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India’s Shame & Human Rights – A Tale of Barbarity

Posted by yourpakistan on December 11, 2012


HUMAN-RIGHTS-VIOLATIONS-AGAINST-MINORITIES-IN-INDIA

PKKH Exclusive| by Hasan Qureshi

This 10th of December the world celebrates Human Rights Day. However, this goes in vain, as there are millions in India who suffer in silence. They are ignored because the Indian establishment and government hides its shame and their plight from the international community by institutionalized censorship of the media and by investing heavily in a ‘make India look glossy’ campaign sprayed over the world airwaves. From Kashmir to the Bengal, there are dozens of minorities who are oppressed daily in a systematic and bloodthirsty Hindu rampage of terror.

 

Racism inherent in the ‘upper caste’, deprives millions of ‘lower caste’ Hindus of their basic needs, reducing them to little more than slaves. Kashmir is in virtual lockdown with more than 700,000 Indian troops raping, pillaging and murdering a whole population. The Sikhs of the Punjab are denied their freedom to practice their religion openly with many forced into exile. Communal violence in Gujarat is being sponsored by ministers in the ruling parties; meaning a free hand to the thugs and gangsters of extremist groups to wantonly murder Muslims and Christians. Police brutality in Bihar and Jharkhand against the Maoist political movement has meant the torture and enforced disappearances of thousands of young men, leaving their families destitute. Lax laws for the support of women’s rights means millions of young girls are denied education with many forced into prostitution, forced underage marriages and treated as house slaves. And those who speak out against this injustice are put on farce trials or simply executed by the country’s intelligence agencies. The figures for India’s genocide-thirst for blood are compelling enough, but the stories of the deprived millions are heart-breaking. India has denied its international obligations, its duty to its people and has lost all sense of morality. It can no more hide behind its fake veneer of being the ‘largest democracy’ in the world, when it is now the largest state-sponsor of genocide.

The Constitution of India provides for Fundamental Rights for all, which include freedom of religion. Clauses also provide for Freedom of Speech, as well as the separation of the executive and the judiciary and freedom of movement within the country and abroad. However, these basic laws of humanity are seldom followed, and if they are, they only apply to the privileged classes. In its report on human rights in India during 2011, Human Rights Watch stated that India had “significant human rights problems”. They identified the lack of accountability for security forces and impunity for abusive policing including “police brutality, extrajudicial killings, religiously motivated genocide and torture” as major problems. Furthermore, an independent United Nations expert in 2012 expressed concern that she found human rights workers and their families who “have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In this exclusive analysis for PKKH, we lift the veil of lies and give you a comprehensive picture of the human rights situation in India as its stands today.

Crimes against Women

Women in India are seen as no more than house slaves, and are treated as such and the government has not attempted to actively protect their rights. Though the practice of Sati (ritual burning of women) was formally abolished in 1829, Human Rights Watch indicates that in rural India, more than 17,000 women a year are forced into self-immolation during their husbands’ funerals. Examples of impunity for men who commit violence on women are common. On 9 July 2012, in Guwahati city, the capital city of the Indian state Assam, a teenage girl was allegedly molested and manhandled by a crowd of approximately 30 people outside a bar because she ‘was dressed in Western clothes’. State government officials attempted to cover up the issue and little action was taken.

Bride-buying is an old practice in many regions in India. Bride-purchasing is common in states like Haryana, Jharkhand and Punjab. According to CNN-IBN, many underage women, as young as 11, are “bought, sold, trafficked, raped and married off without consent” across India. Bride-purchases are usually outsourced from Bihar, Assam, and West Bengal. The price of the bride (locally known as ‘paros’ in Jharkhand), if bought from the sellers, may cost between 4,000 to 30,000 Indian rupees, the equivalent of US$88 to US$660. The parents of the girls are normally paid an average of 500 to 1,000 Indian rupees (around US$11 to US$22). The need to buy a bride is because of the low ratio of girls to boys. Such a low ratio, in turn, was caused by the preference by most Indian parents to have sons instead of daughters, thus female foeticide. In 2006, according to BBC News, there were around 861 women for every 1,000 men in Haryana; and the national ratio in India as a whole was 927 women for every 1,000 men. The women are not only purchased as brides or wives but also to work as farm workers or house-help – slave labour. Most women become “sex slaves” or forced labourers who are later resold to human traffickers to defray the cost.

