India has historically proven itself to be a diverse and pluralistic country, however, there has been a convoluted relationship between India and Human Rights. The Indian constitution was adopted in India in 1950 and carries the legal moral of protecting the equal rights and opportunities for its citizens. Religious fundamentalism has often proven to be a threat to the secularity and to the human rights of Indians.
Article 15 of the Indian Constitution “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them…no citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition”. Articles 25-28 guarantee religious freedom and the right to manage religious institutions in India. Further, it is integral to note here that the Constitution of India guarantees the equal treatment of all religions, while maintaining a clear segregation between the government and the religion- meaning that there would not be any favourable treatment of any one religion over the others. Apart from the legislative, the judiciary plays an integral role in the maintaining of human rights and the retaining of freedom of religion in India. The independence of religion practise is protected to a large extent by India’s judicial system. The highest court in India has handed down precedent-setting decisions that guarantee the rights of religious minorities and individuals to freely practise their faith without interference. However, like the western countries, there is not a lack of religion in policy making- but here all the religions are expected to be included- with equal weightage. Further, Indian citizens are provided with a fundamental right to have freedom to profess, practice, and propagate any religion as per each’s own will. India is a party to a number of international conventions and treaties, including those that promote and safeguard human rights and religious liberty. It has made steps to match its domestic legislation with these international norms, which is something it has been working towards.
International NGOs and government reports often acknowledge and even highlight the diversity of India’s religious and community based society and acknowledge that while its existing legislative framework is broad enough to safeguard those who are vulnerable at the intersections, it also exhibits the willingness to show accountability and correct its mistakes in favour of safeguarding human rights and promoting secularism. In this manner they recognise the nature of India’s pluralistic society and its history of religious diversity.
However, given the diversity and large size of this country- there have been instances of religious tensions. The multitude of religious communities have sometimes been the lacuna of religion based conflicts. Some political parties and leaders too have been accused of employing these religious gaps between communities to fill their electoral banks. The politicisation of religion and communalism has been a significant concern in this country especially since its independence. However, occasionally special forces, such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), have been criticised for their potential to infringe on human rights, particularly religious freedom. This criticism is based on the fact that they have the ability to carry out actions that might violate human rights. For instance, there have been complaints that the AFSPA has led to limitations on religious practises in areas where it is applied. This is the case in places where the AFSPA is enforced. People may be prevented from attending religious meetings, going to places of worship, or taking part in religious festivals as a result of curfews and other restrictions on mobility that are enforced by security personnel. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AFSPA) has been used in order to provide a legal basis for the search and seizure of various properties, including religious buildings like mosques, churches, and temples. It is possible that this constitutes an intrusion into the independence and freedom enjoyed by these religious organisations. These worries have even made it to the international stage, where councils such as the United Nations have criticised the practises in question.Since it was first implemented in 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (abbreviated as “UPR”) has grown to become the primary forum for international examination of the human rights track record of each UN member state. This international peer review mechanism is based on a periodic self-assessment by each country of its human rights record, achievements, and challenges. It is supplemented by reports from United Nations human rights experts, entities, treaty bodies, national human rights institutions, and civil society organisations. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process is a consultative, cooperative, dialogue-oriented platform that places an emphasis on the participation of broad-based stakeholders in the production and follow up to national reports. The first Universal Periodic Review from 2008 was conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in order to assess the situation of human rights in each member country of the United Nations. Since India is a member of the United Nations and is a key propounder of human rights on the international arena, it participated in the process as well ad was provided with many recommendations regarding the concerns raised by the UPR relating to discrimination, minority rights and access to justice, along with violence against women.
India responded to this report by responding to it with a peripheral view of how it planned to combat these issues and instead of denying its responsibility, it highlighted its commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
The 2nd Universal Periodic Review was released in 2012 wherein India was provided with another set of recommendations, and concerns- this time they related to the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and freedom of expression. Recommendations included measures to address issues of police brutality, extrajudicial killings, and the need for police reforms and accountability mechanisms. Countries urged India to strengthen its legal and judicial systems to ensure timely access to justice and reduce case backlogs. Swashpawan Singh, the permanent representative of India to the UN at Geneva commented on the manpower of the country to be over one billion people and being the abode of almost all the religions and beliefs in the world.
