South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The Times of India on Aug. 14 :: By Manash Pratim Gohain ::

The Narendra Modi government must keep its human rights promises and reiterate its commitment to protecting and upholding basic freedoms, Amnesty International India said on the eve of India’s 67th Independence Day. 

“Real freedom can come only with respect for human rights. India’s Prime Minister has repeatedly said that his government will uphold the Constitution of India. The government must honour this pledge and defend the constitutional values of justice, liberty, equality and dignity,” said Shashikumar Velath, deputy chief executive, Amnesty International India. 

“As an emerging power that hopes to shape global politics, India needs to show its commitment to human rights at home and abroad. The government must now deliver on the promises it has made on various issues,” added Velath.

In a press statement issued by Amnesty International India, it stated that violence against women remains widespread and pervasive in India. Modi, in his first speech in Parliament in June 2014, said: “Respect and security for women should be a priority for all people”. Amnesty International India urges the Prime Minister to implement the far-reaching institutional reforms needed to end violence against women. 

“After the 2012 gang-rape case, some positive legal reforms were undertaken but there has been little done since. There are still gaps in the law. The government must accept the Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations to criminalize marital rape and remove the effective immunity that security forces have for crimes against women,” said Velath. 

“Police and judicial reforms are necessary to ensure that all complaints of violence against women are effectively investigated and prosecuted. The death penalty should not be used as a ‘quick-fix’ solution.” 

The organization stated that Modi has stated that his vision for India involves development for all people. However, changes to some environmental and forest policies around approvals for development projects have weakened mechanisms for consultation with affected communities, including Adivasis, and could undermine their rights. 

“Statements made by the Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram that decisions on the use of Adivasi land must be taken with the concurrence of Adivasi communities recognize the right of indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent in decisions that affect them,” said Velath. “Land acquisition and environmental safeguards set up under Indian law are vital to upholding the rights of people affected by development projects, and must not be weakened. Development must be development for all people, and not just for a few at the cost of the rights of vulnerable groups.” 

Recent events in Iraq have highlighted the risks of serious human rights abuses faced by Indian migrant workers in West Asia. Exploitation of migrant workers can originate in India when workers are cheated by visa brokers and rogue recruiting agents about jobs, wages and work conditions. Amnesty International India urges the government to protect migrant workers’ rights by regulating recruiting agents and ensuring access to remedy. 

“We welcome External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s efforts to understand the lived realities of Indian migrant workers. These efforts must lead to the enactment of laws and policies that will protect migrant workers’ rights more effectively,” said Velath. 

Consensual same-sex relations in India are criminalized by Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” punishable with imprisonment up to a life term. In December 2013, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the law was constitutionally valid, and said it was up to Parliament to change the law. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in July 2014 that it was the job of the government to protect the rights of gay people. 

“The government must recognize that section 377 violates people’s rights to equality, privacy and dignity, and pass legislation to repeal the law”, said Velath. 

For decades, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has enabled serious human rights violations to be committed by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir and parts of the Northeast, and shielded those responsible. Attempts to challenge the AFSPA have been met with weak responses from authorities and little apparent commitment. 

Several official Indian bodies, including the Justice JS Verma Committee and the Justice Santosh Hegde Commission, have said that the AFSPA has contributed to impunity for human rights abuses. 

“Amnesty International India recognizes the duty of the government to protect its people but the AFSPA has been ineffective in achieving these goals. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that the government is prepared to work within the framework of humanity to resolve issues in Kashmir. It must start by repealing this inhumane law,” said Velath. 

In April, Amnesty International India submitted a 14-point charter to political parties ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections. The charter included issues of torture, arbitrary detention, freedom of expression, and justice for marginalized communities. 

“The government came to power on the promise of good governance. And it can best fulfil this promise by addressing the enormous human rights challenges the country faces”, said Velath