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Rouf Dar

Report: Human rights languish in India

Equal rights for married women is just one area of rights issues in India [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 February, 2018

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Analysis: Modi has drummed up nationalist fervour to divert attention from deteriorating human rights in the country, according to a new Human Rights Council report.
India tops the world hunger list with 194.6 million undernourished. It has the world's largest number of homeless and landless persons. It has the world's highest number of malnourished and hungry children. Some 68 percent of prisoners are in pre-trial detention. At least 5,650 Indian farmers committed suicide in 2014. Between 2005 and 2015 more than 40 RTI activists were reportedly murdered. India voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty and also refused to adopt a UN General Assembly resolution on human rights defenders in November 2015. 

These are some of the key highlights in the Joint Stakeholders Report compiled by the Working Group on Human Rights (WGHR) in India and submitted to the Human Rights Council in January. This report was a part of a review into India's human rights situation under the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review.

The report slammed India's poor records in securing the rights of its citizens. "As India claims to move ahead with developmental agenda, no development can be at the cost of crushing of fundamental rights of dissent and protest which are the basic elements of our democracy," said Henri Tiphagne, the convenor of WGHR.

The Universal Periodic Review is a unique process established when the United Nations Human Rights Council came into being in 2006. The objective is an examination of human rights records in all the 193 member states with the goal of improving human rights throughout the world. The latest UPR was conducted in Geneva in May 2017.

In this process, the prevailing human rights conditions are put to review in front of all the countries, non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and independent human rights activists who provide a critical insight into the human rights conditions while making relevant recommendations to the country under review.

The number of disappearances... runs into the thousands in Kashmir alone, with 2080 mass graves ordered to be investigated

The recommendations received by India ranged across various subjects such as the abolishment or a moratorium on the death penalty, the ratification of the Convention Against Torture - which India has signed but not ratified - the criminalisation of marital rape and to repeal/amend Section 377 of its law, which criminalises homosexuality.

Other recommendations included providing justice to victims of religious violence and a law to protect human rights defenders.

Six countries asked India to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which it signed in 2007. The number of disappearances, as documented by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, runs into the thousands in Kashmir alone, with 2080 mass graves ordered to be investigated.

The wide range of recommendations testified that the world's attention is glued to India as she continues on the path of becoming the world's largest economy. However, India has put all the recommendations on hold - and thus appears to display a disinterest in putting any into effect. The Conventions have still not been ratified, signalling that all is not well with governance procedures in India.

The statistics are not in favour of a rapidly developing country either. In 201, India dropped from 55th to 100th in on the Global Hunger Index, and 136th on the World Press Freedom Index. The attacks on social activists and journalists have increased, resulting in the deaths of eminent figures of public life. This has been a consistent story, no matter to which side of the political spectrum a particular government is aligned.

Aijaz Ashraf Wani, who teaches at Kashmir University, blames the "appeasement politics" that parties practice to woo certain communities and secure their votes, which in turn results in unequal development.

"There is also a huge difference in the expenditures in social service and defence sectors as the latter incurs more spending," he adds.

Since the Narendra Modi government came to power, Hindu cow vigilantes have launched more than 60 attacks on people accused of stealing, selling or eating beef.

Caste, "a form of collective unfreedom" according to Professor Javeed Alam, still continues to divide Indian society, with suicides due to caste-based discrimination in Hyderabad University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, among many other places.

Oxfam India found that 57 billionaires in India own wealth equal to that held by 70 percent of the population

To suppress dissenting voices against state policies, the government has invoked a sedition law against three students of Jawaharlal Nehru University - and an investigation was begun against Amnesty International. The incumbent government, with 34 percent of Members of Parliament reportedly facing criminal charges, is the zenith of right-wing politics in India - which in no way implies that preceding regimes have been liberal or humane.

"The government caters to the most powerful, the ones who finance election expenditures, and not the genuine welfare of the public," said Heba Ahmed, a doctoral candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Oxfam India found that 57 billionaires in India own wealth equal to that held by 70 percent of the population.

The Indian Constitution, which enshrines Fundamental Rights for its subjects, has found little praxis as the list of rights available to citizens has been frequently violated. The right to equality, life and freedom of expression, of association, of speech have evidently been tampered with courtesy caste, use of sedition law, detention under PSA and AFSPA and more importantly by the failure of judiciary to dispense justice in a proper time-bound framework.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was repealed in Tripura in 2015, but continues to remain in operation in most of the northeast states, and Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan and Switzerland both recommended the scrapping of AFSPA, which grants near-impunity to armed forces. But successive governments have failed to effect a change using the pretext of "maintaining law and order".

A violent uprising in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016 was met with brute force, killing more than 90 people, injuring around 15,000 and blinding hundreds due to the use of pellet-rounds fired by shotgun. The year was termed the "world's first mass blinding".

The Public Safety Act, described by Amnesty as "a lawless law", was used to detain thousands of alleged protesters.

In August 2016, India as well as Pakistan denied access to Jammu and Kashmir to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on a fact-finding visit. The record of India as put forward in the Universal Periodic Review suggests that India has a long way to go before the claims of "world's largest democracy" can be substantiated.

Rouf Dar is an analyst based in Kashmir.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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