosexuality is no longer a crime in our country, the government does not ensure legal or social support to people to this community. As per latest reports, in July, India maintained its past position and abstained from voting at the UN Human Rights Council including on the renewal of the mandate for an independent expert on protecting LGBT people from violence and discrimination.