Qazi Mizan: International Human Rights Day is had been commemorated on December 10 across the globe with a commitment to uphold the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), ensuring basic human rights to all people. But India, despite being on the radar of global human rights bodies, for its systematic and gruesome policies against minorities especially Muslims and Kashmiris in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), is blatantly violating the human norms and international declarations.
Human Rights Watch in its latest report said that the India government adopted laws and policies that discriminated against religious minorities, especially Muslims. “This, coupled with vilification of Muslims by some BJP leaders and police failure to take action against BJP supporters who commit violence, emboldened Hindu nationalist groups to attack Muslims and government critics with impunity,” it said. The critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in India including activists, journalists, peaceful protesters, and even poets, actors, and businesses are increasingly risked politically motivated harassment, prosecutions, and tax raids. Indian authorities shut down rights groups using foreign funding regulations or allegations of financial irregularities. The Indian security forces have turned IIOJ&K into an open-air prison while the Indian minorities are facing saffron-junta-led terrorism and extremism with full backing of BJP leadership. These human rights abuses in IIOJK range from mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. Human Rights Watch in its report further said that five UN experts have raised concerns about “the repressive measures and broader pattern of systematic infringements of fundamental rights used against the local population, as well as of intimidations, searches and confiscations committed by national security agents.”
The Muslims in India are increasingly becoming victims of Hindutva terrorism as they have been portrayed as “children of invaders” whose ancestors exploited Hindus for centuries. On this pretext, their fundamental human rights, including life, liberty and freedom of expression, are denied and they’re regularly targeted for their beliefs.
In December 2019, Modi government introduced discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which excluded Muslims and allowed Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsi immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to get Indian nationality.
During Modi’s first term as prime minister, the cow vigilantes are also active as part of India’s violent polity. Since then, from 2014 onwards and during the seven years of his first and now in the second term, violence over the ownership and eating of cows has become such a norm that it is barely reported anymore.
Journalists in IIOJK faced increased harassment by the authorities, including raids and arrests on terrorism charges. In June, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concerns over “alleged arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists covering the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings in India persisted with the National Human Rights Commission registering 143 deaths in police custody and 104 alleged extrajudicial killings in the first nine months in 2021.
By September, the police had reportedly killed 27 people in alleged extrajudicial killings and injured 40 others in Assam. In a video shared on social media, police were seen beating the man after he was shot and a photographer hired by the local authorities stomping on the body of the injured man. The victims were Bengali-speaking Muslims, a community the BJP government has frequently vilified as “illegal Bangladeshis.”
The authorities continued to use section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which required government approval to prosecute police officials, to block accountability even in cases of serious abuses.
In March, the Gujarat state government refused to give permission to prosecute three police officials accused in the 2004 extrajudicial killing of a Muslim woman, Ishrat Jahan. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which remained in effect in IIOJK and several other Indian states, provided effective immunity from prosecution to security forces, even for serious human rights abuses. Hindu mobs beat up Muslims, often working-class men, with impunity while pro-BJP supporters filed baseless complaints against critics, especially religious minorities. Muslims are not the only victim of Hindutva terrorism, right-wing Hindu nationalist attacks against Christians are becoming increasingly frequent and are emboldened by a lack of accountability. The Christians are blamed for converting Hindus and the pattern of Christians’ persecution is often the same by stoking fears that these conversions were forceful, aimed at changing the character of India and the illegality of their places of worship. According to a report by human rights group, more than 300 attacks on Christians took place in the first nine months of this year, including at least 32 in Karnataka. The report found that of the total 305 incidents of anti-Christian violence, four north Indian states registered as many as 169 of them: 66 in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, 47 in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, 30 in tribal-dominated Jharkhand, and 30 in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. At least nine Indian states have planned anti-conversion laws, including Chhattisgarh, which, activists say, has emerged as a “new laboratory” for anti-Christian hatred in India. In October, over 200 men and women allegedly belonging to the BJP youth wing and affiliated Hindu nationalist groups Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal attacked a church in Uttarakhand state, vandalizing property and injuring several churchgoers. The attack came soon after the VHP allegedly threatened to demolish churches in Madhya Pradesh state’s Jhabua district, claiming they were doing illegal religious conversions. Hindu nationalist groups also attacked churches in Chhattisgarh state. Several states enacted or amended laws ostensibly to prevent forced religious conversions, but these laws have been largely used to target minority communities, particularly Christians, Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis.
