Every year, the international NGO ‘Human Rights Watch’, does a summary of key human rights events and violations in every country across the world. We glanced through the 2017 Report on India and our disregard for human rights is almost embarrassing (because dignity is fundamental to human rights). Even though the Government and law-enforcement agencies are meant to uphold human rights, this report indicates that they’re the guiltiest of violating them. Why?
…Because it conflicts with the majority will
In a country like India, the path taken by the masses is the one with least resistance, and one on which human rights take sideline. In June, the West Bengal Government made Bengali (the most widely spoken language of the state) mandatory in schools, triggering backlash from non-Bengali speakers. As protests between Bengali and non-Bengali speakers took a violent turn, state officials did little to mitigate aggression against the minority. Right To Life and Freedom of Expression was treated as an obstacle to the vision of the majority will, and for those who disagreed with the agenda, they’d face the consequences.
…Because you can’t do or say anything you want to
Whether it is celebrating Pakistan winning a cricket match or calling out politicians for misdemeanors, it’s not allowed. Even though lawfully, ‘sedition’ must involve violence or inciting violence, Madhya Pradesh arrested 15 Muslims on sedition charges for partying after Pakistan won an India-Pak cricket match simply because they were disturbing “communal harmony”. The Government even cancelled the foreign funding license of an NGO for “portraying India’s human rights record in negative light”. Clearly restrictions and crackdowns by the Government are “neither legal nor objective”, said India’s National Human Rights Commission.
…Because some people are better than others
In 2017, over 40 people died from the inhuman practice of “manual scavenging”. This is a process through which people from supposedly “lower castes” are eliminated from society (or in this particular case, “disposed” off by trapping them in toxic sewage lines). Despite this horrific practice being prevalent in India for centuries, the Government – equally to blame for these human rights atrocities – has not yet written laws that ban the practice.
…Because laws are meaningless (or inadequate)
Yes there are rules in place that protect human rights, like the Supreme Court directive that makes Army officials committing crimes against civilians culpable. But the law isn’t observed, and the Army continues to be one of the biggest abusers of human rights in India. Even in cases where the law exists, it is either unfair or falls short of making any real difference. The Supreme Court rolled back what it considered the “abuse” of India’s anti-dowry law, making it mandatory for complaints to be verified by members of civil society. Ironically, this is the same society that practices of dowry exist in the first place. And even though the Courts called the Right To Privacy inexplicably linked to LGBTQ rights, homosexuality has not yet been decriminalized.
…Because it’s not illegal
To say that laws against misdemeanors by Indian public officials are lax is an understatement. In June, a woman died in a Mumbai prison after prison staff allegedly beat and raped her. The public was furious but police reforms are nowhere on the horizon. Even amongst security forces, there is little or no accountability. 5 Army personnel were given life sentences for extrajudicial killings in J&K, but these too were suspended a few years later.
…Because it’s the victims fault
Let’s talk about the beef ban. Fights over cow slaughter and beef consumption have broken out regularly since the beef ban in 2015, the most horrific of which was the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq. But the police, instead of taking legal action against the instigators and attackers, it regularly delivers the punishment to the victim. Girls and women who’ve been raped still have to undergo humiliating “two-finger” tests as part of their testimony, so that they can be judged by medical professionals about whether the victim was “habituated to sex.”
Even if these human rights are not violated directly by the State, the State is the custodian of our basic rights, and it is the States role to go through great lengths to defend and protect them. If it does not – and the instances of rights violations above only prove that – they are equally, if not more, to blame.