However, India has also raised its voice against “Pakistan’s continued misuse” of the Council to bring up internal matters between the nation and India. It claimed on an international platform that Pakistan was marred by its political ambition to expand its territorial boundaries into India by force and was continuously doing so though repeated armed aggressions. It highlighted the lack of concern that Pakistan possessed for human rights and condemned its behaviour on an international platform. Following India’s third review in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism of the Human Rights Council on May 4, 2017, the Indian government acknowledged and agreed to implement nine recommendations pertaining to discrimination based on caste.
In the third UPR, different nations gave diverse recommendations to India about how it could manage its human rights challenges in favour of girls, women, and those at intersections. The most notable of them was by Ireland who gave India the advice to step up its efforts to guarantee equality and non-discrimination in line with the country’s international obligations. To do so, Ireland suggested that India develop public human rights awareness programmes and take concrete steps to advance the rights of women and girls, members of religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons, as well as to combat caste-based discrimination. It advised India to consider taking the steps to decriminalised homosexuality in Indian and create a broad and inclusive framework to address the violence against women in its legislative framework. These suggestions were noted and acknowledged by India. Peru advised India to maintain its efforts to end the suffering caused by discrimination, exclusion, dehumanisation, stigmatisation, and violence against scheduled castes- which was accepted by India. Pakistan told India to make clear policies and take other steps to protect freedom of religion and belief and stop the alarming rise of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance, such as mob violence, committed, incited, and supported by right-wing parties and extremist groups against minorities, especially Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Dalits.
Amnesty International’s report from 2015 highlighted the issue of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir and how there was an urgent need to pay attention to the obstacles to justice of human rights violations existing in both law and practice in Jammu and Kashmir because of its impunity problem. It mentioned how since the 1970s, Indian military personnel have been stationed in Jammu and Kashmir, where they are ostensibly entrusted with the protection of civilians, the maintenance of national security, and the suppression of violence perpetrated by armed groups but under the guise of security operations, members of the security force have perpetrated a number of serious abuses of human rights, many of which have been allowed to go unpunished. The report claimed that if these crimes were not addressed, it would be a violation of the victims’ and survivors’ rights to justice and redress, which are protected by the Constitution of India as well as international human rights law- and would defeat the purpose of their existence in the first place. The report contended that from 1990 to 2011 there were around 43, 00 deaths of citizens in the state, and of these- more than 21000 were termed to be militants while the others were civilians. Despite assurances that there would be “zero tolerance” for abuses of human rights committed by the army in 2013, more than 96% of complaints lodged against the army in Jammu and Kashmir were deemed to be “false” or “motivated by ulterior motives.” Investigations and military prosecutions relating to these accusations were not conducted in an open manner. Furthermore, the acts of paramilitary troops remained mostly concealed. Legal regulations such as the AFSPA continued to restrict access to legal remedies for those who had been the victims of violations of their human rights.
The report asserted that it been simpler to report abuses of human rights as a result of a number of reforms, including the rise in the number of police stations and the introduction of a state human rights commission. In spite of this, it clarified that a new study conducted by Amnesty International discovered that the government utilised legal protections to shield security officers from prosecution, therefore undermining the sluggish march towards justice. This research demonstrated the role that the government played in promoting impunity for security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. It also emphasised the use of sanction provisions under AFSPA, the lack of transparency in the denial of punishment, and abuses of constitutional rights.
The research also disclosed that the laws that regulate military and internal security forces gave such forces extensive authority over criminal offences, including abuses of human rights. As a consequence of this, the trials were conducted using a military court system that did not adhere to the fair trial criteria established by international organisations. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir was made much worse by the fact that security personnel in the region did not cooperate with civilian inquiries or courts and frequently resorted to intimidating and threatening anyone who filed complaints.
