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India: “Regressive Laws†Were Used To Curb Freedom Of Expression In India In 2016, Says Amnesty

Sunday 26 February 2017, by siawi3


February 25, 2017,10:09 AM

Calling 2016 the global year of “us against them†when people were singled out “as threat to national interests†, Amnesty International (AI) has, in its annual report, also made several damning observations about India. The human rights organisation has noted several instances of rights-abuses in the country through the year. Here are some of the observations made by the organisation with respect to India:
Marginalised Communities/ Caste-Communal Violence: The report notes that marginalised communities were ignored in India due to the government’s desire to push for faster economic growth. It slams demonetisation for having “severely affected†millions.

Although acknowledging the amendments made to the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, the report criticises the continued abuse of Dalits and Adivasis by denying them entry into public and social spaces as well as by discriminating against members of the communities in accessing public services. There were more than 45,000 crimes against members of the SC community and 11,000 crimes against members of the ST community in 2015, government statistics released in 2016 had revealed.

The report also criticises the functioning of the Special Investigation Team formed in 2015 by the Centre for looking into the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. “A team formed to reinvestigate closed cases related to the 1984 Sikh massacre identified 77 cases for further investigation and invited people to testify. The functioning of the team continued to lack transparency,†the report says. The human rights organisation has also noted attacks on Muslims and Dalits by cow-vigilante groups.

Corporate Accountability: Amnesty has also highlighted the lack of accountability of corporate businesses in India. It criticises the Ministry of Environment’s approval for expanding a coal mine in Kusmunda of Chhattisgarh without obtaining “free, prior and informed consent†of affected Adivasi communities. The organisation has also criticised the continued use of the Coal Bearing Areas Act to obtain Adivasi land without consent.

The US based Dow Chemical Company and its subsidiary Union Carbide have been criticised for not appearing in a Bhopal Court for facing criminal charges related to the 1984 gas leak disaster.

Jammu and Kashmir: Citing “a range of human rights violations by authorities†, the organisation has criticised the state of human rights in the Kashmir. “Security forces used arbitrary or excessive force against demonstrators on several occasions,†the report says. Citing the frequent communications-shutdown in the state, AI says, “The communications shutdown undermined a range of human rights. Residents reported being unable to reach medical assistance in case of emergencies.â€

Gender And Sexuality: The report criticises the government’s failure to include the transgender community and sex-workers while making laws related to them or their professions. The organisation is also critical of the continued violence committed against women. “Women from marginalized communities continued to face systemic discrimination, making it harder for them to report sexual or other forms of violence,†the report reads. It slams the failure of the government in investigating rapes reported by Adivasi women in Chhattisgarh and the murder of a Dalit law student from Kerala.

Freedom to Protest: With respect to human rights defenders, the organisation has said that “journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders were harassed and attacked with impunity†. Freedom of expression was another right that was denied to many. “Regressive laws continued to be used to persecute people who legitimately exercised their right to freedom of expression,†the report says in relation to the sedition charge on JNU students, on DU professor S.A.R. Geelani, on people making Facebook posts in Madhya Pradesh, and on AI India members. Freedom of association was also denied, the organisation has said, due to the continued use of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) “to harass NGOs†.

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, in his foreword to the report called 2016 a year when “the idea of human dignity and equality, the very notion of a human family, coming under vigorous and relentless assault†. He, however, urges everyone to “take a stand stand against dehumanization†. “2017 needs human rights heroes,†he says in conclusion.