The Thomas Reuters Foundation survey says that India is the second most dangerous place in the world for women to live in as women belonging to any class, caste or creed and religion can be victims of cruel forms of violence and disfigurement, premeditated crimes intended to kill or maim permanently to act as a lesson to ‘put her in her place.’ In India, acid attacks on women who dared to refuse a man’s proposal of marriage or asked for a divorce are a form of revenge. Acid is cheap and easily available and is the quickest way to destroy a woman’s life. The number of acid attacks has been rising in India and there have been 968 reported acid attacks in the state of Karnataka alone since 1999. Most of the female victims suffer more because of police apathy in dealing with cases of harassment as that of a safety issue as they refuse to register a police case despite the victim being attacked twice or thrice before meriting police aid after an acid attack. One such incident was that of Sonali Mukherjee, where the perpetrators were granted bail after being sentenced to nine years of jail. Thereafter, when her family approached the High Court and legislators in search of justice, all she got in return was assurances and “nothing else”. The perpetrators got away scot-free.

Indian acid attack survivor Shirin Juwaley founded the Palash Foundation to help other survivors with “psycho-social rehabilitation”; but in 2011, the principal of an Indian college under orders from the Government refused to have Juwaley speak at her school for fear that Juwaley’s story of being attacked by her husband would make students “become scared of marriage”. Tom O’Neill of National Geographic reported that acid throwing is also used to enforce the caste system in modern India.

Violence against Sikhs

State sponsored violence against the Sikh minority in India has been on-going since the early 1980’s when a peaceful freedom movement was started by the religious community, mainly in Punjab, for a separate homeland for the Sikhs. This peaceful demand was to protect the Sikh community from a Hindu dominated government in Delhi which was eating its rights. However, in 1984, Indira Ghandi launched Operation Blue Star, where 10,000 Indian Army stormed and attacked one of the most holiest of places for Sikhs – the Golden Temple in Amritsar – massacring more than 500 innocent civilians and passing them off as ‘terrorists’. Subsequent Indian government propaganda riled Indian Army soldiers and Hindu extremist groups to go on a killing rampage in Anti-Sikh riots resulting in the extra judicial killings of more than 4,000 innocent Sikh civilians. From 1984 till the present day, no proper investigation has been conducted into this genocide (now more than 19,000 killed) and the disappearances and murder continues to this day. In 2005 Jaswant Singh Khalra, who had brought to light the extrajudicial disappearances in Punjab, was kidnapped by the Punjab Police and murdered.

Violence against Muslims

Violence against India’s Muslim minority has traditionally centred on the occupied region of Kashmir. The Kashmiri people’s demand for self-determination has led the Indian government to turn the area into a militarized prison. The abuses range from mass killings, forced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. The Indian central reserve police force, border security personnel and various militant groups have been accused but rarely held accountable for committing severe human rights abuses against Kashmiri civilians. A WikiLeaks issue accused India of systemic human rights abuses. It stated that US diplomats possessed evidence of the apparent widespread use of torture by Indian police and security forces. A US state government finding reports that the Indian army in occupied Jammu and Kashmir has carried out extrajudicial killings of innocent civilians and suspected ‘insurgents.’

Thousands of Kashmiris are reported to be killed in custody of Indian security forces, as routine matter. Extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances and human rights violations are said to be carried out by Indian security forces under total impunity. Civilians including women and children have been killed in “reprisal” attacks by Indian security forces; and as a “collective punishment”, villages and neighbourhoods have been burnt down and women systematically raped.

International NGOs as well as the US State Department have documented human rights abuses including disappearances, torture and arbitrary executions carried out during India’s occupying operations. The United Nations has expressed serious concerns over the large number of killings by Indian security forces. Human Rights Watch has also accused the Indian security forces of using child soldiers as spies, messengers and human shields.

