Human rights defenders in India in dire need of protection

    1457608028558.jpg By Amit Singh
    Human rights defenders in India in dire need of protection

    Human Rights Defender' is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. Generally speaking, those who constantly fight to promote and protect human rights of ordinary peoples are journalists, human rights activists, social workers and lawyers. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India considers Human Rights Defenders as supporters, collaborators and partners in its endeavour to promote and protect human rights. In this connection, it may be mentioned that protection of human rights is a Constitutional value and a Constitutional goal in India. As per the Constitution of India, the State has an obligation to protect human rights and the citizen also has a duty to promote and protect human rights. In order to highlight significant contribution of human rights actors 9th December" is observed as "the International Human Rights Defenders Day". 

    This article highlights vulnerable situation of journalists and human rights activists in India.

    Current Concern
    The current reality in India is Journalist and human rights activist are being tormented, implicated in false cases, their image being tarnished and in some cases being brutally killed.

    Journalists in jeopardy
    Recent frequent killings of journalists in India is matter of grave concerns. In fact, on 13TH May, 2016, within 24 hours, two journalists were shot dead in line of their duty. Rajdeo Ranjan , bureau chief for the Hindi-language daily Hindustan in Bihar state’s Siwan district, was shot 13th May 2016, by unidentified gunmen. Local reports have suggested that he was on a “hit list” of targets issued from jail by former Siwan MP Mohammed Shahabuddin. Ranjan had reported extensively on Shahabuddin, who has been behind bars since 2005 for his role in a number of murders and who allegedly maintains close links to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) party, which co-governs Bihar. In another incidence, Akhilesh Pratap Singh, a journalist for local Hindi television news channel Taza TV in Chatra district in the Jharkhand state, was shot dead on 12th May 2016. Pratap, was returning home on his motorcycle when unidentified assailants shot him three times. His motive of murder is not clear yet. On February 13, 2016, Karun Misra, bureau chief of the Hindi daily Jansandesh Times, was shot dead in Sultanpur, In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He wrote against mining contractors and paid the price through his life.

    Similarly, Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist who reported critically on politics and current affairs in Hindi-language newspapers and on Facebook, was burnt alive on June 1, 2015. journalist  accused Ram Murti Singh Verma, a member of the ruling Samajwadi Party in India's most populous state, of "unleashing a reign of terror" on him and his family in reprisal for his investigative reports and critical comments against the minister as reported by Times News Network.

    In various instances, killed journalist had been covering corruption and criminal activities in rural areas. In some cases, killers were known to have political connection and tacit support to kill and torment Journalist and human rights defenders. Due to political support a culture of impunity has been bolstered, thus, for victim’s justices seems elusive.

    Troubled Human rights activists
    It is a matter of deep concern, human rights activist and organizations engaged in promoting and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms frequently face threats and harassment and suffer insecurity as a result of those activities, including fabricating false cases and tarnishing images of human rights activist.  Quite often violators are State and non-State actors or both are hands in glove work together. 

    A few case examples of Human Rights Defenders

    Lenin Reghuvansi

    Lenin is a Dalit Human rights activist based in Varanasi, India. In his word, “I live under constant death threats for my human rights work. Threat, intimidation, attack, false implication and defamation are occupational hazards of the process of social transformation towards a plural democracy based on rule of law, non-violence and justice”. False Cases has been filed against (by patriarchy supporters) Lenin in his work to fight against domestic violence against women and police torture.  Unfortunately, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) ignored his numerous appeals for his helps to remove false cases against him. Lenin and his organization People Vigilance Committee on Human Rights fight against police torture, seek justice for Dalits and minorities using domestic human rights mechanism and imparts elementary education to Dalit children in several villages in Varanasi district.

    Teesta Setalvad
    Teesta is a social activist has been targeted for her constant support for victims of Gujrat riots which occurred in 2002. Because of her work and that of her team, including her husband Javed Anand, 120 persons guilty of murder and violence have been convicted in 2002 Gujrat riots. Her two NGOS, Citizens For Justice and Peace, works for providing legal aid to victims of "mass crimes (communalism, terrorism)," and Sabrang promotes constitutional values (diversity, pluralism, communal amity, rule of law, impartial policing, accountability of state actors) and combating religious intolerance, hate propaganda, and communal violence.Teesta’s NGOs is facing closer notice due to the allegations of embezzlement of funds. Teesta has been denied these allegations. In her support, Politician and social activist Brinda Karat  says, “Her personal accounts have been frozen. Her passport has been seized. The aim is clearly to send a strong message to those who dare to oppose the leaders of this Government and their policies: you are either with us or you face the consequences. They want to take her into their custody. They want to humiliate, defame and intimidate her today so that tomorrow other voices of dissent can be prevented. It is also a blatant misuse of power to follow a vindictive agenda”.

