Human Rights: India Needs Some Picking Up To Do

Posted on August 29, 2011 in Society

By Ankita Rastogi:

Human rights are basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, language, or other status. Human rights include civil and political rights, such as the right to life, liberty and freedom of expression; and social, cultural and economic rights including the right to participate in culture, the right to food, and the right to work and receive an education. Human rights are protected and upheld by international and national laws and treaties.

In India, the situation of human rights is a complex one, as a result of the country’s large size and tremendous diversity, its status as a developing country and a sovereign, secular, democratic republic, and its history as a former colonial territory. This complexity leads to many problems in managing and ensuring these rights to all the individuals. In its report on human rights in India during 2010, Human Rights Watch stated India had “significant human rights problems”. They identified lack of accountability for security forces and impunity for abusive policing including “police brutality, extrajudicial killings, and torture” as major problems. An independent United Nations expert in 2011 expressed concern that she found human rights workers and their families who “have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Even the extent to which these rights are given to the citizens is pretty limited and hence they are often not able to safeguard the citizens.

Until the Delhi High Court decriminalized consensual private sexual acts between consenting adults on July 2, 2009, homosexuality was considered criminal as per interpretations of the ambiguous Section 377 of the 150 year old Indian Penal Code (IPC), a law passed by the colonial British authorities. However, this law was very rarely enforced. In its ruling decriminalizing homosexuality, the Delhi High Court noted that existed law conflicted with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, and such criminalizing is violation of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution.

Also, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, “Dalits and indigenous peoples (known as Scheduled Tribes or adivasis) continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of communal violence. Laws and policies adopted by the Indian government provide a strong basis for protection, but are not being faithfully implemented by local authorities.” Denotified tribes of India, along with many nomadic tribes collectively 60 million in population, continue to face social stigma and economic hardships. These tribes even today face the consequences of the ‘Prevention of Anti-Social Activity Act‘ (PASA), which only adds to their everyday struggle for existence as most of them live below poverty line. National Human Rights Commission and UN’s anti-discrimination body Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) have asked the government to repeal this law as well, as these former “criminalized” tribes continue to suffer oppression and social ostracization at large and many have been denied SC, ST or OBC status, denying them access to reservations which would elevated their economic and social status.

It has been found that more than half of the prisoners of the country are detained without adequate evidence. Unlike in other democratic countries, the investigation in India generally commence with the arrest of the accused. As the judicial system is understaffed and sluggish, it is not uncommon to find innocent civilians languishing in jail for many years. For instance, the Bombay high court in September 2009 asked the Maharashtra government to pay Rs 1 lakh as compensation to a 40-year-old man who languished in prison for over 10 years for a crime he didn’t commit. The central government has informed Parliament that cases of human rights violation against minorities in the country have increased in the last two years.

It is sorrowful fact in the democratic India that people have to face discrimination and different kinds of atrocities by those assigned to protect their rights. And it becomes more essential than ever to be intolerant against such injustice. If not resisted these rights will end up being just a few words on a paper and soon India will turn into a nation imprisoned to its own laws and order.