In July 1990, the Indian Armed Forces were given special powers under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that gives protection to Indian Armed Forces personnel from being prosecuted. The law provides them a shield when committing human rights violations and has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as being wrongly used by the forces. This law is widely condemned by human rights groups.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay has urged India to repeal the AFSPA and to investigate the disappearances in Kashmir;

“All three special laws in force in the state assist the government in shielding the perpetrators of human rights violations from prosecution, and encourage them to act with impunity. Provisions of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act clearly contravene international human rights standards laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as members of the UN Human Rights Committee have pointed out. One Committee member felt that provisions of the act — including immunity from prosecution — were highly dangerous and encouraged violations of the right to life“.

—A clipping from a report published by the Amnesty International, 2009.

Torture, widely used by Indian security forces, the severity described as beyond comprehension by Amnesty International, has been responsible for the huge number of deaths in custody. The Telegraph, citing a WikiLeaks report, quotes the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as saying that Indian security forces were physically abusing detainees by beatings, electrocutions and sexual interference. These detainees weren’t ‘Islamic fighters’ or ‘Pakistani-backed insurgents’ but civilians, in contrast to India’s continual allegations of Pakistani involvement.

Amnesty International accused the security forces of exploiting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that enables them to “hold prisoners without trial”. The group argues that the law, which allows security forces to detain individuals for as many as two years “without presenting charges, violated prisoners’ human rights”.

The Special Operations Group was raised in 1994 to terrorize the Kashmiri population. A volunteer force, mainly after promotions and cash rewards, comprising Hindu police officers from the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the group is accused of torture and custodial killings of innocent civilians and then passing them off for militants to gain cash rewards from the Indian government.

Soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army, on 23 February 1991 launched a search operation in a village Kunan Poshpora, in the Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir and allegedly gang-raped 153 women of all ages. The Indian Army is also accused of other such violations of Human Rights such as the Bomai Killings of 2009, the Gawakadal massacre of 2006, the Kulgam massacre, the Sopore massacre and the Zakoora and Tengpora Massacres of 1990. Indian Army units did not even spare the health care system of the valley, with soldiers massacring patients in hospitals. On 22 October 1993, the 13th Battalion of the Border Security Forces arbitrarily fired on a crowd killing 92 civilians in Bijbehara. Amnesty International reported that at least 600 were wounded on the same day.

According to the Srinagar-based Association of Parents of Displaced Persons (APDP), a minimum of 21,000 people have disappeared since 1992. Hundreds of civilians including women and children have been reported to be extra-judicially executed by Indian security forces and the killings were concealed as fake encounters. Despite government denial, Indian security officials have reportedly confessed to Human Rights Watch of widespread occurrences of fake encounters and the encouragement they receive through awards and promotions. According to a BBC interview with an anonymous security person, ‘fake encounter’ killings are those in which security personnel kill someone in cold blood while claiming that the casualty occurred in a gun battle. It also asserts that the security personnel are predominantly brought in from outside the state and are Hindu.

All sectors of the Indian security forces have been implicated in numerous reports for the enforced disappearances of thousands of Kashmiris where the security forces deny having their information and/or custody. This is often in association with torture or extrajudicial killing. The numbers of men who have disappeared have been so many so as to have coined a new term – “half-widows” – for their wives who end up impoverished. Human rights activists estimate the number of the disappeared over twenty thousand, last seen in government detention. These are believed to be dumped in thousands of mass graves across Kashmir. These mass graves have been identified all over Kashmir by human rights activists, believed to contain bodies of thousands of Kashmiri victims of enforced disappearances. A state human rights commission inquiry confirmed that there are thousands of bullet-ridden bodies buried in unmarked graves in Jammu and Kashmir. Of the 5,460 bodies uncovered in 4 of the 14 districts, 5,310 bodies were identified as missing locals in contrast to the Indian government’s insistence that all the graves belong to foreign ‘militants.’ According to a new deposition submitted by Parvez Imroz and his field workers, they asserted that the total number of unmarked graves was about 14,000. The British parliament commented on the recent discovery of over 14,000 unmarked graves and expressed its sadness and regret over the matter. Christof Heyns, a special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, has warned India that “all of these draconian laws had no place in a functioning democracy and should be scrapped.”

