Human rights in India is an issue complicated by the country’s large size and population, widespread poverty, lack of proper education, as well as its diverse culture, even though being the world’s largest sovereign, secular, democratic republic. The Constitution of India provides for Fundamental rights, which include freedom of religion. Clauses also provide for freedom of speech, as well as separation of executive and judiciary and freedom of movement within the country and abroad. The country also has an independent judiciary and well as bodies to look into issues of human rights.
The 2016 report of Human Rights Watch accepts the above-mentioned faculties but goes to state that India has “serious human rights concerns. Civil society groups face harassment and government critics face intimidation and lawsuits. Free speech has come under attack both from the state and by interest groups. Muslim and Christian minorities accuse authorities of not doing enough to protect their rights. But in the recent years, more emphasis is given to minority rights & freedom of speech. The government is yet to repeal laws that grant public officials and security forces immunity from prosecution for abuses.”
Violations perpetrated by State authorities
In most cases, the state authorities are responsible for violations committed against human rights defenders whereas they have the obligation, under the Declaration on human rights defenders, to ensure their protection.
Police and security forces are the most visible perpetrators. They may be found responsible for arbitrary arrests, physical violence committed during peaceful demonstrations, illegal searches, or illegal surveillances.
Besides these direct acts, the States may also be indirectly responsible for violations committed against human rights defenders.
For example, for each human rights violation committed against defenders, the state authorities have the obligation to investigate on the violation, provide temporary protection for the victims, and prosecute those responsible. When States do not fulfil those obligations it means they violated the human rights defenders’ rights. This is the case when the police refuse to register complaints made by human rights defenders or when the courts refuse to initiate proceedings against the presumed responsible for such violations.
This omission of the States leads to a general sense of impunity for those responsible, which encourages them to perpetrate acts against human rights defenders.
Human rights violations by non-State actors
Non-state actors can also commit human rights violations, which means that a wide range of people can be responsible, that includes armed groups, companies and individuals.
For example, armed groups may be responsible for murders, violence, torture or intimidation of human rights defenders.
It may happen that human rights defenders are victims of reprisals committed by members of their community in direct response to their activity in the field of human rights. This may be the case when such activity is felt as an attack on the honour of the community or when it makes the community vulnerable to attacks.
Among the non-state actors, transnational companies may also be responsible for violations committed against human rights defenders. For example, a company will be responsible if it beats and uses violence against human rights defenders while they are peacefully demonstrating against environmental damages cause by the company.
These violations can take various forms, including but not limited to:
- Arbitrary arrests and detentions: The state unlawfully arrests and detains individuals without proper legal justification or due process.
- Torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment: The state inflicts physical or psychological harm on individuals, often as a means of extracting information or exerting control.
- Extrajudicial killings: The state or its agents unlawfully cause the death of individuals without legal proceedings or due process.
- Restrictions on freedom of expression: The state curtails the right to freedom of speech, press, or assembly, limiting the ability of individuals to express their opinions or participate in peaceful protests.
- Discrimination and persecution: The state discriminates against individuals or groups based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or other protected characteristics, subjecting them to persecution or marginalization.
- Forced disappearances: The state unlawfully abducts individuals, refusing to disclose their whereabouts or fate, thereby denying their right to due process and leaving their families in distress.
- Suppression of political opposition: The state represses political dissent, targeting opposition leaders, activists, or journalists who criticize or challenge the government.
- Denial of fair trials: The state fails to provide fair and impartial judicial proceedings, depriving individuals of their right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence.
- Forced labor and slavery: The state compels individuals to work against their will, often under exploitative and abusive conditions, denying them their basic rights and freedoms.
- Restrictions on religious freedom: The state limits or suppresses the freedom of individuals to practice their chosen religion or belief system, potentially leading to discrimination, persecution, or even violence.