Human rights in India

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Human rights in India is an issue complicated by the country's large size, its tremendous diversity, its status as a developing country and a sovereign, secular, democratic republic. The Constitution of India provides for Fundamental rights, which include freedom of religion. Clauses also provide for freedom of speech, as well as separation of executive and judiciary and freedom of movement within the country and abroad.

In its report on human rights in India during 2013, released in 2014, Human Rights Watch stated, "India took positive steps in strengthening laws protecting women and children, and, in several important cases, prosecuting state security forces for extrajudicial killings." The report also condemned the persistent impunity for abuse linked to insurgency in Maoist areas, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Assam. The report also went on to state, "The fact that the government responded to public outrage confirms India’s claims of a vibrant civil society. An independent judiciary and free media also acted as checks on abusive practices. However, reluctance to hold public officials to account for abuses or dereliction of duty continued to foster a culture of corruption and impunity".[1]

On a global level, India has not lived up to expectations of promoting respect for democracy and human rights in its foreign policy as it opts for a policy of "non-interference in internal affairs of other countries". However India is engaged in promoting stability and human rights in Afghanistan, pledging nearly US$2 billion for the country’s rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, supporting education of girls, providing some police training, and granting asylum to a number of activists fleeing Taliban threats.[1]

Chronology of events regarding human rights in India[edit]

1829 The practice of sati was formally abolished by Governor General William Bentick after years of campaigning by Hindu reform movements such as the Brahmo Samaj of Ram Mohan Roy against this orthodox Hindu funeral custom of self-immolation of widows after the death of their husbands.
1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act, prohibiting marriage of minors under 14 years of age is passed.
1947 India achieves political independence from the British Raj.
1950 The Constitution of India establishes a sovereign democratic republic with universal adult franchise. Part 3 of the Constitution contains a Bill of Fundamental Rights enforceable by the Supreme Court and the High Courts. It also provides for reservations for previously disadvantaged sections in education, employment and political representation.
1952 Criminal Tribes Acts repealed by government, former "criminal tribes" categorized as "denotified" and Habitual Offenders Act (1952) enacted.
1955 Reform of family law concerning Hindus gives more rights to Hindu women.
1958 Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958[2]
1973 Supreme Court of India rules in Kesavananda Bharati case that the basic structure of the Constitution (including many fundamental rights) is unalterable by a constitutional amendment.
1975-77 State of Emergency in India
extensive rights violations take place.
1978 SC rules in Menaka Gandhi v. Union of India that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution cannot be suspended even in an emergency.
1978 Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978[3][4]
1984 Operation Blue Star and the subsequent 1984 Anti-Sikh riots
1984 2006 Extrajudicial disappearances in Punjab by the police
1985-86 The Shah Bano case, where the Supreme Court recognised the Muslim woman's right to maintenance upon divorce, sparks protests from Muslim clergy. To nullify the decision of the Supreme Court, the Rajiv Gandhi government enacted The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986
1987 Hashimpura massacre during communal riots in Meerut.
1989 Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is passed.
1989–present Kashmiri insurgency sees ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, desecrating Hindu temples, killing of Hindus and Sikhs, and abductions of foreign tourists and government functionaries.
1992 A constitutional amendment establishes Local Self-Government (Panchayati Raj) as a third tier of governance at the village level, with one-third of the seats reserved for women. Reservations were provided for scheduled castes and tribes as well.
1992 Babri Masjid demolished by Hindu mobs, resulting in riots across the country.
1993 National Human Rights Commission is established under the Protection of Human Rights Act.
2001 Supreme Court passes extensive orders to implement the right to food.[5]
2002 Violence in Gujarat, chiefly targeting its Muslim minority, claims many lives.
2005 A powerful Right to Information Act is passed to give citizen's access to information held by public authorities.[6]
2005 National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) guarantees universal right to employment.
2005 Disappearance of Jaswant Singh Khalra by the Punjab Police (Khalra brought to light the extrajudicial disappearances in Punjab)
2006 Supreme Court orders police reforms in response to the poor human rights record of Indian police.[7]
2009 Delhi High Court declares that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which outlaws a range of unspecified "unnatural" sex acts, is unconstitutional when applied to homosexual acts between private consenting individuals, effectively decriminalising homosexual relationships in India.[8] See also: Homosexuality in India.

