India’s Human Rights Rhetoric And Reality

Kavita Krishnan

Presenting India’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process in May 2017, Indian Government representative, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi made several claims about India’s human rights record. Here is a reality check about his claims.

“Culture of torture is completely alien to Indian culture”

The GoI’s claim that torture is alien to “Indian culture” is a rather cruel joke. Has GoI forgotten the endless Indian popular movies that valorize custodial torture as a ‘normal’ part of police procedure and makes heroes of ‘encounter’ (custodial killing) cops? Has GoI forgotten the series of Chief Ministers who have publicly hailed custodial killings? Who is GoI fooling? All Indians know that torture is the undeclared ‘standard operating procedure’ of Indian police.

In October 2015, a verdict by Justice Siddharth Mridul of the Delhi High Court cited the 2011 report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which recording 14,231 custodial torture-related deaths between 2001 to 2010. The Judge said, “The poor, the deprived classes, women and political activists are the worst victims of police high-handedness…One of the reasons why torture and custodial deaths are endemic in India on a large-scale is that the police feel that they are immune from the rigours of the law and are confident that they will not be held accountable, even if the victims die in custody and even if the truth is revealed.”

An Indian judge says “torture and custodial deaths are endemic in India on a large-scale” due to impunity but the very same Government that breeds the culture of impunity for perpetrators of torture, declares at the UN that the ‘culture of torture is alien to Indian culture’! Rohatgi himself has recently, publicly defended and applauded the Army officer who tortured a Kashmiri civilian by tying him to a jeep.

India is one of the 9 countries in the world that is yet to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Though Rohatgi reiterated India’s commitment to ratify these conventions, India has allowed the draft law against torture to lapse, and as long as the GoI denies the very existence of torture and disappearances, can one believe it will act on its promise?

“A vibrant civil society keeps the government accountable for its commitments”

But the Government uses the weapon of FCRA to witch-hunt civil society activists, brands them as “anti-national” and instigates arbitrary arrests and violence by mobs (protected by police and the ruling party) against them. Any dissent against the Government is branded as disloyalty against the country. At the UNHRC India also voted in support of an amendment proposed by Russia, China and Pakistan to remove the term “human rights defender” from a resolution on the issue!

“Whether AFSPA should be repealed or not is a matter of on-going vibrant political debate in my country”

Rohatgi forgot to add, “But those who demand a repeal of AFSPA are branded ‘anti-national’ in my country”!

Rohatgi claimed that India’s judiciary was quite capable of preventing any “excesses” under AFSPA, and backed up his claim by citing the 2016 Supreme Court order in the Manipur fake encounters case holding that AFSPA could not be used to shield armed forces from accountability. But Rohatgi “forgot” to tell the UNHRC that he himself on behalf of the GoI had filed for a review of this very same Supreme Court order on the grounds that it might “demoralize” the armed forces!

“The vision of our nation’s founding fathers who framed our Constitution was a strong commitment to human rights with special emphasis for development and protection of the girl child, women and minorities.”

The Constitution may protect human rights and the rights of girls, women and minorities Mr Rohatgi, but the question is, does your Government protect the Constitution?! Or does it mock and jeer at human rights defenders who demand protection for the Constitutional rights of women, girls and minorities? Why has the GoI refused to criminalize marital rape? When BJP’s UP CM Yogi Adityanath refers to inter-faith marriage as ‘love jehad,’ when ‘anti-Romeo squads’ target consensual couples in public places, and when its Haryana CM Khattar calls for a dress code for girls to ‘prevent rape’, are they protecting the Constitutional rights of women and minorities? When the Government continues to criminalize homosexuality through Section 377, does it protect the Constitutional rights of LGBTQ people?

“India is a secular state with no religion and the Indian constitution enshrined various provisions for protection of the rights of minorities”

What Mr Rohatgi should have said but didn’t – “The ruling party is publicly committed to turning secular India into a Hindu Nation. Its social media supporters regularly mock secular values as “sickular.” And every week, there are cases of Muslim men being lynched by mobs protected by the ruling party, on the pretext of ‘protecting cows’, ‘protecting women from love jehad’ and so on. Oh, and the Chief Minister of India’s biggest state looks on approvingly while leaders of the Hindu majoritarian militia founded by him give speeches calling to disenfranchise Muslims and rape corpses of Muslim women!”

“Some of India’s most famous institutions of academic excellence are minority institutions”

But the selfsame minority institutions are branded as dens of terrorism by ideologues of the ruling party!

“India is the land of Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, so Indians cannot have a racial mindset.”

Rohatgi ‘forgot’ to add that India is not only the land of Gandhi but also the land of Godse, the man who killed Gandhi, and that India’s ruling party peddles the ideology of Godse (i.e that of a Hindu India and hatred for Muslim minorities) while paying lip service to Gandhi!

Rohatgi’s denial of racism itself is racist, given the spate of racist mob attacks against Africans in India and racist violence against Indian citizens from North Eastern states.

“As the Attorney General of India, I was summoned by the Supreme Court at 2 in the morning to hear a last-ditch petition by a convict who was guilty of terrorism to escape punishment. This shows the importance attached to upholding of human rights by India.”

But Mr Rohatgi, bhakts of your Government and leaders of the ruling party publicly brand the human rights lawyers and activists who submitted that mid-night petition challenging the execution of Yakub Memon in the Supreme Court, “anti-national” and ask them to “go to Pakistan”!

For all Rohatgi’s cant about the values of Buddha and Gandhi, his Government refused to hold Myanmar accountable for the rights of Rohingyas, nor hold Sri Lanka accountable for its war crimes against the Tamils.