According to a recent report, 17,000 people, most of whom are women, have committed suicide during the last 20 years in the Valley. A study by Medecins Sans Frontieres concluded, “Women in Kashmir have suffered enormously since the separatist struggle in 1989-90. Like the women in other conflict zones, they have been raped, tortured, maimed and killed. Many of them were even jailed for years together. Kashmiri women are among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. Sexual violence has been routinely perpetrated on Kashmiri women, with 42.6% of respondents saying they were victims of sexual abuse.’’ At the beginning of the 1990’s there were 470 patients in the valley‘s sole mental hospital. The hospital is now overcrowded with more than 100,000 patients.

Violence against Muslims in India is not only perpetrated in Kashmir though; in 1987, the Hashimpura massacre occurred, when during communal riots in Meerut, 32 personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) rounded up 78 Muslim youth from the Hashimpura mohalla (locality) of the city, and took them in trucks to the outskirts, near Murad Nagar, in Ghaziabad district, where they were shot and their bodies were dumped in water canals. In 1992, the Babri Masjid, a holy site for Muslims, was demolished by Hindu mobs, resulting in riots across the country. 2002 saw some of the worst violence in Gujarat, chiefly targeting its Muslim minority, claiming the lives of 790 Muslims, the destruction of 523 mosques and 3 churches. Muslim-owned businesses suffered the bulk of the damage. 61,000 Muslims fled their homes, whilst 8,000 were arbitrarily arrested. The violence was sponsored by the state government and the perpetrators are still in power.

Violence against Christians

Anti-Christian violence in India, as is Anti-Muslim violence, is usually perpetrated by Hindu nationalists (RSS and Shiv Sena) with the support of the Indian government. The acts of violence include the arson of churches, re-conversion of Christians to Hinduism by force and threats of physical violence, distribution of threatening literature, burning of Bibles, raping of nuns, murder of Christian priests and the destruction of Christian schools, colleges, and cemeteries. According to some, the number of incidents of anti-Christian violence has multiplied since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grew in stature.

The 2008 wave of attacks against Christians in Karnataka includes attacks directed against Christian churches and prayer halls in Karnataka by the Bajrang Dal, with the ruling BJP government being accused of involvement. The violence started on 14 September 2008 when around 90 churches were vandalized in Mangalore, Udupi, Chikkamagaluru and in other districts of Karnataka. Minor violence was later reported from the border state of Kerala. Incidents of mob attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have been reported with increasing frequency in Karnataka. The attackers gather in gangs of 20 to 50 individuals to intimidate small groups of witnesses engaging in the peaceful Christian ministry that they are well known for. Some of the mobs threaten to murder and rape the witnesses.

In a well-publicised case, Graham Staines, an Australian Christian missionary was burnt to death along with his two sons Timothy (aged 9) and Philip (aged 7), while they were sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Orissa, in January 1999. He was running the Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj, an Australian missionary society. After Staines’ murder, an outbreak of violence started on 24 December 2007 at Bamunigam village of Kandhamal District. Many Hindu activists forcefully removed Christians from their homes, setting them on fire. The violence later spread to 300 villages in the state, resulting in 4,400 burnt houses and 50,000 becoming homeless. 247 people were killed, whilst 18,000 were injured.

In 1997, in Gujarat, 22 churches were burnt or destroyed, and another 16 damaged. Recently, there has been a sharp increase in violent attacks on Christians. A Hindu group claims to have converted 2,000 tribal Christians to Hinduism. The attackers had vandalized places of worship and thus caused strike terror among the tribals. The victims say they have no hope for any justice from the Indian government.

