Torture, Rape, Corruption: India’s Major Human Rights Problems

“Citizens from Jammu and Kashmir continued to face extended delays, often as long as two years, before the Ministry of External Affairs would issue or renew their passports,” said a report commissioned by the US Congress and published by the State Department this week.

Photograph by Burhaan Kinu

Photograph by Burhaan Kinu

It said the applicants born in the state were subjected to additional security, and police would ask for bribes to clear their passports.

The ‘India 2013 Human Rights Report’ has said that the most serious problems in India during the last year were the abuses by the police and security forces including extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and ‘widespread’ corruption at all levels of government.

The report has slammed the South Asian nation for its dismal performance in protecting women from the violence, sex trafficking of children and an atmosphere of impunity – courtesy its overburdened judicial system.

“Other human rights problems included disappearances, poor prison conditions that were frequently life threatening, arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pre-trial detention,” the report added.

“The judiciary remained overburdened, and court backlogs led to lengthy delays or the denial of justice.”

The 68-page report, released by the US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday to mark the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, details the major issues plaguing the world’s largest democracy.

It said the government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and insurgents, especially in areas of conflict such as Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeastern States, and the Naxalite belt.

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“Citing official statistics, news organizations reported 127 fake encounter cases across the country during the 2012-13 Indian fiscal year (April 1 to March 31), mostly in conflict areas,” said the report.

It lamented that the government, despite expressing its intention, didn’t initiate any investigation into unmarked graves, which according to a report released by UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns in April last year, contained more than 2,943 bodies of victims of extrajudicial executions from 1990 to 2009 in Jammu and Kashmir.

It said the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) remained in effect in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, parts of Tripura, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Under AFSPA, according to the report, the government may declare any state or union territory a “disturbed area,” a declaration that allows security forces to fire on any person to “maintain law and order” and to arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest.

“The law also gives security forces immunity from civilian prosecution for acts committed in regions under the AFSPA. There were no public records available of acts committed under the AFSPA,” the report said.

It added that a three-member panel appointed by the Supreme Court reported in April last year that the armed forces operating under the shield of the AFSPA were committing serious human rights violations.

There were continued reports that police raped women, including while in police custody. NGOs stated that the NHRC underestimated the number of rapes that police committed.

Some rape victims were afraid to come forward and report the crime due to social stigma and possible acts of retribution, compounded by lack of oversight and accountability, especially if the perpetrator was a police officer or other official, according to the report.

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Prison conditions, it said, were frequently life threatening and did not meet international standards.

Prisons were severely overcrowded and food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental conditions often remained inadequate. Prisoners were physically mistreated.

Government statistics, mainstream media, and activists reported serious overcrowding and high numbers of pretrial detainees.

According to the NCRB’s Prison Statistics India 2012 report, there were 1,394 prisons in the country with an authorized capacity of 343,169 persons. The actual jail population was 385,135. Persons awaiting trial accounted for more than two- thirds of the prison population.

There were reports that government security forces tortured, raped, and mistreated insurgents and alleged terrorists in custody and injured demonstrators.

Taking a jibe at ‘all is well’ in Gujarat vis-à-vis survivors of the 2002 communal riots, the report quoting the 2013 Study on Internally Displaced Persons of India by the Centre for Social Justice said the state government’s claims that no IDPs existed were wrong.

There were 3,964 internally displaced families in 86 settlements in Gujarat, all of them Muslim, the report said.

“The study reported that 30 percent of the IDPs had not received any aid and the rest had been inadequately compensated. The Gujarat government, which initially claimed there were no IDPs, continued to hold back compensation although the central government directed it to provide compensation,” said the report.

“The state government also denied identified IDPs their entitlements under various social welfare programs, and the camps lacked basic amenities such as drinking water, power, and sanitation.”

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