Human Rights Violations Increased by nearly 37% in Less Than a Year: Home Ministry Data
With data for one month still left to be computed, cases of human rights violations in the country, as registered by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), have already increased by around 37% between 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.
In 2020-2021, the NHRC had registered 74,968 cases of human rights violations, while in 2021-2022 (till February 28, 2022), the commission registered as many as 1,02,539 such cases. NHRC's yearly figures are calculated from April 1 to March 31 for a financial year.
While the annual reports of the NHRC, which list the total number of cases registered in a year along with their details, have not been laid down in the Parliament or published since 2019, the year-wise numbers for the last three years were tabled by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Rajya Sabha during the last budget session.
"This is a significant jump in the number of violations, and it shows the state's failure to protect human rights. However, we still need to go through the state-wise details of the cases registered along with the particulars on the nature of the violations, which are only available in the NHRC Annual Reports," said Avinash Kumar, former Executive Director of Amnesty International India.
On the question of why the NHRC Annual Reports have not been published since the last three years, Minister of State in the Home Ministry, Nityanand Rai told the Rajya Sabha in March that the NHRC is still in the process of seeking comments from the concerned Central Ministries on the recommendations made by the commission. "As the recommendations given in the Annual Report of the NHRC for the year 2019-20 pertain to various Central Ministries of the Government of India, therefore, for preparing the memorandum of action taken, comments of the concerned Central Ministries have been sought on these recommendations. Annual Report of NHRC is published on its website after it is laid before the Parliament," his reply in the Upper House of the Parliament stated.
Apart from the rising number of human rights cases, a reduction in the total amount of monetary compensation recommended by the NHRC is another cause of concern for human rights activists. "The compensation recommended by the national commission has seen a sharp reduction of more than 30% between 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 and this has been falling ever since," said Kumar. In another answer tabled in the Rajya Sabha in December 2021, the Home Ministry had stated that in 2018-2019, Rs 27,67,54,996 was recommended by the NHRC to be awarded as monetary relief in 713 cases. The figure was Rs 15,06,85,840 for 488 cases in 2019-2020.
Source: Rajya Sabha
In the same answer, the MHA stated that 64,170 cases of human rights violations were registered by the ministry in 2021-2022 till October 31, 2021. "As per the data made available by the NHRC, no such increase of Human Rights Violations is noticed," the MHA had stated then. Till October 31, out of 64,170 cases, as many as 24,242 cases (37.7%) of human rights violations were from Uttar Pradesh.
"As human rights violations increase, the institutional integrity of the NHRC itself seems to be weakening. The NHRC is not taking cognisance of the hounding of human rights activists, and the ill-treatment of political prisoners in jail. Comments made by United Nation Special Rapporteurs are also being ignored," said Kumar.
Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, had recently expressed "deep concern" over the arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad by Gujarat Police on June 25. Calling for Setalvad's release, the UN official said, "Deeply concerned by reports of Teesta Setalvad being detained by the Anti-Terrorism Squad of Gujarat Police. Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Defending human rights is not a crime. I call for her release and an end to persecution by the Indian state".
Over the issue of human rights and the working of human rights institutions in India, Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR)—a collective of human rights organisations—had said, "The human rights situation in India remains challenging and human rights institutions have not functioned robustly. Despite a statutory responsibility to review laws, the NHRC has not monitored the misuse of UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act), AFSPA (Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act), and PSA (Public Safety Act) against political dissenters. It has also not pushed for a national legislation to prevent torture, hate crimes and the abolition of death penalty." These statements were made as part of the Joint Stakeholder Report prepared by the WGHR for the United Human Right Council.
India will appear before the Council for its fourth review under the UN's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November 2022. India will be required to respond to comments from other UN member states on the issue of human rights.
The Joint Report further observed, "During protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Milia Islamia, the NHRC blamed students for the violence, and justified the excessive use of force by police…Frustration has grown in civil society over the NHRC's lack of independence. The NHRC issued several guidelines to protect human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, but was unable to prevent serious human rights violations in prisons, including the tragic death of Father Stan Swamy caused by negligence." The Joint Report has been endorsed by more than 400 organisations and individuals.
Concerns over the lack of independence of the NHRC were raised last year as well when former Supreme Court judge Arun Kumar Mishra was appointed as the commission's chairperson. The appointment was made by the selection committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, had disagreed with the appointment on the grounds that candidates from marginalised communities or a retired Chief Justice of India or a retired justice "with a proven track record of a concern for human right" were not selected; members of various human rights organisation had called the appointment "one more brazen and deliberate blow by the central government to the Constitution, rule of law and human rights".
"Former Supreme Court judge Arun Kumar Mishra has an extremely dubious track record. He has also spoken publicly against human rights defenders in the past," said Kumar. Speaking on the 28th Foundation Day of NHRC, Justice Mishra had said, "India is one of the strongest democratic forces today and that credit goes to the citizens and leadership....It is now a norm to accuse India of human rights violation at the behest of international forces."
The writer is a Delhi-based independent researcher.
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