Violence against the ‘lower castes’

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, “Dalits and indigenous people (known as adivasis) continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of communal violence. Laws and policies adopted by the Indian government provide a basis for protection, but are not being faithfully implemented by local authorities.” The UN stated in 2011 that the caste system of India would be declared a human rights abuse. The UN’s Human Rights Council is expected to ratify draft principles which recognise the scale of persecution suffered by 65 million ‘untouchables’ or ‘Dalits’ who carry out the most menial and degrading work, however, pressure from India is hampering this.

Amnesty International says “it is the responsibility of the Indian government to fully enact and apply its legal provisions against discrimination on the basis of caste and descent.” Indigenous tribes of India, along with many nomadic tribes, collectively number 60 million in population; and continue to face social stigma and economic hardships, despite the fact that the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 was repealed by the government in 1952 and replaced by the Habitual Offenders Act (HOA) 1952. But it effectively only created a new list out of the old list of so-called “criminal tribes.” These tribes, even today, face the consequences of the ‘Prevention of Anti-Social Activity Act’ (PASA), which only adds to their everyday struggle for existence as most of them live below the poverty line. The National Human Rights Commission and the UN’s anti-discrimination body, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) have asked the government to repeal this law as well, as these former “criminalized” tribes continue to suffer oppression and social ostracization at large and many have been denied SC, ST or OBC status, denying them access to reservations which would have elevated their economic and social status.

Widespread use of torture by Police

The Asian Centre for Human Rights estimated that between 2002 and 2008, over nine people per day died while in police custody, with “thousands” of those deaths being due to police use of torture. According to a report written by the Institute of Correctional Administration in Punjab, up to 80% of police officers in the state have used physical or mental abuse on prisoners. Instances of torture through a lack of sanitation, space, or water, have been documented in the rest of the country as well.

Freedom of expression

According to the estimates of ‘Reporters Without Borders’, India ranked 122nd worldwide in 2010 on the press freedom index (down from 105th in 2009). The Press Freedom index for India was 38.75 in 2010 (29.33 for 2009) on a scale that runs from 0 (most free) to 105 (least free).

The Indian Constitution provides for “the right to freedom of speech and expression” (Article 19 (1) a). However, this right is subject to restrictions under sub clause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence“. Laws such as the Official Secrets Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) have been used to limit press freedom. Under POTA, a person could be detained for upto six months before the police were required to bring charges on allegations for terrorism-related offenses. POTA was repealed in 2004, but was replaced by amendments to UAPA.

For the first half-century of independence, media control by the state was the major constraint on press freedom. Indira Gandhi famously stated in 1975 that All India Radio is “a Government organ, it is going to remain a Government organ for state propaganda…” With the liberalization starting in the 1990s, private control of media has burgeoned, leading to increasing demands for press freedom, whilst the government is cracking down even more harshly on media freedoms.

The above are only a sample of the myriad of human rights abuses committed in India daily, mostly with the consent of the state. Other issues include blatant sexism; one of the highest numbers of rapes worldwide, domestic violence, endemic corruption, multi-form racism, violence against tourists, internet censorship, and the prevention of universal suffrage and electoral fraud.

The Indian government has failed to hold rights violators accountable or to carry out effective policies to protect vulnerable communities. The government is yet to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act allowing soldiers to operate with impunity. It has not reformed the police despite allegations of torture and unlawful killings. The government has not adopted measures to compensate rape victims and still endorses the humiliating “finger” test to investigate rape cases. “Honour killings,” dowry deaths, and sexual violence remain unsolved problems. Internationally, India let opportunities pass to support independent investigations into human rights abuses abroad during its tenure at the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council.

No matter how much is spent on advertising India as ‘the biggest democracy’, the lies cannot hide the reality that India is, and will remain, one of the harshest violators of human rights in the world, a state sponsor of genocide and a country built upon racism and apartheid.

Hasan Qureshi is a commentator on Human Rights, Defence and Foreign Affairs. He is currently reading Law & Politics at Essex. He can be reached at hzulfi@essex.ac.uk and tweets at @Hasan_QureshiPK

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