Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

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PREFACE

Reporting on human rights violations covering 27 States and three thematic issues – the right to freedom of expression, religious intolerance and National Human Rights Commission - of India is gigantic. It has never been prepared by any organisation or institution in India. The poor state of human rights in India is a common knowledge. It is reported 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. Yet, when information on human rights violations is documented, collated and analysed, the gruesome pictures of lawless law enforcement and human rights violations emerge.

Yet, India Human Rights Report 2005 covering the events from 1 January to 31 December 2004 has not been able to report on a range of issues which are extremely important. This is primarily because of the lack of adequate information or staffing to cover the events. While there are a large number of civil society groups working on the rights of the child, women empowerment and trafficking of women and children, our attention was also drawn to the conditions of the unheard people who were displaced by Tau Devi Lal Thermal Power Station in Haryana and Pong dam in Himachal Pradesh.

The violation of the right to life through brutal torture in custody or extrajudicial executions in alleged armed encounters is the most serious human rights violation. Hundreds of people  are killed in custody every year and the NHRC’s Annual Reports vouch it. The excessive powers given for arbitrary arrest and detention and non-implementation of the guidelines on arrest and detention as provided in the D K Basu judgement result in custodial death. Most victims of deaths in police custody seem to fall ill the moment they are taken into custody. Many are often conveniently made victims of suicide with strange objects like shoelaces. Suddenly, the detainees have access to poison in police custody. The doctors in violation of the medical ethics doctor the autopsy reports. Punishment for custodial killings is often mere transfer to the police lines and advice for retirement. High number of  deaths in police custody were reported from Chattisgarh and Punjab.

Extrajudicial executions are systematic in most of the armed conflict situations. Highest number of extrajudicial executions were reported from Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur. Since the Peoples Democratic Party – Congress came to power in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002, the State government ordered inquiries into 54 cases of human rights violations and by December 2004, only one case was resolved. In 2004, Manipur State government ordered eight judicial inquiries including the killing of Thangjang Manorama Devi but not a single report has been made public.

Disproportionate use of force especially fire-arms by the police while controlling crowds also causes violation of the right to life of a large number of persons. The non-implementation of the principles of “absolutely necessary”, a stricter and more compelling test of necessity, and “proportionality for the use of force” as provided in India’s Criminal Procedure Code and United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials is responsible for such blatant deprivation of the right to life. On 27 October 2004, four farmers were reportedly killed and at least 30 others injured in police firing in Gharsana tehsil in Sriganganagar district of Rajasthan. The State government of Andhra Pradesh has failed to take action on as many as 47 lock-up deaths and 732 incidents of police firing in which inquiries have been ordered since 1993.

Women and girls do not only suffer from domestic violence and other societal violence including honour killings and female foeticide, they are also specific target of both the armed opposition groups and security forces in internal armed conflict situations because of their gender. While the killing of Thangjang Manorama Devi of Manipur in July 2004 highlighted the abuses by the State security forces, the cutting of noses and ears of Mariam Begum by the alleged cadres of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir brought into focus the medieval and barbaric forms of torture perpetrated by the armed opposition groups.

Internal armed conflicts have led to displacement of over half a million persons in India respectively 150,000 in Assam; 262,000 in Jammu and Kashmir, 35,000 from Mizoram and about 50,000 in Tripura. While the Kashmiri Pandits were able to draw attention of both the Central and State governments, the other IDPs are openly discriminated despite being citizens of the country. The Kashmiri Pandit migrants have been living in accommodation provided by the government. They are also provided with monthly relief and free ration. In November 2004, the central government has also reportedly agreed in principle to release Rs 150 crore to set up two room sets for the Kashmiri migrant pandits living in different camps in Jammu. In comparison to Kashmiri pandits, the conditions of the 60,000 border migrants, who were forced to flee their homes along the India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir have been  deplorable. The apathy of the state government towards the plight of the border migrants was manifested from tortured to death of Chairman of Border Migrant Action Committee, Chajju Ram of Nikkian village in Khour block of tehsil Akhnoor in Jammu district on 2 March 2004 at Kot Ghari. While displaced Kashmiri Pandits receive Rs 750 per person, an adult Reang IDP in Tripura receives only Rs. 2.67 paise a day and a minor received half of it.

