A number of non-governmental organizations have criticized the Indian government for its poor record with regard to critical issues such as harassment of civil rights activists, shrinking democratic space, discrimination against minorities, and condition of women, children, Dalits and tribal people in the country.
These and many more issues have been highlighted in the Joint Stakeholder’s Report on India’s overall human rights situation released by the Working Group on Human Rights (WGHR) in India and UN at New Delhi recently. The report was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council for the upcoming third Universal Periodic Review of India due to take place at Geneva in May 2017, under which India’s human rights record, obligations and commitments will be evaluated by 193 member states of the UN at the UNHRC. More than a thousand NGOs, lawyers and activists from almost all states in the country have endorsed the report.
Henri Tiphagne, convenor of WGHR, said various UN bodies and several governments have expressed concerns on severe restrictions and actions by the Indian Government. He said that the report endorsed by more than 1000 organizations in the country, echoes the need for the Indian Government to call for an open dialogue with the civil society before the UPR plenary session is held in May 2017. He also pointed out “as India claims to move ahead with developmental agenda, no development can be at the cost of crushing of fundamental rights of dissent and protest which are the basic elements of our democracy.”
The Co-director of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights Enakshi Ganguly pointed out that India spends merely 4% of the national budget on children. She said that it is sad that in a country that claims to have become a global leader in last three years, the status and condition of children have not seen any meaningful improvement since UPR 2. She strongly criticised the new Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015 which includes a “regressive provision of waiver of 16-18 year olds into the adult criminal justice system for serious offences & has led to the lowering of standards for dealing with children in conflict with the law.”
Senior human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover expressed concern over the failure of the Indian state to honour its pledges at the earlier UPRs and highlighted that despite assurances to the Human Rights Council, India had still not ratified the Convention Against Torture, and no law against torture has been passed by the Indian Parliament to date. Terming this a damning blot on India’s human rights record she urged the Parliament to pass the Prevention of Torture law in compliance with CAT.
Vrinda also said that the impunity for human rights violations by security forces in zones of conflict continue and further, no heed is being paid to recommendations by HRC member States, UN Treaty bodies and Special Rapporteours to repeal AFSPA. The reports from Chhattisgarh are very disturbing where Adivasi women were being sexually assaulted and men killed in extra judicial killings by police and security forces; and lawyers, journalists, activists and academics highlighting these egregious violations are being targeted by the police and administration; She also emphasized that sexual violence against women remained widespread and systematic and the basic citizenship rights of half the population were infringed. The government must as a matter of highest priority ensure conditions where women enjoy their freedoms and live without fear.
The WGHR Joint Stakeholders report deals with critical issues like social inequality, homelessness, cancellation of FCRA of NGOs, harassment of civil rights activists, shrinking of democratic in India as well as Dalit and tribal issues.
Some startling facts highlighted in the report are: India tops world hunger list with 194.6 million undernourished; has the world’s largest number of homeless and landless persons; the world’s highest number of malnourished and hungry children; 56% rural households are landless; 30% of world’s poorest people and 10.2 million working children between 5-14 years. 68% prisoners are in pre-trial detention; Every third sanctioned post in the higher judiciary and every fourth in the lower courts is vacant; 5,650 Indian farmers committed suicide in 2014 i.e. 15 farmers a day; Between 2005 and 2015 more than 40 RTI activists are reportedly murdered and more than 250 others have been physically assaulted or harassed; India voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for moratorium on death penalty; India refused to adopt UN General Assembly resolution on human rights defenders in November 2015; India’s longest overdue report to the UN is to the Human Rights Committee last submitted in 1995.