According to the State Department’s 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, India is a federal parliamentary democracy with primary responsibility for maintaining law and order held by states and union territories, while the central government provides policy oversight. However, India has been widely recognised by U.S. government agencies, the United Nations, and some non-governmental organisations as a site of numerous human rights abuses, including significant violations, with some attributed to agents of both state and federal governments. These abuses have reportedly increased during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and the rise of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, especially since their re-election in 2019.
Furthermore, various analyses have raised concerns about democratic backsliding in India. The Varieties of Democracies project in Sweden has classified India as an “electoral autocracy” since 2019, and in 2023, it labeled India as “one of the worst autocratizers in the last 10 years.” Since 2021, the U.S.-based non profit Freedom House has reclassified India as “Partly Free,” stating that Modi and his party are pushing India toward authoritarianism. The report stated that this happening “due to the Indian government’s promotion of Hindu nationalism, and engagement and facilitation of systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” It raised questions about the press freedom and the freedom of expression of the citizens- claiming that there were grave injustices to human rights being carried out in the name of religious fundamentalism by Hindu fanatics, and that instead of the nation condemning such behaviour, it was condoning them against electoral politics.
As an example, it cited the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and how until recently, Jammu and Kashmir was India’s only Muslim-majority state, but today India no longer has any Muslim-majority states. In 2019, the Indian government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and Section 35A of its Annex, which had granted the state nominally autonomous status. This move resulted in the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two “Union Territories,” each with reduced administrative powers. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concerns that these changes could undermine the rights of minorities. The 2022 Human Rights Report (HRR) highlighted that journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face obstacles in terms of reporting due to communication and movement restrictions. It also mentions reports of human rights monitors facing constraints and harassment by state agents in the region. Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2023 criticises both the Public Safety Act and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which it claims allow for mass detentions without charges and provide impunity to security forces, even in cases of serious human rights abuses. It cited Amnesty International (AI) to note that Jammu and Kashmir had the highest proportion of deaths involving the police in India between April 2020 and March 2022. These developments indicate ongoing concerns about human rights and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.In response, the New Delhi government issued a rebuttal. It denied many facts that were stated in this report and claimed to be misleading and incorrect from the start- claiming that the conclusion that was led to from these facts were not correct too.
“India: ‘Denied’: Failures in Accountability for Human Rights Violations by Security Force Personnel in Jammu and Kashmir – Amnesty International” (Amnesty International, June 1, 2021) <https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa20/1874/2015/en/>
“Second Right of Reply by India in Response to the Statement by Pakistan under the Agenda Item 2 during the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India) <https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/27399/Second+Right+of+Reply+by+India+in+response+to+the+Statement+by+Pakistan+under+the+Agenda+Item+2+during+the+33rd+Session+of+the+UN+Human+Rights+Council>
“Universal Periodic Review – India” (OHCHR) <https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/upr/in-index>
“Universal Periodic Review” (OHCHR) <https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/upr/highlights10-april2008pm>
Randeep Singh Nandal, “State data refutes claim of 1 lakh killed in Kashmir” Times of India, 20 June 2011, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/State-data-refutes-claim-of-1-lakh-killed-in-Kashmir/articleshow/8918214.cms (accessed 9 April 2015). *Note: Data collected by the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) states that 49 civilians were killed between July 2011 and March 2014, bringing the total number of civilians killed to 16,917 for one estimate. However, the SATP does not state whether the civilians killed were killed by armed groups or security forces.
US State Department Report https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fblog.ipleaders.in%2Fhuman-rights-violations%2F&psig=AOvVaw0NlhVR9vTGgQb_hbFlROzd&ust=1703407664617000&source=images&cd=vfe&opi=89978449&ved=0CBIQjRxqFwoTCKiJ7bWWpYMDFQAAAAAdAAAAABADhttps://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12198#:~:text=As%20reported%20by%20the%20State,central%20government%20provides%20policy%20oversight.