PUCL Bulletin, October 2001

Amnesty International Report on India, 2001

Human Rights violations occurred throughout India, with socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society continuing to be particularly vulnerable. Inter-caste, communal, inter-religious and political violence claimed many lives in several states including Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. The government's continuing preoccupation with national security led it to pursue several initiatives for tackling "terrorism" throughout the country, including giving increased powers to a police force which continued to be identified with torture, corruption and other abuses.

Background
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic alliance continued in office throughout 2000 with A.B. Vajpayee as Prime Minister. Armed conflicts continued to claim hundreds of lives in Jammu and Kashmir and states of the northeast, despite apparent moves towards ceasefire and peace talks in several states. A cease-fire was announced by the armed opposition Hizbul Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir at the end of July but collapsed 15 days later. A further cease-fire for the month of Ramzan was announced by the government in November. Killings of civilians the state continued at an alarmingly high level despite this and other political initiatives towards an end to the conflict. Three new states were established in northern India during the course of the Years: Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal.

Torture/ill-treatment

Torture by police and security forces remained endemic in states throughout India. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) expressed concern about the wide spread of torture. In August it disclosed that between 1999 and 2000 it has recorded 1143 deaths in police and judicial custody. Figures for the number of complaints of torture are not made public although the chair of NHRC reportedly indicated that the majority of complaints received relate to police empresses.

A number of official studies which reported during 2000 acknowledged the widespread use of torture and ill treatment and pointed to political influence broad power of arrest, public approval and in inadequate method of investigation as reason for the continuing practice of torture. During the consideration of India's initial report to the UN Committee on the rights of the child, concern was expressed by the Committee about reports of routine ill-treatment, corporal punishment, torture, and sexual abuse of children in detention facilities. By the end of 2000 India had not yet ratified the UN Convention against torture which was signed in October 1977, nor had it invited the UN special rapporteur on torture to visit the country.

In discussions with officials of the government of India about measures needed to end torture all recommended initiatives including people reform, enactment of new legislation and comprehensive monitoring mechanism.

In Kurnool district of A.P. in October, 23 year old dalit (member of disadvantaged community), Peddinti, Tirupalu, was found dead near a police station where he had been detained for questioning about gambling offences 48 hours earlier. Police denied a role in his death but relatives claimed that he had been severely beaten. Three police officers were transferred to other area and a magistrate enquiry was ordered but had not concluded by the end of 2000.

Impunity
While in a few cases individual members of the security forces were brought to justice for Human Rights violations, most violations were committed with impunity. Lack of political will, compromise and coercion allowed law enforcement officials to escape censure for violating the rights of people who were mostly members of underprivileged sections of society.

In areas of armed conflict, special legislation continued to shield perpetrators from prosecution. A cautious welcome was given to an announcement by the government of Jammu and Kashmir in October that it was establishing judicial inquires into a series of incidents which took place in March and April in which scores of civilians were killed by security forces and unidentified gunmen. By the end of 2000 no inquires had begun. Numerous other incidents remained uninvestigated. In Punjab the establishment of a "People Commission", which sought to document evidence of widespread human rights violations in the face of the failure of the state to investigate past human rights violations, was halted by the High Court on the basis that it was establishing a parallel judicial system. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in May.

A new one-man Commission of Inquiry was established in May to investigate the 1984 riots in Delhi which claimed the lives of more than 2500 people, mainly Sikhs. In October the retired judge presiding over the inquiry was reported to have already received over 10,000 affidavits. An earlier inquiry held between 1985 and 1986 had found 147 police officers guilty of dereliction of duty but proceedings were initiated in only around 20 cases. Of more than 700 criminal cases filed in connection with the riots, only two per cent had resulted in conviction.

In Mumbai, recommendations made by the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into riots which took place in the city in 1992-1993 remained unimplemented.

Discrimination
Despite safeguards in the Constitution and in law, certain groups remained particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses based on discrimination. Access to justice for women, dalits and others who suffer from social and economic discrimination remained problematic.

In January, India's initial report under the UN Women's Convention was heard by the Committee, which monitors adherence of states parties to the Convention. Concern at the level of gender-based violence in the country was expressed by the committee, whose recommendations included the need for rigorous implementation of existing legislation prohibiting such practices as dowry and caste-based discrimination.

