The growing number of extra judicial killings, rampant discrimination against vulnerable groups, tribal and Adivasi, including minorities and legal immunity (of perpetrators) Custodial torture, inherent in daily police practice, still remains a serious concern. Police practices include assaults, physical abuses, custodial rape, psychological humiliations, as well as deprivation of food/water/sleep and medical attention. Study shows that every year in India, 1.8 million people are victims of police torture1 . According to National Human Rights Commission Annual Report, from 2001-2010, 14,231 people have died in police custody due to torture. As per Universal Periodic Review recommendation by WGHCR, Indian government needs to expedite ratification of the Convention against Torture (CAT) preceded by the enactment of a domestic law. Norway-based Human Right activist, probes India’s failures in Human Rights obligations. Here’s a special report, as cover story, on Human Rights Day (Dec 10), exclusively in Different Truths.
Professor Stephen Toope (2003) said, “We believe that humans are endowed with a dignity – whatever its origin – that must be upheld by any society that wants to see itself as civilized”. And society (such as ours) where police torture and caste discrimination is becoming norms and human rights are disregarded – runs the risk of being categorised as uncivilised.
What are Human Rights?
Human rights are international norms that help to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to engage in political activity. In addition, human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status. All are equally entitled to human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. India is one of the founding signatories of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Notable is the fact that signatory states (UN conventions) have legal obligations to protect, promote and fulfill concerned human rights treaties.
India has either acceded or has rectified the following human rights treaty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Right
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination
Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women
Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (only signatory).
The growing number of extra judicial killings, rampant discrimination against vulnerable groups (tribal and adivasi) including minorities and legal immunity (of perpetrators) questions whether the government has an honest intention to fulfill their human rights obligations. Custodial torture, inherent in daily police practice, still remains a serious concern. Police practices include assaults, physical abuses, custodial rape, psychological humiliations, as well as deprivation of food/water/sleep and medical attention. The study shows that every year in India, 1.8 million people are victims of police torture2 . According to National Human Rights Commission Annual Report, from 2001-2010, 14,231 people have died in police custody, as a consequence of torture. As per Universal Periodic Review recommendation by WGHCR, Indian government needs to expedite ratification of the Convention against Torture (CAT) preceded by the enactment of a domestic law.
Obstacles to Justice
The Police Act, 1861, and the Prison Act, 1894, are two of the oldest statutes in effect. Despite countless recommendations for their repeal and replacement with the laws, in sync with the international human rights standards, they are still operational. Proper implementation of the many progressive laws and regulations have been demanded in order to remove the many structural and functional problems in the justice system. However, rights violations by police continue to rise. Police regularly accused of torturing, beating, abduction, deaths in custody and extra- judicial killings in fake encounters. The recent Bhopal encounter of so-called terrorist is a case in this point. Police department do not usually register a case, conduct arbitrary arrests and disregards the procedural safeguards3 . Nonetheless, there remains a serious lack of awareness amongst litigants on free legal aid services which often doesn’t reach the needy.
Discrimination against Disadvantage Groups (Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Caste, and Women)
India tribal population known as Dalits have long been discriminated in every aspect of life. The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989) seek to be proved of such protection. However, weak implementation and low conviction rates (29.32%) are disturbing as is police often refute to register the case against Dalits4 . Despite the overarching mandate of equality and non-discrimination contained in the Indian Constitution and regardless of the enactment of women specific laws, discrimination against women is systemic and shapes all structures of the state and society5 . Cases of domestic and sexual violence, harassment at work place, physical and threat are on the rise.
The right to equality and freedom from discrimination, torture and cruel degrading treatment and inhumane punishment is protected by various provisions of the various international human rights instruments including International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Based on International law, States are accountable on its failure to protect its citizen against human rights violations particularly custodial deaths, torture in custody and discrimination. This clearly manifests the gap between prevailing international human rights law and its implementation at domestic level in India. Also, Indian bureaucracy is not sensitive enough towards human rights issues. In addition, deeply rooted social customs have continually sustained and supported social biases against vulnerable groups including highly compartmentalised and stigmatised lower class.
Though Indian government is the signatory of many International human rights instruments but in practice a blatant violation of human rights is apparent. Rotten police system, slow and inaccessible justice system is just a symbolic representation of the current scenario.
In conclusion, police system needs to be revamped. In addition, promotion of human rights education should be a compulsory training for government official regardless of their rank and status. Justice should be speedy and must be accessible to disadvantaged groups. To achieve this goal, a human rights awareness campaign could be launched in rural areas. People can be empowered only if they know their rights. However, the prevailing situation of persistent human rights violations presents manifold challenges to the Indian government to full fill its human rights obligations. Number of progressive legal and policy initiatives has been taken by the government. Nonetheless, the lack of implementation continues to hinder the realization of human rights for India’s most vulnerable.
Ironically, majority of the current politicians are inward looking and lack the vision required for a society where human rights can flourish. Sadly enough, some politicians are thriving on cheap communal political theatrics pushing human rights agenda away. In addition, a majority of public intellectuals succumb to self-censorship and have been less vocal on human rights issues thus critical debate on human rights issues are limited in public spheres. Threats, intimidations and the possibility of violence by fringe religious-nationalist groups are a significant factor discouraging human rights discourse in Indian society. Today national concern of establishing democratic functioning, social justice, poverty alleviation, and ensuring human rights is being replaced with questions of religious identity and nationalism.
1 Human rights in India- Joint Stakeholder’s report by Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHCR)
2 Human rights in India- Joint Stakeholder’s report by Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHCR)
3 Human rights in India- Joint Stakeholder’s report by Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHCR) p. 14
4 Ibid, p. 18
5 Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHCR), under title ‘Discrimination’
Photos from the internet.
Amit Singh is a human security and social justice expert. He is a doctoral candidate at University of Coimbra, Portugal; hold master degrees in history, human rights, and multiculturalism. He is a columnist for several newspapers in Norway and India.