Use of torture by police[edit]

The Asian Centre for Human Rights estimated that from 2002 to 2008, over four people per day died while in police custody, with "hundreds" of those deaths being due to police use of torture.[9] According to a report written by the Institute of Correctional Administration in Punjab, up to 50% of police officers in the country have used physical or mental abuse on prisoners.[10] Instances of torture, such as through a lack of sanitation, space, or water have been documented in West Bengal as well. [11]

Human right violations in Jammu and Kashmir[edit]

A soldier guards the roadside checkpoint outside Srinagar International Airport in January 2009.

Several international agencies and the UN have reported human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir. In a press release the OHCHR spokesmen stated "The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is concerned about the recent violent protests in Indian-administered Kashmir that have reportedly led to civilian casualties as well as restrictions to the right to freedom of assembly and expression.".[12] A 1996 Human Rights Watch report accuses the Indian military and Indian-government backed paramilitaries of "committ[ing] serious and widespread human rights violations in Kashmir."[13] One such alleged massacre occurred on 6 January 1993 in the town of Sopore. TIME Magazine described the incident as such: "In retaliation for the killing of one soldier, paramilitary forces rampaged through Sopore's market setting buildings ablaze and shooting bystanders. The Indian government pronounced the event 'unfortunate' and claimed that an ammunition dump had been hit by gunfire, setting off fires that killed most of the victims."[14] In addition to this, there have been claims of disappearances by the police or the army in Kashmir by several human rights organisations.[15][16]

Many human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) have condemned human rights abuses in Kashmir by Indians such as "extra-judicial executions", "disappearances", and torture;[17] the "Armed Forces Special Powers Act", which "provides impunity for human rights abuses and fuels cycles of violence. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) grants the military wide powers of arrest, the right to shoot to kill, and to occupy or destroy property in counterinsurgency operations. Indian officials claim that troops need such powers because the army is only deployed when national security is at serious risk from armed combatants. Such circumstances, they say, call for extraordinary measures." Human rights organisations have also asked Indian government to repeal[2] the Public Safety Act, since "a detainee may be held in administrative detention for a maximum of two years without a court order.".[18] One 2008 report determined that Indian Administered Kashmir, was 'partly Free',[19]

Freedom of expression[edit]

According to the estimates of Reporters Without Borders, India ranks 122nd worldwide in 2010 on the press freedom index (down from 105th in 2009). The press freedom index for India is 38.75 in 2010 (29.33 for 2009) on a scale that runs from 0 (most free) to 105 (least free).[20][21] In 2014 India was down ranked to 140th worldwide (score of 40.34 out of 105) but despite this remains one of the best scores in the region.[22]

The Indian Constitution, while not mentioning the word "press", provides for "the right to freedom of speech and expression" (Article 19(1) a). However this right is subject to restrictions under subclause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of "sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence". Laws such as the Official Secrets Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act [23] (POTA) have been used to limit press freedom. Under POTA, person could be detained for up to six months before the police were required to bring charges on allegations for terrorism-related offenses. POTA was repealed in 2004, but was replaced by amendments to UAPA.[24] The Official Secrets Act 1923 is abolished after right to information act 2005

For the first half-century of independence, media control by the state was the major constraint on press freedom. Indira Gandhi famously stated in 1975 that All India Radio is "a Government organ, it is going to remain a Government organ..." [25] With the liberalisation starting in the 1990s, private control of media has burgeoned, leading to increasing independence and greater scrutiny of government. Organisations like Tehelka and NDTV have been particularly influential, e.g. in bringing about the resignation of powerful Haryana minister Venod Sharma. In addition, laws like Prasar Bharati act passed in recent years contribute significantly to reducing the control of the press by the government.

LGBT rights[edit]

Main article: LGBT rights in India

Until the Delhi High Court decriminalised consensual private sexual acts between consenting adults on 2 July 2009,[8] homosexuality was considered criminal as per interpretations of the ambiguous Section 377 of the 150-year-old Indian Penal Code (IPC), a law passed by the colonial British authorities. However, this law was very rarely enforced.[26] In its ruling decriminalising homosexuality, the Delhi High Court noted that existed law conflicted with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, and such criminalising is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution.[27]

On 11 December 2013, homosexuality was again criminalized by a Supreme Court ruling.[28]

Human trafficking[edit]

Human trafficking is a $8 million illegal business in India. Around 10,000 Nepali women are brought to India annually for commercial sexual exploitation.[29] Each year 20,000–25,000 women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh.[30]

Babubhai Khimabhai Katara was a Member of Parliament, in 2007, when arrested at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, India for trying smuggle a mother and her teen son to Canada, on his diplomatic passport. The Mother and her son were hoping to join her husband who was living as an illegal migrant in Canada, and had paid Babubhai Khimabhai Katara about $70,000 USD. The woman had previously been repeatedly denied a visa by the Canadian government. The fact that even some members of parliament with diplomatic privileges can be approached for such purposes is seen as opening a Pandora's box on corruption in the Indian political system (See also Operation Duryodhana). He was suspended from his party and stripped of his seat in the parliament for this offense.

