INDIA: Human rights a utopia without justice 

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011

The state of human rights in a country is directly proportional to the extent of justice achieved in that jurisdiction. Justice is not a physically quantifiable concept. It is “truth in action” as held by Benjamin Disraeli, depicted by the Dharma Chakra, and reiterated by the phrase Satyameva Jayate. Justice is a perception or notion that is visible in the day-to-day functioning of the justice delivery institutions. The failure of these institutions adversely affects the level of respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. It is a universal rule, and India is no exception.

The Gujarat High Court on 1 December made the most recent reflection of the state of justice in India. Commenting on one of the vital institutions of the justice delivery framework, the police, the High Court said that the “police cannot be relied upon”, that ” the institution has failed to instil confidence among the public” and that lack of trust is a feature common among officers of all ranks. A scathing remark about an institution in countries where the courts are respected would require the government to take drastic steps to correct the mistake. In India however, not only anything followed to correct the ‘court certified’ image of the police, but also it is an awful truth that it was not the first occasion where the Indian courts have made such serious adverse remarks about the law enforcement agencies.

The extent of wilt and demoralisation within the law enforcement agencies is reflected in the widespread use of torture. These cases of torture reported by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) from India illuminates alarming patterns, confirming accusations about the Indian police, that torture is used not just for criminal investigation, but also for extraction of bribes and at the behest of the ruling elite. In that law enforcement agencies in the country have reduced themselves to become a commodity available for a price, read bribe and favours, and is nothing more than a uniformed criminal gang paid by the exchequer.

Despite this, there is no legal framework in the country that prescribes an investigative, punitive and adjudicating architecture to deal with the terrible menace of custodial violence that Indians are ill fated to live with today. The government-sponsored Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 is nothing but a farcical attempt to hood wink the international community, an opinion expressed in implied terms by none other than the Parliamentary Select Committee that reviewed the Bill.

It is however just not in the practice of torture that the state of human rights in India is reflected. The continuing and despicable practice of caste-based discrimination and the alarming number of deaths reported from India – of children, men and women – who died out of sheer starvation and hunger in a country poised to declare itself as ‘developed’ by 2020, paints a picture of deceit practiced by Indians upon Indians.

Malnutrition and hunger is not due to extreme weather or climatic conditions. It is the capital result of ultimate neglect, or organised lawlessness in India. Implementation of programmes to reduce starvation and malnutrition appear to be left to the vigil of the Supreme Court appointed Commissioners and their State Advisors. Neither the state governments nor the union government has taken any affirmative and effective step to address the issue in this year. No political party in the country has taken up this issue beyond the their election campaigns and promises, or other than using a case of death from starvation for political mileage and to sling dirt at rival political camps. The much awaited National Food Security Law is still debated in the parliament. In the meanwhile the dead body of a malnourished person has more value than the person itself, to be denied and disposed off by the bureaucracy and to be thrown at the government by those who claim as a political opposition.

The human skeletons shrouded in wrinkled skin, with bronze coloured hair – a typical symptom of starvation and malnutrition – and the blown-up bellies of children, a common sight in the rural backdrops of at least five states in the country, beyond posing the shameful question to the country’s conscience as to what does the word ‘rights’ mean in India, also underscores that humanity is dead in the country.

What does justice mean to a person who died from starvation in a country that host Formula 1 races? What does administration represent in a country where an alarmingly high proportion of food grains intended for the consumption of the poor are leaked to the black-market? Had there been any improvement, it should have been reflected at least in the number of cases registered under the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. Today, conditions are such in at least two districts of West Bengal, 24 North Parganas and Murshidabad, that parents are willing to sell their children to pimps for as less as Rs. 1500 to etch a living.

Diminutive value of life is what reflects in the continuing use of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. The caution required before taking the life of a citizen under this law is as little as the time required for a frustrated and petrified security officer to pull the trigger at the mere sight of a native living in the regions where this draconian law is enforced. The conversation of the dead from the unmarked graves is nothing but the cry for justice. There is no law in the history of independent India that has brought immeasurable misery to a large number of people that the total number of lives this law has taken should far exceed the number of lives lost to the colonisers. Yet the government is of the view, that at the most, what is possible is to bring cosmetic changes to this draconian law, allegedly to make it ‘more humane’. Impunity and humanity cannot go together.

The 2011 Annual Human Rights Report on India by the AHRC analyses the above issues and their impact upon human rights in India. The report is available online at the AHRC website.

According to the AHRC, what is visible in India today is organised lawlessness. Many in India would call this ‘gross exaggeration’, including some of the country’s media and definitely its government. But those who would want to verify this opinion, should travel, as ordinary Indians, into the wilderness of the India’s distant villages, into Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir where there is no guarantee to life and security and the very persons who are mandated to protect Indians hurt them; into 24 North Parganas in West Bengal or Koraput in Orissa and see how Indians sleep with empty stomachs, into any police station in the country and try getting a complaint registered without risking of being humiliated or assaulted.

India is not just what is externally visible in New Delhi or other of its shining cities, cleaned often at the expense of the Dalits. There is larger India which millions of poor Indians consider as their home. That India is different from what the government would want the country to be looked at.

In that India ‘sovereignty is nothing more than organised robbery’, since there, justice is yet to make an appearance. For those who live in that India, human rights is a utopia.