Two days after New York Times and France’s Le Monde ran editorials condemning Prime Minister Narendra Modi for promoting an environment of intolerance and lynch-mob culture in India, Amnesty International too has slammed the Centre’s BJP government on its failure to protect human rights in India.
In its annual global report published on today (24 February), the human rights body blamed Modi government for clamping down on civil society organizations critical of official policies, and increased restrictions on foreign funding.
It said, “Religious tensions (under Modi) intensified, and genderand caste-based discrimination and violence remained pervasive. Censorship and attacks on freedom of expression by hardline Hindu groups grew. Scores of artists, writers and scientists returned national honours in protest against what they said was a climate of growing intolerance. ”
The report said that Narendra Modi had failed to prevent hundreds of incidents of communal violence, usually involving members of the Hindu majority pitted against Muslims or other minorities. Instead, ruling party lawmakers and politicians were fueling religious tensions with provocative speeches and justifications for the violence, it said.
Amnesty’s report comes a week after Human Rights Watch slammed Modi on its handling of JNU row.
This report will give credence to the dozens of intellectuals, historians, film-makers and historians, who had returned awards last year in protest against the rising religious intolerance in India.
While returning their honours, they blamed Modi for remaining silent while members of his government and party ran vitriolic anti-minority campaigns.
Communal violence on the rise
Authorities failed to prevent hundreds of incidents of communal violence across the country. Some politicians contributed to religious tensions by making speeches justifying discrimination and violence. At least four Muslim men were killed in attacks by mobs which suspected them of stealing, smuggling or slaughtering cows.
In September, a commission investigating communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh state, in 2013 submitted a report which journalists said blamed members of political parties, police and senior administrative officials. In February, the government formed a team to reinvestigate closed cases related to the 1984 Sikh massacre and file charges. The team’s term was extended for a year in August. At least eight people were killed in ethnic clashes in Manipur state over demands for regulating the entry of non-domicile people into the region, and the enactment of laws affecting the rights of Indigenous people.
Freedom of Expression
Laws which did not meet international standards on freedom of expression were used to persecute human rights defenders and others. In January, two activists were arrested in Kerala for possessing “pro-Maoist” literature. In October, a Dalit folk singer was arrested in Tamil Nadu for writing songs criticizing the state government and Chief Minister.
In March, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as being vague and overly broad. The law had been used to prosecute people for legitimately exercising their right to free speech online. In August, the Maharashtra state government issued a circular on how India’s sedition law must be applied, suggesting that criticism of a government representative would amount to sedition. It withdrew the circular in October.
In December, an MP introduced a bill in Parliament seeking revision of the sedition law. There were several instances of intimidation and attacks against journalists, authors, artists and human rights defenders by religious and caste-based groups. Two rationalist writers were killed in attacks thought to be related to their criticism of religious intolerance and idolatry. In July, the government argued before the Supreme Court that privacy was not a fundamental right under the Constitution. In September, authorities proposed – and withdrew after facing opposition – a draft encryption policy which would have threatened free expression and privacy.
Authorities restricted access to internet services on several occasions, including in Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir states, on grounds of public order.
Violence against women
Although nearly 322,000 crimes against women, including over 37,000 cases of rape, were reported in 2014, stigma and discrimination from police officials and authorities continued to deter women from reporting sexual violence. A majority of states continued to lack standard operating procedures for the police to deal with cases of violence against women. In over 86% of reported rape cases, the survivors knew the alleged offenders. Statistics released in August showed that nearly 123,000 cases of cruelty by husbands or relatives were reported in 2014. In March, the central government announced that it was considering allowing for the withdrawal of a complaint of cruelty if a compromise is reached between the parties.
In July, a committee appointed to evaluate the status of women made key recommendations on prevention, protection and access to justice for women and girls facing violence. Among other recommendations, it urged the government to make rape within marriage a criminal offence, introduce a special law on honour crimes, and not dilute laws relating to cruelty by husbands. In December, the government stated in Parliament that it intended to amend the Penal Code to criminalize marital rape. Caste-based village bodies continued to order sexually violent punishments for perceived social transgressions. Discrimination and violence against women from marginalized communities remained widespread, but reporting and conviction rates were low.
Excesses by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir
In Jammu and Kashmir state, armed groups threatened mobile phone operators and attacked mobile towers and telecom offices in May, June and July, killing two people. In September, unidentified gunmen killed a three-year-old boy and his father in Sopore. The same month, the bodies of four armed group members suspected to have been killed by rival groups were found in the state.
In July, armed group members attacked a police station and bus station in Gurdaspur, Punjab state, killing three civilians. In August, the government announced a peace agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah faction) armed group, which civil society groups said could improve the human rights situation in Nagaland state and parts of northeast India
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
Human rights defenders, journalists and protesters continued to face arbitrary arrests and detentions. Over 3,200 people were being held in January under administrative detention on executive orders without charge or trial. Authorities also continued to use “anti-terror” laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other statespecific laws which do not meet international human rights standards.
In April, the state government of Gujarat passed an anti-terror bill containing several provisions which violated international standards. The bill was pending approval by the President in December. Similar laws remained in force in Maharashtra and Karnataka states.