Religious violence[edit]

Communal conflicts between religious groups (mostly between Hindus and Muslims) have been prevalent in India since around the time of its independence from British Rule. Among the oldest incidences of communal violence in India was the Moplah rebellion, when Militant Islamists massacred Hindus in Kerala. Communal riots took place during the partition of India between Hindus/Sikhs and Muslims where large numbers of people were killed in large-scale violence.

The 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots was a four-day period during which Sikhs were massacred by members of the secular-centrist Congress Party of India; some estimates state that more than 2,000 were killed.[31] Other incidents include the 1987 Hashimpura massacre during communal riots in Meerut, 1992 Bombay Riots and the 2002 Gujarat violence —in the latter, more than 100 Muslims[32] were killed following a Muslim mob attack on a train full of Hindu pilgrims in the Godhra Train Burning, where 58 Hindus were killed.[33] Lesser incidents plague many towns and villages; representative was the killing of five people in Mau, Uttar Pradesh during Hindu-Muslim rioting, which was triggered by the proposed celebration of a Hindu festival.[33] Other such communal incidents include the 2002 Marad massacre, which was carried out by the militant Islamist group National Development Front, as well as communal riots in Tamil Nadu executed by the Islamist Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazagham against Hindus.

Caste related issues[edit]

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, "Dalits and indigenous peoples (known as Scheduled Tribes or adivasis) continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of communal violence. Laws and policies adopted by the Indian government provide a strong basis for protection, but are not being faithfully implemented by local authorities."[34]

The UN stated in 2011 that the caste system of India will be declared a human rights abuse. The UN's Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, is expected to ratify draft principles which recognises the scale of persecution suffered by 65 million 'untouchables' or 'Dalits' who carry out the most menial and degrading work.[35]

Amnesty International says "it is the responsibility of the Indian government to fully enact and apply its legal provisions against discrimination on the basis of caste and descent.[36]

Denotified tribes of India, along with many nomadic tribes collectively 60 million in population, continue to face social stigma and economic hardships, despite the fact Criminal Tribes Act 1871, was repealed by the government in 1952 and replaced by Habitual Offenders Act (HOA) (1952), as effectively it only created a new list out of the old list of so-called "criminal tribes. These tribes even today face the consequences of the 'Prevention of Anti-Social Activity Act' (PASA), which only adds to their everyday struggle for existence as most of them live below poverty line. National Human Rights Commission and UN's anti-discrimination body Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) have asked the government to repeal this law as well, as these former "criminalised" tribes continue to suffer oppression and social ostracization at large and many have been denied SC, ST or OBC status, denying them access to reservations which would elevated their economic and social status.[37][38][39]

Other Human Rights Violations[edit]

Conflicts such as Anti-Bihari sentiment have sometimes escalated to violence between communal groups, despite government and police efforts to mediate the situation.

Invasive methods like 'narcoanalysis' (controlled anaesthesia), Brain mapping, and lie detector tests were once commonly permitted by Indian courts for crime investigation. Even though according to Indian constitution "nobody may be made a witness against himself".

Concerns regarding human rights violations in conducting deception detection tests (DDT)s were raised long back and the National Human Rights Commission of India had published Guidelines in 2000 for the Administration of Polygraph tests. However, only few of the investigating agencies were seen to follow these guidelines.[40]

However on May 5, 2010 the Supreme Court in India (Smt. Selvi vs. State of Karnataka) declared brain mapping, lie detector tests and narcoanalysis to be unconstitutional, violating Article 20 (3) of Fundamental Rights. These techniques cannot be conducted forcefully on any individual and requires consent for the same. When they are conducted with consent, the material so obtained is regarded as evidence during trial of cases according to Section 27 of the Evidence Act.[40]