Amnesty International, India in its finding demanded of the Indian authorities to take urgent steps for the protection of the people of IIOJK, and said that for decades, people of IIOJK had suffered from gross human rights violations and abuses. “The sheer impunity with which the human rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir have been systematically disregarded by Indian authorities must end if we are to fulfil the rights of victims and help ensure that such abuses against civilians are not repeated,” said Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India Board. The Hindu majority has been at odds with the Sikh minority since the British colonial era. Under operation Blue Star in 1984, Golden Temple was attacked which led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The assassination was a turning point in Indian history, as it led to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, which were conveniently labeled “riots” to take accountability away from the government’s involvement in inciting anti-Sikh rhetoric. India’s anti-Sikh policies and religious bias had inculcated in the Sikh minority to strive for their separate homeland, Khalistan. Recently, an overwhelming majority of Indian Sikh diaspora in the UK voted in favor of Khalistan in the wake of the referendum. The Khalistan referendum has sent a strong message to India to end discrimination against Sikhs and give them their birthright of freedom. Apart from that, Hindu Dalits, who are considered low caste in Hindu Dharam, also faced persecution at the hands of “superior” Hindus. They are denied access to education, health, inter-marriage and often pushed to seek low-grade jobs. Six international human rights groups said the Indian government should promptly adopt and act on the recommendations that United Nations member states made at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process on November 10, 2022. The groups are the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), CSW, International Dalit Solidarity Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. “The recommendations cover a range of key concerns including the protection of minority communities and vulnerable groups, tackling gender-based violence, upholding civil society freedoms, protecting human rights defenders, and ending torture in custody,” it was added. All UN member states participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, which examines their human rights record and proposes action to improve the human rights situations in their countries. During the periodic review, India’s fourth, 130 member states made 339 recommendations highlighting some of the most urgent human rights concerns in the country. Since its last review in 2017, India has undergone a serious regression in human rights under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At least 21 countries urged India to improve its protection of freedom of religion and rights of religious minorities, with several raising concerns over increasing violence and hate speech and the government’s adoption of discriminatory policies such as “anti-conversion” laws. Since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, it has taken various legislative and other actions that have made it lawful to discriminate against religious minorities, particularly Muslims, and enabled violent Hindu majoritarianism, the groups said. Twenty countries said that India should improve protection of freedom of expression and assembly, and create an enabling environment for civil society groups, human rights defenders, and media to do their work. Some of these countries expressed concerns over the use of the counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), against activists, journalists, and members of religious minority communities. Nineteen countries said that India should ratify the UN Convention against Torture, a treaty it signed in 1997 but never ratified. India said in both 2012 and 2017 UPR cycles that it remained committed to ratifying the treaty. But it hasn’t taken steps to fulfill its commitment even as torture and other ill-treatment continue to be used routinely by police and other security forces to gather information or coerce confessions. “Islamophobia is no longer a fringe sentiment in India. It has become a state-manufactured ideology. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made Islamophobia central to its program for harassing India’s 192 million Muslims and depriving them of their rights as Indian citizens,” the report said. Modi rose to power by inciting Hindus with his time-tested politics of communal polarization. Beginning in 2014, Modi spent his first term as Prime Minister dehumanizing Muslims by passing laws preventing cow slaughter, restricting Muslim immigration, and purportedly countering Islamist terrorism. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) annual report on India, there were over ninety religion-based hate crimes that resulted in thirty deaths in 2019 alone.