Human Rights, Sanctity And Its Violation
Category : 2021 in Review:
Author : Zahawa Ahmad

Waking up to chilling instances of violence, rape, ethnic cleansing, heinous torture, child abuse, man slaughter and several other human rights violations in India is starting to feel like a norm lately. Despite the adoption of the Universal Declaration Human Rights (1948) and special covenants along with the national laws created, crimes continue to happen unhindered, unabated night and day. Human rights violations are becoming the order of the day and the above ‘law enforcement’ arsenals are falling short of implementation. Rights seem to be merely enumerated on paper and hence remaining a dead letter

The issue of human rights has been one of the most widely debated issues of both national and international politics since the second half of the last century. The wings of human civilization necessarily touch the two ends of the same continuum. While on one end there exist events of deprivation, inequality, exploitation, killings and all kinds of indignant activities towards human beings and humanity, on the other end, we find attempts to protect humanity, human values, morality, rights, equality and liberty.

Human rights are, literally, the rights that every person holds simply for being a human. These rights and freedoms are the ones ordained by nature and are therefore primordial. They are fundamental to human existence. These are universal rights which are inherent to all of us irrespective of one’s nationality, caste, creed, sex, colour, religion, income or any other socioeconomic or divisive category. Violation of human rights is regarded as an outrage on humanity, nature, and divinity. Humans connect with each other through a shared set of rights and responsibilities. It is by acknowledging and respecting other people’s human rights that we honour the worth of another person. Individuals have a responsibility to ensure that they exercise their respective rights with consideration for the rights of others.

Human Rights Violations In India:

Waking up to chilling instances of violence, rape, ethnic cleansing, heinous torture, child abuse, man slaughter and several other human rights violations in India is starting to feel like a norm lately. Despite the adoption of the Universal Declaration Human Rights (1948) and special covenants along with the national laws created, crimes continue to happen unhindered, unabated night and day. Human rights violations are becoming the order of the day and the above ‘law enforcement’ arsenals are falling short of implementation. Rights seem to be merely enumerated on paper and hence remaining a dead letter

In recent years, 2019, 2020 and 2021 can be remembered as the darkest years in terms of human rights violations in India. While we saw the return of Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019 elections winning with a majority and Prime Minister Narendra Modi commencing his second term we also witnessed a peak rise in the widespread practice of the government of harassing and prosecuting outspoken human rights defenders and journalists for simply raising questions to government official and government policies and trying to hold them accountable. This has also brought India under scrutiny for the human rights concerns by various International actors.

On August 5, 2019 the government of India revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special autonomous status. A security lockdown was imposed along with deployment of additional troops. People from Kashmir were detained without charge including former chief ministers, political leaders, opposition activists, lawyers, and journalists while many were harassed for hours under suspicion. The internet and phones were shut down for more than a year. Even though the government brushed it to prevent further loss of life, credible sources cite serious allegations of beatings and torture by security forces. This prompted international condemnation. Even though the issue of Kashmir has been one of a complex history, the human rights violations are constantly on rise and often through the instrument of government itself like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which gives soldiers effective immunity from prosecution for serious human rights abuses. Despite numerous independent recommendations and opposition to the said law, including by United Nations experts, the government has neither reviewed nor is planning to repeal the same in the near future.

Mob violence against minorities and other vulnerable communities, especially Muslims and Dalits by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP is on rise. India in the past three years witnessed excessive unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police, arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities. Cases of restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, threats of violence, unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech, censorship, and site blocking have constantly been in the headlines. The Human Freedom Index 2020, a worldwide ranking of civil, economic and personal freedom, has placed India at the 111th spot out of 162 countries. India was ranked 110 in terms of personal freedom and 105 on economic freedom, with an overall score of 6.43 out of 10. India ranked 94 on the index in 2019.

The fall is steep and concerning. A plain reading of 2019 and 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on India by the US Department of State paints a daunting picture of India and what it is shaping into. Various reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch raise concern over the human right violation taking place in India even though the Indian government in the past years have blatantly rejected such reports.

In December 2019 the Indian parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act which led to a widespread protest by students, human rights defenders, social activists and Muslims throughout the length and breadth of India. The law offers citizenship to non-Muslim persecuted religious minority thus clearly discriminating on the basis of religion. Many international institutions and human rights organisations raised voices against it which was yet again not well received by the Indian government. The External Affairs ministry asserted that CAA is an internal matter, and thus no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty.

On December 15, several students of Jamia Millia Islamia University protesting against the biased law were injured during a confrontation with the Delhi police. Similar scenes took place in Aligarh Muslim University. Hundreds of police officers allegedly entered the campus forcefully and detained more than a hundred students. The police used batons and tear gas to disperse anti-CAA protesters, as a result of which more than 200 people were injured.

Clear announcements to take up arms and usage of incendiary slogans, equating the protestors to anti-national elements by several political leaders from the BJP before and after the Delhi Assembly election led to communal riots in the capital. Mosques were vandalised, shops burnt, stones pelted and Muslims were lynched openly in broad daylight. The Delhi Police’s inability to bring peace back in riot-affected areas raised serious questions. There were reports of police taking no action despite being present at the crime scene. Police didn’t just fail to properly investigate the crimes, rather stalled the investigations, ignored the procedures, and even filed criminal cases against witnesses to harass and intimidate them. In the northeast state of Assam, a citizenship verification project excluded nearly two million people, mostly of Bengali ethnicity, many of them Muslim, putting them at risk of statelessness.

