INDIA: True democracy requires popular participation 

The AHRC is publishing its 2009 annual human rights report on India. A pre-publication version of the report can be downloaded at:

In the first week of November this year, the Director General of Police, Mr. Y. Joykumar Singh, of Manipur state publically admitted that 260 persons had been killed so far by the state agencies in that state this year. The officer added that, according to the government, the deceased are terrorists, and that the security agencies killed them in armed encounters. Joykumar’s statement reflects the general sentiment of the government of India and that of the state governments in dealing with dissent.

In the past 12 months, the government has intensified its engagement with the separatist and extremist forces operating in the country. Unfortunately, the tone of engagement is that of violence. The commonly used tactic is to let the state agents engage in murder with impunity, popularly known in the country as encounter killing, a euphemism for extrajudicial executions. The apparent logic is that violence will be dealt with violence.

The alarming number of lives lost in the anti-Naxalite operations in states like Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh so far, stands proof to the systematic execution of this logic. On the contrary, the continuance of extreme leftist operations in these states and the unabated disruptive activities by non-state actors in states like Manipur proves that this logic is wrong.

The state’s engagement in violence has come with a cost. The police and paramilitary units are engaged in open, arbitrary and brutal use of force throughout the country with impunity. The police firing in Narayanpatana in Orissa and the July 23 killing in Imphal Manipur are just two examples. In spite of widespread condemnation of the two incidents, the officers involved are not punished. There have been no investigations into these incidents.

The use of extreme violence by the state has pushed the people further away from the government. In fact, there were several isolated as well as nationwide protests against the use of violence by the state in the country in this year.

As early as 14 December 1993, the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) instructed the Chief Secretaries of the states to ensure that every case of custodial death and rape is reported to it within twenty-four hours of occurrence, failing which an adverse inference would be drawn by the Commission. On 10 August 1995, the Commission requested the Chief Ministers to ensure that post-mortem examinations of deaths in custody be videographed. On 27 March 1997, Chief Ministers were again requested to adopt a Model Autopsy Form, prepared by the Commission, and to use for this purpose.

None of these instructions are followed by the state agencies. Neither has the NHRC taken any steps to ensure the compliance of its directives. As of today, the NHRC has deteriorated to a namesake entity in the country, fated to function for the past two years without a Chairperson or adequate resources.

The recent conduct of the NHRC like the condoning of extrajudicial executions, torture and starvation deaths and rejecting complaints after accepting government reports, has become a reason for concern. It raises suspicion about the impartiality of the Commission as a national human rights body. The performance of the NHRC has deteriorated to such degree that it appears that the Commission is developing its expertise in summarily dismissing complaints, an action that negates the Commission’s statutory mandate.

The state agencies on the other hand are exploiting this expanded space of impunity available to them. For instance, the use of torture is endemic in the country. The government’s response to torture is a mere Bill. The Bill if enacted as a law is destined to fail. The ulterior intention of the government to continue providing impunity to its agents is clear from the Bill. For instance, the proposed definition of torture in the Bill does not meet the standards as prescribed in Article 1 (1) of the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Equally disturbing is the fate of the Dalit community in the country. Brutal forms of caste based discrimination are practiced in India. Of particular concern is the laxity with which the government has dealt with the practice of manual scavenging so far, facilitating its unabated continuity. This is despite series of legislations enacted over a period spanning 62 years prescribing statutory prohibition to the practice. Even the administration in the national capital has failed to deal with the problem.

Caste based discrimination is also one of the important impediment in realising the right to food in India. Today, the government of India does not have any reliable data concerning the number of poor persons in the country. Over the years, the government has resorted to shameless gerrymandering of the statistical data to prove that conditions of the poor in India are improving.

Experts like Mr. Dilip D’Souza argue that systematic data corruption has adversely affected the possibility of the poor in receiving government assistance. At the same time observations made by experts like Professor Utsa Patnaik that the per-capita food availability in India as of today is worse than the 1943 Bengal famine is ignored by the government.

Dishonesty of the government is one of the reasons for the continuity of starvation and malnutrition in India. It is most evident in cases of starvation deaths. It is the practice of the government to deny that deaths have occurred from starvation or malnutrition. Even worse is the reaction of the national bodies like the NHRC that accepts such denial as evidence and dismisses complaints from victims instead of helping them.

Yet, these are issues that a democracy can resolve. The solution however depends upon peoples’ participation. While the civil society can play a vital role in organising the people, it is the responsibility of the government to guarantee that the peoples’ voices are reflected in government’s actions.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) calls upon the government of India to find means and occasions to encourage the people to engage in constructive dialogues with the state. December 10, the International Human Rights Day could be one such occasion.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-245-2009
Countries : India,