Human Rights in India

Tracing the rising violations of human rights in the world's largest democracy


December 11, 2019

/ By / New Delhi

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As the world marked the Human Rights Day on December 10, India had very little cheerful to report on its own record of defending human rights. The number of incidents of grave violations, mainly by the State and its forces has risen sharply , as has the area affected by the violations.

The biggest blot on Indian human rights records for 2019 remains the complete lockdown in Jammu & Kashmir ever since the sudden abrogation of the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, announced by the government in August. So, many residents of J&K, mainly the 8 million of those in the valley, ‘celebrated’ the 71st Human Rights Day on the 128th day of being locked up in their homes or at least under the heaviest presence of army boots since a long while, numbering close to a million.

The communications blackout including suspended mobile phone networks along with cable television services and internet shutdown lasted for many months and even now, four months on, internet remains unavailable in the former state and with the local media all but banned, the government is able to spread its own narrative of ‘total normalcy in Kashmir’. Though, many foreign news networks have reported frequent confrontations between protestors in the valley and the security forces as well as numerous deaths and injuries as a result of the same. But in the absence of any independent news emanating from the area, there is no certainty on the number of people killed, injured or simply imprisoned for protesting.

It is not just in Kashmir that the media has been under an attack. The world’s largest democracy ranked a lowly 140 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index prepared by Reporters Without Borders, an organisation working for freedom of the press and journalists’s rights across the world. In its report for 2018, already, the body had little to report that was complementary to India. ‘‘Violence against journalists – including police violence, attacks by Maoist fighters, and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians – is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India. At least six Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018. A number of doubts surround a seventh case. These murders highlighted the many dangers Indian journalists face, especially those working for non-English-language media outlets in rural areas’’ says the organisation.

On the state of affairs in the current year, the body goes on to say that attacks against journalists by supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi increased in the run-up to general elections in the spring of 2019. ‘‘Those who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate. The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that aggravate Hindutva followers are alarming and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered. The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women. The emergence of a #MeToo movement in the media in 2018 has lifted the veil on many cases of harassment and sexual assault to which women reporters have been subjected. Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment,’’ it goes on to say.

Not just the reporters, some other professions, too, have been the target of violence in India, notably the cattle traders and slaughter house operators, several of them Muslims or Dalits. While the government has turned a blind eye, there have been a number of vigilante incidents where self-appointed defenders of cows have been freely attacking and even killing anyone suspected of harming the animal. The vigilante groups have been made bolder by the silence of law enforcement agencies in the best case and actual encouragement by political leaders in the worst.

Custodial deaths and fake encounters are yet another area of concern vis a vis human rights in India. According to a report published by Asian Centre for Human Rights (AICHR) in 2018, India averaged at five custodial deaths per day. In a recent act of alleged “encounter”, the Telangana Police  killed four accused rapists quoting it at as “retaliatory firing” in tones often reserved for an extra-judicial murder over judicial trial. Annihilating the accused men of their fundamental right to a trial, the country celebrates the victory of toxic outrage over judicial justice.

Needless to say, India presents a scenario of open violation of human rights seamlessly blending with the unruly politics of majoritarianism.



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