The COVID-19 national lockdown from March 25 to April 30 2020, pushed the most vulnerable section of the society such as migrants and daily wage labourers on the death bed. With loss of jobs and livelihood more than one crore migrants made their way back to their home states from various corners of the country, some losing their life on the way. The country saw everything from people slaughtered on the train tracks to swarms of people travelling distances more than 800km to their hometown barefoot all from behind the curtains of privilege and helplessness. While the nation witnessed, the government seems to have missed it all, as when questioned regarding the compensation for these labourers, the government responded by saying no data on migrant death exist thus this question does not arise.

Similarly, after hundreds of thousands of farmers of various faiths started protesting against the government’s new farm laws in November 2020 and still do, senior BJP leaders, their supporters on social media, and pro-government media, began blaming the Sikhs, another religious minority. The farmers were framed as terrorists for merely asking 

India’s status as a free country has changed to “partly free”, according to an annual report on global political rights and liberties by .US-based Freedom House, a non-profit organisation which conducts research on political freedom and human rights. It said the change in India’s status is part of a global shift in the balance between democracy and authoritarianism.

for a guarantee that protects their rights.
2021 brought with itself no sense of relief that the Indians were madly craving for. Pandemic did not end, so the creeping misery continued. With the second wave of Coronavirus, India witnessed the highest number of cases in April.

While the right to life and health was struggling to grasp fresh air, people’s right to privacy was also blatantly manhandled. While the landmark judgement of Puttaswamy v. Union of India which held the right to privacy as a fundamental right, was widely celebrated, we also saw how every day the government, instead of overhauling the surveillance law framework and enacting robust data protection mechanism, kept using public safety and national security arguments in courts and in parliament to deflect concerns about violations of privacy rights. The revelations made by the Pegasus Project, initiated by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, did its best in sending shockwaves exposing the direct threat on human rights by the state. The government was found to have been using the Israeli NSO Group’s spyware to indulge in widespread snooping on more than 50,000 ‘targets’ of interest which included journalists, human rights activists, politicians, members of the judiciary, bureaucracy, investigating agencies along with top health officials. The project showcased how quite often the law itself can become an instrument of oppression if not kept in check.

On Oct 2, 2021 when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released The Pandora papers, it was yet another astounding news that came to light revealing the inner workings of what is a shadow financial world, providing a rare window into the hidden operations of a global offshore economy that enables some of the world’s richest people to hide their wealth and in some cases pay little or no tax. The secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, along with the secret finances of more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, judges, mayors and military generals in more than 90 countries was exposed. This revelation marked the proof of how dirty money from dictatorships and struggling democracies flows into developed economies and tax havens.

Death in custody of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy led to thousands of activists, political leaders and Indian citizens questioning the due process of law that this country follows. Many also expressed anger at the way Stan Swamy was jailed during Covid-19 and repeatedly denied bail in spite of his deteriorating health at the age of 84. He was the man who had dedicated much of his life to defending the rights of indigenous peoples and the Adivasi minorities. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he was the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India. He was among 16 renowned activists, academics and lawyers who were charged under a draconian anti-terror law in what came to be known as the Bhima Koregaon case. His death will forever be remembered as a stain on India’s human rights record.

Protests against the much talked about new farm laws continued without halt at Delhi’s borders since last November. Dozens died from heat, cold and Covid but the will to fight for their rights did not fade. It was only recently that a surprise announcement to repeal the said farm laws marked a major U-turn as the government had not taken any initiative to talk to farmers in recent months. Moreover, Mr Modi’s ministers have been steadfastly insisting that the laws were good for farmers and there was no question of taking them back. Even though the farm unions are rejoicing at the government’s new decision, expert opinion cites that it might be the upcoming elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh that must have been the driving force behind such a dramatic decision.

Uttar Pradesh recorded 361 number of arrests under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, followed by 346 in Jammu and Kashmir, and 225 in Manipur, in the year 2020 alone according to data tabled by the Government in Rajya Sabha this year. The numbers of arrests in 2021 since then have just gone up. The actual number of pending cases under the counter-terror law have also just been rising in the last seven years. Freedom of religion has also been drastically impacted by the bogey of love jihad. Religious intolerance on a governmental level, combined with internal corruption and authoritative governance has shaped much of the violence that has been seen under the Modi administration.

With violence comes erosion of human rights. Deterioration of political and civil liberties in the country has been rampant. Students, farmers, Muslims, Dalits, journalists, social activists and human rights defenders seem to not fit into the category of ‘good’ citizens in the eyes of the present government. This in itself is a concerning as well as alarming state of the country. All the recent incidents direct our attention to the difficult and perplexing experience that Indian citizens are going through. A country where laws are against democratic tenets, the nation’s secular fabric and fundamental rights is paving way for a fascist regime which is a nightmare the citizens dream to wake up from.

India’s status as a free country has changed to “partly free”, according to an annual report on global political rights and liberties by .US-based Freedom House, a non-profit organisation which conducts research on political freedom and human rights. It said the change in India’s status is part of a global shift in the balance between democracy and authoritarianism.

Human rights flourish in a democracy. As stressed by Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, former chairperson of NHRC, there is a need for making human rights the focal point of good governance. He also opined that “It is often the State which is violator of Human Rights in maximum cases in the country. But the maximum responsibility to protect and safeguard the rights of its citizens also lies with the State.”

Even though the violation in recent years has led to the awakening of a section of society with respect to their rights, there’s still a bigger chunk of our population that is yet not even aware of their basic rights. In spite of the commissions and police personnel in the country, the most powerful weapon with oneself to fight against such violation is awareness and constant debate with the government to ensure such security. To make everyone understand the eternal values of life and dignity of an individual irrespective of caste, creed, or sex along with constantly raising questions and holding the government responsible is the only solution how human rights can be honoured and protected.

2 Comments

  1. Shams Tabrez

    Excellent analysis. Keep it up!

    Reply
  2. Sajid Bukhari

    It is well mentioned account of Human Rights violation in India, aptly articulated!

    Reply

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