Inadequate investigation and hasty rulings by courts have caused some wrongful convictions of innocent people causing them to languish in jail for many years. For instance, the Bombay high court in September 2009 asked the Maharashtra government to pay INR 100,000 as compensation to a 40-year-old man who languished in prison for over 10 years for a crime he didn't commit.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b World Report 2014. Human Rights Watch. 2014. pp. 334–341. 
  2. ^ a b "India: Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Law Provides Impunity for Human Rights Abuses, Fuels Cycles of Violence", Human Rights Watch, 21 November 2007
  3. ^ "India: The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act- a threat to human rights", AI Index ASA 20/019/2000, Amnesty International, 15 May 2000
  4. ^ "Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 (Act No. 6 of 1978)", Refworld, High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations
  5. ^ Right to Food Campaign
  6. ^ National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI)
  7. ^ Police Reforms ordered by Supreme Court[dead link]
  8. ^ a b Mitta, Manoj; Singh, Smriti (3 July 2009). "India decriminalises gay sex". The Times of India. 
  9. ^ "Hundreds die of torture in India every year - report". Reuters. 25 June 2008. 
  10. ^ Malik, Saurabh. "Torture main reason of death in police custody". The Tribune. Archived from the original on 31 March 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Custodial deaths in West Bengal and India's refusal to ratify the Convention against Torture Asian Human Rights Commission 26 February 2004
  12. ^ "OHCHR calls for restraint in Indian-administered Kashmir", Press release, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations, 27 August 2008
  13. ^ "India’s Secret Army in Kashmir: New Patterns of Abuse Emerge in the Conflict", Human Rights Watch, 1 May 1996
  14. ^ "Blood Tide Rising", Time, 18 January 1993. (subscription required)
  15. ^ "India", 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 6 March 2007
  16. ^ "Kashmir's extra-judicial killings", BBC News, 8 March 2007
  17. ^ "Behind the Kashmir Conflict – Abuses in the Kashmir Valley", Human Rights Watch, 1999
  18. ^ Behind the Kashmir Conflict: Undermining the Judiciary (Human Rights Watch Report: July 1999)
  19. ^ Freedom in the World 2008 – Kashmir (India), Freedom House, 2008-07-02
  20. ^ "Press Freedom Index 2010", Reporters Without Borders
  21. ^ "Press Freedom Index 2009", Reporters Without Borders
  22. ^ "Press Freedom Index 2014", Reporters Without Borders
  23. ^ "The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002". 
  24. ^ Kalhan, Anil et al. (2006). "Colonial Continuities: Human Rights, Antiterrorism, and Security Laws in India". 20 Colum. J. Asian L. 93. Retrieved 24 March 2009. 
  25. ^ <Please add first missing authors to populate metadata.> (July 1982). "Freedom of the Press". PUCL Bulletin, (People's Union for Civil Liberties). 
  26. ^ Letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh On the arrest of four men on charges of homosexual conduct in Lucknow letter by Scott Long, director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch
  27. ^ "http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/photo.cms". Times of India. [dead link]
  28. ^ SHYAMANTHA, ASOKAN (11 December 2013). "India's Supreme Court turns the clock back with gay sex ban". Reuters. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  29. ^ Human trafficking turning into organised crime in India Zee News
  30. ^ India among top human trafficking destinations India eNews
  31. ^ Nichols, B (2003). "The Politics of Assassination: Case Studies and Analysis". Australasian Political Studies Association Conference. 
  32. ^ Ganguly, Meenakshi. "India: A Decade on, Gujarat Justice Incomplete". Human Rights Watch. 
  33. ^ a b Human Rights Watch 2006, p. 265.
  34. ^ "India Events of 2007". Human Rights Watch. 
  35. ^ Nelson, Dean (29 September 2009). "UN says caste system is a human rights abuse". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  36. ^ "India's Unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 Million Victims of the Caste System". 2005. 
  37. ^ Meena Radhakrishna (16 July 2006). "Dishonoured by history". The Hindu. Retrieved 31 May 2007. 
  38. ^ Repeal the Habitual Offenders Act and affectively rehabilitate the denotified tribes, UN to India Asian Tribune, Mon, 19 March 2007.
  39. ^ Suspects forever: Members of the "denotified tribes" continue to bear the brunt of police brutality Frontline, The Hindu, Volume 19 – Issue 12, 8–21 June 2002.
  40. ^ a b http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3171915/