UN Secretary General: A plea to bring up India's' human rights violations with Indian Govt

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Dear Secretary General,

 We write, as a group of concerned citizens, anxious about recent attacks against weaker sections and the undermining of democracy in India, and seek your kind intervention.

 You come to India at a particularly perilous time. Over the past four plus years, much of the strengths of Indian state and society- of liberal freedoms, democratic rights, social coexistence, and a national consensus to attain equality and equity between the many social groups through constitutional means- all strengths assiduously nurtured since Independence, are being undermined. The immediate victims of this undermining of the ‘Indian exceptionalism’, have been minorities (Muslims and Christians, Dalits and tribals, and women) and other marginalised groups, as well as HRDs, activists, lawyers, thinkers and writers, putting their lives on the line, in defence of the victims and of democracy and freedoms.

 The attacks against democracy and non-dominant groups represent both omissions and commissions by the state in India, controlled in the Centre and in 20 of the 29 provinces by the majoritarian-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Targeted violence against minorities and Dalits by extremist Hindutva groups, as well as hate speech by prominent Hindutva leaders, including senior BJP ministers, go unchecked and unpunished; and victims are denied the assurance of safety and security.

Equally, state institutions – police and para-military forces, investigation agencies and prosecutors, and judiciary, specifically the lower, as well as civil administrations, have been increasingly failing to uphold the rule of law when it comes to non-dominant groups, targeting minorities, and denying them freedoms, rights and opportunities, enshrined in the law. In specific cases, the laws themselves are being enacted such that they discriminate against marginalised groups,in favour of majoritarian concerns and powerful interests. Both enabling these state failures as well as an their outcome, is the increasingly narrowing of democratic space in India – freedoms of speech, press, and dissent, indeed free and fair elections itself. What the future holds for this great nation, is unsure.

 Almost all the issues mentioned below have been communicated to the OHCHR and various SRs’ within the UN. As India has not ratified many of the conventions and has not signed the optional protocols, complaint processes for the Indian civil society are limited.

 In your interactions with government representatives, we hope, you will raise these issues, ask state actors about the targeting of minorities and weaker sections, and press for  government to come clean on its track record of upholding democratic freedoms and protecting rights of minorities and other non-dominant groups.

Below are some specific examples of attacks against marginalised groups and democracy. 

 Targeted violence against religious minorities:

 Government statistics point to increased incidence of violence, and higher casualties, in the past years. Muslims suffered the brunt of this through cow related attacks, by so called ‘cow protection groups’, many working in coordination with state police.

 A civil society study counted, in Sept. '18, 62 incidents of killings mostly, by lynching and vigilantism, spread across 17 states, since 2014. Muslims have also been attacked in targeted mass violence, around festivals and national events, with significant loss of life and limb and property in specific states. Alongside, small-scale incidents of provocations, threats and attacks,including opportunistic ones, by Hindutva cadres on Muslim communities and their religious sites and practices, are increasingly being reported. Christians have similarly been targeted, with 2017 described in a civil society report, “one of the most traumatic” years for Indian Christians in a decade, after it recorded 351 verified incidents of hate crime against Christians during the year, up from 147 in 2014.

Some of the worst violence were reported from BJP ruled states where, according to civil society accounts, extremist Hindutva cadres have a free hand, with the police and administration either looking the other way, or complicit. Generally, ‘everyday’ violence against minorities, especially Muslims, by Hindutva outfits enjoying much impunity, has taken the place of 'episodic' ones of the past, signalling a normalisation of anti-minority violence in India.

 Violence against women

 Many of these attacks have been against minority women, with sexual violence increasingly being directed at Muslim women. At the same time, violence against dalit women, and women in general, persists, despite laws and structures newly in place, signifying the poor state commitment to making India safe for women. 

 Attacks and discrimination against Dalits

 Dalits are also seeing increased targeted violence by so-called upper caste groups affiliated to BJP and other Hindutva platforms. This is particularly so in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, as well as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, among others. And many rights that dalit groups have won, for reservations in public sector employment, for eg, are sought to be undermined. Alongside, practices such as manual scavenging, including in toxic sewage lines, that represent the worst of caste discriminations, continue despite laws in place against them, with several deaths reported over the past years, most recent in the national capital, Delhi on 10thSeptember, 2018.

 State targeting of religious and ethnic minorities and Dalits

 Minorities and so called ‘lower castes’ are also being targeted violently by state actors. A particular case is that of Uttar Pradesh, where state police under orders from its hard-line Hindutva BJP Chief Minister, have targeted Muslim and Dalit youth and dissenters disproportionally, in extra judicial executions, besides incarcerating them under extra-ordinary laws such as National Security Act(NSA) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Recently HRDs exposing the serious human rights violationsof minorities and dalits in the state, both civil and political (Parvez Parwaz) and socio-economic rights (Kafeel Khan), were reported to have been picked up by state police, in reprisal attacks. Commitment to establishing accountability for similar practices in states such as Manipur and Kashmir, also seemed to be waning, with SRs writing to Indian in July 2018, demanding speedy investigation into mass extra judicial executions in Manipur.  

 Attacks against HRDs, dissenters, thinkers and writers

 Attacks against HRDs, dissenters and journalists have been common elsewhere too. Gauri Lankesh, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dhabolkar, Kalburgi, all writers and thinkers that questioned Hindutva mindset and worldview, were murdered, and investigation is still slow going. These and others acts have had a chilling effect on journalists and dissenters. In May 2018, three UN Special rapporteurs called on India to act urgently to protect Rana Ayyub, another journalist known for exposing human rights violations, who had received death threats and slut-shaming.

 Minorities and NRC process in Assam

 Minorities, including religious and linguistic, have also been the subject of exclusions in Assam, potentially producing mass statelessness. The National Register of Citizens is being updated in the state, to exclude all those deemed not to make the citizenship criteria. A combination of discriminatory provisions (‘original inhabitants’), convoluted process (‘family tree’), discretionary and corrupt practices (choice of clinching documents and their verification), and lack of transparency and accountability, in the act of proving citizenship, has resulted in some 4 million applicants being excluded from the draft updated NRC. Several UN special procedures brought these to the attention of Government of India in June 2018, seeking assurances of fair play. Although an appeals process is underway, further procedural confusion, combined with attempts by the ruling BJP to amend the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, favouring wholesale nationalisation of non-Muslim immigrants, is further muddying waters, and increasing the uncertainty experienced by those on the line. 

 Other discriminatory laws and minorities

 Similar discriminatory laws in other contexts are either being enacted afresh or reinforced, with profound implications for minorities and other marginalised groups. These include cow protection laws in 24 of the 29 provinces;the central Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1980, as well as anti-conversion laws in place in 7 provinces, that evidence proves, enable mostly BJP-ruled state authorities to empower Hindutva outfits to target rights and freedoms of minorities, (to pursue productive livelihoods in the former and right to practice and profess faith, in the latter). And in Jharkhand and similar tribal belts, protection provided in law to indigenous communities over their land, forest resources and livelihoods, is being diluted, with recent changes to laws allowing real estate, mining and other corporate interests access to these resources at much lower thresholds.

 In your interactions with government representatives, we hope, you will raise these issues, ask state actors about the targeting of minorities and weaker sections, and press for  government to come clean on its track record of upholding democratic freedoms and protecting rights of minorities and other non-dominant groups.

 



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