By Zukhruf Amin
The forty-first session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group is underway at Geneva. The ongoing session marks the commencement of the fourth cycle of the UPR, during which fourteen states will undergo a review of their human rights record through a unique process. This year, India is one of the states to be reviewed by the UPR Working Group. India’s first, second and third UPR reviews took place in 2008, 2012 and 2017.
Taking a look at India’s human rights record over the years, a new wave of suppression against the minorities is unleashed in India, since Modi came to power in 2014. A steep rise in human rights violations against its minorities, particularly Muslims, is observed under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The Modi’s regime has overseen systematic human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence perpetuated against Muslim women, targeting of journalists, and detention of human rights defenders through the use of repressive security laws, etc. The systematic rise in human rights abuses have been called into question by the human rights organizations. With regards to the information provided by the National Human Rights Commission, India (NHRC) to the UPR Working Group, it stated that “there was no anti-conversion law in India, and that everyone was free to profess and propagate the religion of their choice. Inter-communal violence was dealt with by law enforcement agencies”. However, the facts on the ground present the dark side of the so-called world’s largest democracy.
Several human rights defenders and organizations have voiced concerns about the never-ending cycle of human rights abuses that have been taking place in India over recent years. On August 13, 2022, the Himachal Pradesh Assembly passed the Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 – a more stringent version of the existing anti-religious conversion law passed in 2019. It is noteworthy that existing laws in approximately one-third of India’s 28 states, limit or prohibit religious conversion. Amnesty International reported that in April 2021, stringent amendments were made to an anti-conversion law in the state of Gujarat. The amendments call for punishing religious conversion with up to 10 years in prison, and nullifying the marriages of those who have converted. Furthermore, there have also been a sharp rise in violent attacks against the religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. In October 2022, violent mobs attacked mosques and incinerated properties of Muslim residents. Owing to the appalling situation, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended to the U.S. Government to “designate India as a country of particular concern, or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.
Moreover, the current trends in India are also abysmal for the women. Despite ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1993 – that is legally binding and requires periodic reporting, India has raised reservations at the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW). At the 58th session of the CEDAW in 2014, India claimed that “violence against women is not widespread, which brought on palpable — and at times audible — discontent among the civil society representatives present in the room”. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in its report Crime in India 2021 highlighted, that the number of rape cases in 2020 was 28, 046, while it was 32, 033 in 2019. Further highlighting the realities on ground, it was reported that overall 4, 28,278 cases of crimes against women were filed across the country in 2021 alone – that makes an average of 86 cases on daily basis and almost 49 cases of violence against women every single hour.
With special regards to Kashmir, in the post-August 2019 period, the conditions have worsened. The Indian security forces have been engaged in extrajudicial killings or fake encounter killings, or custodial killings. In October 2022, the security forces killed almost 14 people including 6 custodial killings, and arrested 47 civilians. In June 2022, the Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also expressed concerns over “alleged arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists covering the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.” The Organization for World Peace (OWP) highlighted that the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, provide security forces immunity from prosecution over human rights abuses. Similarly since 2017, in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populated state, under its Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the UP police carried out at least 146 extra-judicial killings. UP is considered the epicenter of police killings since BJP came to power. These are flagrant human rights violations that have gone unpunished in India, as a consequence of investigations carried out by the police officers who were involved in the atrocious crimes themselves and inaction on part of the government and NHRC. Youth for Human Rights Documentation (YHRD) reported that in most of the cases of police killings, “NHRC and oversight mechanisms such as magisterial inquiries have failed to identify these violations of law and have ignored factual contradiction”.
The various recommendations made by different entities to the Working Group, including enactment of a national anti-torture law which will “investigate crimes of torture in India”, and amending the statute of the NHRC to “empower it to investigate human rights violations by law enforcement agencies and prison authorities and make its findings and recommendations for prosecution legally binding”, are justified on the basis of the human rights abuses underway in India. However, as a matter of fact, the inherent drive of achieving a Great India, spearheaded by Modi and unified under the radical Hindutva ideology, is aimed towards the greatness described in Mahabharta. The unabated human rights violations have led to the decline in social fabric of the Indian society – transforming it from a secular state to a solely Hindu state. The BJP has been supporting Hindu radicalism, supremacy and ultra-nationalism, under the façade of rights for all citizens. It has strengthened the right-wing political parties, wings, and groups, which have created a caste-based agitation – the target of which is minorities especially the Muslims. In this scenario, unfortunately, the Modi’s regime has sided with the radicals; facilitating them in their inhumane activities. Due to its colossal economic and military presence, the international community has also failed to hold India responsible. The UN, therefore, should come forward in enforcing sanctions on India and its terrorist outfits. The human rights abuses must be put to an end, by all means, that should be applied to force India to protect its minorities, particularly the Muslims.
The writer is working as a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad. She tweets @ZukhrufAmin