Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international organisation that independent, international organization that works as part of a vibrant movement to uphold human dignity and advance the cause of human rights for all, has come out with is World Report 2022, and it paints a rather bleak picture for India with respect to human rights.
Silencing voices of dissent
The report tackles the subject of persecution of dissenters by the ruling regime head-on, saying, “Critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in India including activists, journalists, peaceful protesters, and even poets, actors, and businesses increasingly risked politically motivated harassment, prosecutions, and tax raids. Authorities shut down rights groups using foreign funding regulations or allegations of financial irregularities.”
It also referred to political prisoners, especially Father Stan Swamy who died in custody after being arrested on trumped up charges. The report says, “In July, the death of jailed tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, 84, was emblematic of the ongoing persecution of rights activists. Swamy was arrested on politically motivated terrorism charges in the Bhima Koregaon case, related to caste violence in Maharashtra state in 2017. Fifteen other prominent human rights defenders are charged in this case.”
HRW’s World Report 2022 also mentioned, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi described people participating in various peaceful protests as ‘parasites’.” It went on to showcase the regime’s attitude towards the farmers’ movement as well saying, “Hundreds of thousands of farmers, many of them from the minority Sikh community, protesting amendments to farm laws since November 2020, were accused by BJP leaders and pro-government media of having a separatist agenda.”
On the subject of institutional violence and the government’s inaction targeting minorities, the report says, “The 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 also pointed out instances of targeting of the minority Christian community saying, “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.”
It also flagged the contentious “anti-conversion” laws passed by different states in India saying, “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.”
The report also touched upon the Dhalpur firing incident saying, “In September, Assam police opened fire during a protest against forced evictions, killing a man and a 12-year-old boy. 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”.”
HRW’s report also highlighted how UN Human Rights experts had repeatedly raised concerns about the situation in Kashmir, saying, “In July, four UN human rights expert mandates wrote to the Indian government urging an inquiry into the death in custody of separatist leader Muhammad Ashraf Khan Sehrai, who was detained in July 2020 under the Public Safety Act, a preventive detention law. In March, five UN expert mandates wrote to the government seeking information about the detention of Kashmiri politician Waheed Para, the alleged custodial killing of a shopkeeper Irfan Ahmad Dar, and the enforced disappearance of Naseer Ahmad Wani.”
Violation of the rights to Freedom of Expression and Privacy
The report also mentioned how “authorities continued to intimidate and harass journalists and news outlets critical of the government through politically motivated lawsuits and tax raids. In July, the Indian news website The Wire reported that at least 300 Indian phone numbers, including those of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, government officials, and opposition politicians, were included on a list of potential targets for advanced Israeli spyware Pegasus. Phone numbers of several activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, as well as some of their family members were also on the leaked Pegasus list.” It also mentioned how the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, would “allow greater governmental control over online content, threaten to weaken encryption, and would seriously undermine rights to privacy and freedom of expression online.”
The section of the report that deals with India may be read here.