    Henri Tiphagne
    Executive director of People's Watch, Henri Tiphagne has been selected for Amnesty International Germany's human rights award, 2016. Henri and his organisation promote human rights education and fight against the use of torture and discrimination. Henri Tiphagne and his organisation People's Watch, was harassed and hampered in their work by the authorities. His Organization faced closer notice on pretext of the irregularity of misusing fund. Police also registered false cases against Mr. Henri Tiphagne, the National Director of the National Peoples' Tribunal on Torture, Executive Director of People’s Watch and the Member of the National Core Group on NGOs of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Mr. Martin, Mr. Ganesan and Mr. Prabakar, District Human Rights Monitor for Madurai District in Tamilnadu of the National Peoples' Tribunal on Torture.Police and judicial harassment is common to those working on Civil and political rights seeking justice for police torture and discrimination against Dalits.

    Sandeep Pandey
    Social activist and Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey was sacked by the Banaras Hindu University on charges of being a “Naxalite”, engaging in “anti-national” activities and screening a banned documentary –Nirbhya -on the campus. BHU administration has been accused of promoting RSS (Hindu Nationalist Group) agenda on the campus (Times of India, 7th Jan 2016). A common strategy to discourage human rights defenders from pursuing their human rights activities is by branding and stigmatisation of human rights defenders, labelled them as  “Naxalites (Maoists)”, “terrorists”, “militants”, “insurgents”, “anti-nationalists” and corrupt. State have been more hostile to those working to support Forest tribes (Advasi). Journalist and Human rights activist have been targeted for their support to Forest tribes to highlight the police atrocities against Adivasi.

    The situation is more terrible in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh in Bastar region. According to Amnesty International (2016) ‘Conditions have been created where arbitrary arrests, threats to life, and organized hindrance to the work of journalists, lawyers, and other human rights defenders have led to a near total information blackout and sustained attacks on human rights activist and journalist continues.”   Even, On 30 March, 2016, A three-member fact finding committee of the Editors Guild of India confirmed that there is a sense of fear among journalists in Bastar and the democratic space for journalism is shrinking.

    It is also observed that women human rights defenders are at the risk of and suffer from violations and abuses, including systematic violations and abuses of their fundamental rights to life, liberty and security of person, to psychological and physical integrity, to privacy and respect for private and family life and to freedom of opinion and expression, association and peaceful assembly. Noteworthy is the case of Soni Sori, a tribal activist in Chhattisgarh, who  has been an outspoken critic of police violence towards tribes people in the state, was attacked with a chemical substance on 20 Ferburary 2016. The attack was carried out to discourage  Soni Sori, one of the last voices against police brutality in Bastar.
    Suggestions and Conclusion
    It is apparent from discussed cases that in most cases State’s agents and non-state actors are responsible for human rights violations. Justice is painfully slow and seems illusive to the victims. There is a need of specific law to protect the rights of human rights defenders. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India has been ineffective in responding quickly to the call from human rights defenders, although establishment of Focal point for Human Rights Defenders in NHRC has done some good work, however, it required serious improvement. Also, there is no definite protection program by NHRC, or any early warning system to protect human rights defenders. Culture of impunity can be curbed by taken immediate action against official and powerful non-state actors.

    • Cases of Human rights defenders must be dealt with immediate concerns
    • NHRC should review the constitutionality of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act;
    • NHRC should intervene in court cases against Human Rights Defenders, wherever there is possibility of their victimization;
    • create an emergency fund to help Human Rights Defenders in critical need and create a world of solidarity;
    • NHRC shall provide free legal aid to human rights defenders
    • India have legal obligation to promote and respect the human rights of its citizen.  India is also legally responsible to protect the rights of its citizen from non-state actors.

    Finally, it can be said until State is not serious enough to protect and promote human rights within its jurisdictions, it would be futile to expect that State would protect those defending the human rights of others.  Thus, vulnerable situation of human rights defenders in India demonstrates that State has failed to take its human rights obligation seriously. 

    The Oslo Times


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