The conditions of the Dalits remain deplorable and they continue to be denied access to public places such as places of worship, water wells etc across India. If Dalits touch something, they need to be purified by washing with Ganga jal, water  of holy Ganges, or cow urine as was reportedly done at the Hanuman Temple of Allapur village in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh. Yet, rape of the untouchable women by the upper castes especially in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan is a common practice. Societal double standards, hypocrisy and impunity contribute to growing atrocities of the Dalits by the upper castes. Of the 4,084 cases of atrocities against Scheduled Castes recorded in Orissa from 1 March 2000 to 1 May 2004, charge sheets have been submitted in only 2,518 cases. While five persons have been convicted of such charges during 2000, four have been convicted in 2001 and one each in 2002 and 2003. Due to the unwilling of the State to deliver justice, impunity has been a common feature of the massacres of the Dalits whether at Kumher of Rajasthan on 6 June 1992 or at Laxmanpur Bathe of Bihar on 1 and 2 December 1997.

The Adivasis, indigenous peoples , who are also termed as Scheduled Tribes face discrimination in the administration of justice, land alienation, forced evictions etc. They have also been disproportionate victims of the development process undertaken in the country. Yet, nothing is more starkly clear than the fact that each monsoon (May-August), thousands of indigenous peoples die from Maharashtra to Tripura due to lack of medical facilities and malnutrition. Each year, only the statistics on the number of tribals’ death increase without any effective measures to ameliorate their conditions.

In a country where the Gross National Product depends on the agricultural sector that is totally dependent on the monsoon, the farmers have been facing tremendous difficulties. While hundreds have committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh, the Rajasthan government slapped National Security Act against Hetram Beniwal, Vallabh Kochher and Saheb Ram Punia of the Kisan Mazdoor Vyapari Sangarsh Samiti to suppress the movement of the farmers for more water.

Prison conditions remain poor whether in Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir. In Barmer district jail of Rajashthan, there were neither female staff to deal with female prisoners nor did female prisoners have separate provisions. Because of the lack of escorts to produce  before the courts, undertrials from Kerala to Jammu and Kashmir are denied access to justice. The condition of about 55 prisoners who have been lodged in jails at Bhagalpur, Gaya and Muzaffarpur of Bihar and awarded death sentence but there has been inordinate delay in the execution, remained the most pitiable.

The misuse of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002 requires little introduction. Though about 145 POTA detainees involved in 59 cases were released in June 2004 in Jharkhand because of the lack of evidence, many of the released POTA detainees continued to remain in prison under various offences filed under the Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Penal Code. Many are too poor to pay the bail bond money and have little access to legal aid. However, those police personnel who have knowingly abused POTA have been given complete impunity. 

About 15 States in India face internal armed conflict and human rights violations in these States remain a serious issue of concern. Undoubtedly, all the armed opposition groups have been responsible for violations of international humanitarian laws by indiscriminate killings of civilians, kidnapping, hostage taking, extortion and “passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples”. The killing of 17 innocent school children at Dhemaji district by the ULFA on 15 August 2004 is a clear example. What is most disconcerting is that the government also justifies impunity for human rights violations by the security forces in these armed conflict situations for keeping the socalled morale of the security forces.

Respect for human rights is the strongest weapon in the counter-insurgency operations or in the war against terror. The strength of any country claiming itself as “democratic” lies in upholding the supremacy of the judiciary and primacy of the rule of law. It requires putting in place effective criminal-law provisions to deter the commission of offences against the innocents and punishment for breaches of such provisions while exercising executive powers; and not in providing the arbitrary powers to the law enforcement personnel. To be truly democratic, India must decisively move away from the regime of sovereign immunity towards a regime of accountability.     

Suhas Chakma
Director, ACHR