The Immunisation of Human Rights
Seldom does a
day pass without some report of human rights violations released somewhere in
the world. The concept of human rights has been elevated to the status of a
global or NATO religion, on the other hand the human rights concept remains
controversial. There is an absence of discourse on human rights in our
sociopolitical life. How and why do human rights need prominence?
published Country Reports (with reference to India) on Human Rights
Practices for 2018 (Report of 2018) by the U.S. Department of State
describe glaring human rights violations committed by the state in India. The
Report of 2018 questions the global consensus on human rights in the
contemporary human rights movement and also highlights the fragility of the
consensus among world nation-states. In the Indian context the report
categorically mentions the lack of accountability and widespread impunity for
human rights violations committed by state and non-state actors.
But whether in
India or the US, the state's constant indulgence in violence has led to
legitimate suspicions about the human rights discourse. Today the human rights
discourse in India is being centrally commanded monolithic entity with an
immutable set of characteristics and poses a grave threat to the survival of
human rights itself.
Arbitrary deprivation of life
The Report of
2018 cites Ministry of Home Affairs data in which the Investigation Division of
the National Human Rights Commission reported 59 nationwide encounter deaths in
From the Asian
Center for Human Rights' Torture Update India report, the Report states that
more than five custodial deaths per day have occurred on average between April
2017 and February 2018.
It also cites
the NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative which noted in its 2016 report
that, of 186 complaints of human rights violations reported against the armed
forces in states under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act between 2012 and
2016, 49.5 percent were from the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Report of
2018 estimates that civilian deaths by security forces ranged from 130 to 145,
and between 16 and 20 killings by armed groups documenting alleged violations
committed by security forces from June 2016 to April 2018, as published the
Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir by The Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights.
indicates the assault done on human rights and democracy in the garb of
legitimacy of powers. The fundamental right to life is not extended to all the
people of this country. The rise of arbitrariness and the unmistakable bias in
not upholding the right to life force us to question the appropriateness of
human rights agencies to undertake the task of delivering justice.
Torture and the compromise of law
As an absolute
and universal norm, the ban on torture cannot be derogated under any
circumstances, not even in a state of war or public emergency. States should
not only desist from exerting any form torture, but are required to take
preventive measures from it occurrence and investigate any allegations of
torture. And yet, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment continues to be practiced in most democratic countries including
The Report of
2018 mentions some of the ghastly atrocities: "On July 13 a 45-year-old Dalit
man, B.Murthy, was found hanging in a police station in Mandya, Karnataka. On
August 2 the activist Talib Hussain was allegedly tortured in the custody of
Samba police in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and suffered a fractured skull,
according to the NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative."
The Report cites
the meagre compensation of Rs 3,00,000 paid by the state government on the
direction of the Odisha Human Rights Commission to the family of Abhay Singh,
an antiques dealer, who died in police custody in June 2017.
highlights the inadequacies and the idiosyncrasies which have contributed to
the prevailing culture of torture. The unwillingness to report crimes, police
officials' refusal to register sexual assault cases, compounded by a perception
of a lack of oversight and accountability by more democratic institutions, have
given rise to the torture team of the state.
world's largest democracy needs to answer these questions that fall from its
actions. How can the prohibition of torture be enforced in practice? What are
some effective mechanisms, procedures and processes to prevent torture and
ill-treatment? And how can continued public and political support for the
prohibition of torture be secured in an age of rising populism, public
insecurity and ebbing enthusiasm for human rights?
Prisoners of prison: From capacity to conditions
According to the
National Crimes Records Bureau's Prison Statistics India 2015 report, there
were 1,401 prisons in the country with an authorized capacity of 3,66,781
persons. The actual incarcerated population was 4,19,623. Persons awaiting
trial accounted for more than two-thirds of the prison population. The law
requires detention of juveniles in rehabilitative facilities, although at times
authorities had detained them in adult prisons, especially in rural areas.
The Report of
2018 states that there were 4,391 female jail staff for a population of 17,834
female prisoners as of 2015 as stated by the Minister of State for Home
Affairs. The Report takes note of the fact that National Human Rights
Commission, India desperate efforts for seeking statistical reports on the
number of children who live with their mothers in jails.
The Report of
2018 throws light on the underbelly of our prisons which are severely
overcrowded, with inadequate food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental
conditions. Potable water is not universally available. Prisons and detention
centers remained underfunded, understaffed, and lacked sufficient infrastructure.
An analysis of
the Report of 2018 produced by the US government is important because first, it
shows a willingness to engage with the present state of human rights realities,
and secondly it attempts to reorder priorities and confusion of human rights
and human aspirations.
What we need
today is a greater reliance on empirical data on human rights violations, to
confront and counter the Indian state's factual inaccuracies and
misrepresentation. More such reporting will fulfil the needs of the
overambitious human rights project. Only then will human rights violations be
seen as political, social and legal actions, and face a similar response.
is a research associate at the Centre for Comparative Law in the National Law