International attention continued to focus on violence. State-backed violence in several areas included Muslims, dalits and adivasis (tribal people). Concerns about discrimination based on religion, particularly directed at members of the Christian community, were heightened by statements made by members of right-wing Hindu groups which appeared to encourage the use of violence. Attacks on members of Christian communities and church property continued.

Human Rights Defenders
Harassment of human rights defenders in many parts of India continued. In April, All hosted a meeting of human rights defenders from throughout the country which concluded by drawing up a set of recommendations for the better protection of human rights defenders. The recommendations included calls for a review of preventive detention provisions used to detain human rights defenders to victims of human rights violations in all areas of India, and to international forums outside India in order to report on hr concerns or to undergo training.

In Gujarat in August, several hundred people were arrested under preventive detention provisions to stop them from going to a public hearing organized by a people's organisation, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, about the human rights impact of the construction of dams on the Narmada river. Those detained included individuals facing displacement and senior human rights activists. They were released after the public hearing had taken place.
In November T. Puroshottam, Joint Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, was killed and other human rights defenders in the state received threats. These attacks were believed to be the work of former members of an armed group operating with the tacit and often active support of state authorities. The state government refused to carry out a judicial inquiry into these incidents.

Special Legislation
In April the Law Commission of India submitted the draft Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2000 to the government prior to its introduction to parliament. Provisions of the Bill reflected many of those found in the Terrorist and Disruptive (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), which lapsed in 1995. In July the NHRC indicated its opposition to the Bill on several grounds, stating that it would violate international human rights standards and lead to human rights violations. Although it was not introduced to parliament by the end of 2000, state governments were reported as having given it unanimous approval.
In April Al raised concerns with the authorities about the use of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. The Indian government dismissed clear evidence of its abuse and maintained that provisions of the Act provide sufficient safeguards for detainees. Leaders of the All Parties Hurriet Conference arrested under the Act between late August and early November 1999 were released in April and May. The Indian government also dismissed claims that TADA was still being used in Jammu and Kashmir to detain people retrospectively, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

The fate of 50 people, including 12 women, detained under TADA in Karnataka, some since 1993, received national attention after a notorious sandalwood smuggler kidnapped a veteran film star and listed the release of these detainees as one of his demands. While the state governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu expressed their willingness to drop charges against them, the Supreme Court stayed their acquittal despite their detention without trial for up to seven years and evidence that almost all had been illegally detained and tortured after arrest.

Human Rights Commissions

The NHRC submitted recommendations to the government of India for amendments to its statute -- the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993. These were based on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee established in 1998. The NHRC's recommendations were not made public and by the end of 2000 the government had given no indication that it was considering amendments to the Act. The NHRC continued to indicate its frustration at statutory limitations on its powers, particularly in relation to investigation of allegations of human rights violations by armed and paramilitary forces, and the investigation of incidents, which took place more than a year before a complaint was made.

In Rajasthan the Chair of the State Human Rights Commission established in early 2000 resigned after four months, complaining that the government for it to operate had provided no resources. In Uttar Pradesh the government had still not set up a Human Rights Commission by the end of 2000 despite a High Court order to do so.

Death penalty

At least 30 people were sentenced to death in 2000. It was not known if any executions were carried out. The government of India does not publish statistical information about the implementation of the death penalty.
At least 60 people remained on death row. Legislation to extend the use of the death penalty to crimes of rape remained pending. An increasing number of human rights organizations continued to campaign against the death penalty and a national conference against the death penalty was held in New Delhi in July.

In April the sentence of death against Nalini, one of the four whose death sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1999 in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, was commuted to life imprisonment. The clemency petitions of the remaining three remained pending along with those of several others.

Abuses by Armed Groups

Abuses by armed groups operating in many areas continued, including hostage-taking, torture, and deliberate killings of civilians, Hostage-taking, including of children, continued at an alarming level in Tripura, where in November it was reported that members of an armed group had tortured a four-year-old hostage. In Jammu and Kashmir, civilians continued to be targeted for attack.

Home | Index