On October 2019 Delivering a lecture on the “Indian Economy: Challenges and Prospects” at the Deepak and Neera Raj Centre on Indian Economic Policies , Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Nirmala Sitharaman , Finance Minister of the Modi Government , on being asked of the revocation of Article 370 and its economic impact on the state of Jammu and Kashmir , expressed her satisfaction with the decision owing to the many benefits it brought according to her such as – applicability of Affirmative Action for the Scheduled Castes of the state and the Right of women to inherit property even after marriage in a state other than that of Jammu and Kashmir.
Taking a dig at the fact that the revocation of the Article also made Human Rights a buzzword , she questioned the lack of consciousness to the fate of women on being denied property rights and that of the scheduled castes being denied job opportunities prior to the revocation of the aforementioned article, guaranteeing it a Special Status . Interestingly the condition of both – women and the Scheduled Castes , in the rest of the country where Finance Minister’s party enjoys a majority are significantly deplorable .
In other news in March 2020, at the 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission , India rebuked Pakistan in its Right of Reply terming it as a ‘failed state’ with no regard for values , culture or democracy . This was in response to Pakistan raising the issue of Jammu and Kashmir yet again at an international forum.
The Indian representative Vimarsh Aryan , who is the First Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) argued that Pakistan as a state is a threat to not only the religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan but is the cradle and the epicentre of terrorism which seriously compromises international peace and harmony , if left unchecked .
Aryan further comments that in times of the pandemic , Pakistan dons a pernicious mask to masquerade the fact that as an apparent champion of Human Rights , it’s violations of the same in terms of torturing and persecuting minorities have been abominable . India blames Pakistan for unabated torture , maiming and systemic persecution of religious minorities .
WHAT ARE HUMAN RIGHTS ?
A simple definition of Human Rights is that given by The United Nations as those rights which are inherent in our state of nature and without which we cannot live as human beings. These are to be guaranteed regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.
India braces itself as the largest democracy in the world . It’s preamble which is referred to as the ‘key-note’ of the Constitution ( Sir Ernest Barker, 1951) bears the words ‘SOVEREIGN , SOCIALIST ,SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC, REPUBLIC’ . Undoubtedly Democracy is a crucial marker of the Indian identity yet it’s credibility as one has been questioned increasingly over the past few years .
In the month of September 2020 , amidst a global pandemic , Amnesty International stopped its operation in India as the Government of India froze its bank accounts , taking action against it for speaking up about the situation of Human Rights violation particularly those pertaining to the region of Jammu and Kashmir as well as owing to Amnesty International’s allegations on the government of pushing a Hindu first agenda ,in its 2019 report . The Government conceals this behind the excuse of financial wrongdoing . Avinash Kumar , Executive Director of Amnesty International , India , calls this as Freezing Dissent .
October 2020 – The UNHCR Commissioner , Michelle Bachelet held out that India has been misusing the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) – prohibiting the receipts of foreign funds to its own benefit of, discouraging , deterring and punishing NGOs . This garnered a response from the MEA that formulations of law is a sovereign prerogative and that ‘violations of Law , however , cannot be condoned on the pretext of human rights’ and that India was a vibrant and pluralistic democracy with a robust grievance redressal system in place overseen by an independent judiciary .
THE HUMAN RIGHTS DISCOURSE IN INDIA
The experience of Human Rights violations is not new to India , and is embedded in the everyday lives of many . Draconian Laws , arbitrary arrest and detention , persecution , censorship as methods to subvert dissent and limit the freedom of expression are often used as a yardstick to ennoble and aggrandize the successes of the regime .
The year 2019 has been prototypical of such successes. Starting with the revocation of Article 370 , there have been gross civil liberties violations accompanied by increased militarisation and censorship in the region, along with detention of key political leaders and representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Internet and telephone communications were suspended and continue to remain so, till date in many areas . Such excesses are often followed by narratives of protection of sovereignty and integrity of the nation .
Further, Goalpara of Assam became the birthplace of India’s largest detention centre ( reminiscent of the Nazi times ) which is presumed to have been sheltering about 3,000 “foreigners” as defined by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) , who live their lives at the brink of statelessness . Undoubtedly the worst sufferers amongst them are women who are less likely to possess documents proving their citizenship .
The Citizenship Amendment Act further heightened the case of atrocities as it enabled granting of citizenship through naturalisation and registration particularly to Hindus , Sikhs , Buddhists , Jains , Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan , Bangladesh and Pakistan entering India on or before 31st December 2014 . The Act deliberately left out the Muslims even when India is home to world’s largest Muslim minority population.
The amendments in the UAPA vested the government with irrepressible power to declare any ordinary citizen or activist as a terrorist . Communal Violence and mob lynching against the Muslims as well as Dalits continue to remain a reality . Atrocities against women continue to proliferate despite numerous laws being in place- The Hathras rape case against a Dalit woman and many others exemplify it .
These violations have become so embedded in our commonsensical understandings that it often becomes difficult to even identify them as a Human Rights violations . When India and its representatives argue that India is a democratic , tolerant and pluralistic nation, all one can see is attempts at homogenisation , supressing dissent and forceful adherence to norms which is antithetical to the image that India projects on the world stage . Thus, the pillars of our nation are under threat of being destroyed by the ultranationalist agenda advanced by its supporters .
Human Rights violations suffer from reductionism to single line agendas in the flimsy manifestos of many parties . These violations are in fact a tool for political parties to increase their vote bank. If there is no issue , there is no reason for a party to contest . The reductionism also permeates to the general population who are seen instruments of garnering power rather in their capacity as human beings . Since this is the case ,the idea of Human Rights in its essence is less likely to see light of the day .
The need of the hour is therefore a much more critical understanding of the everyday realities . It is indeed difficult to live up to all expectations of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration (UDHR, 1948) . Not only do they seem to be idealistic but often are entangled in the debates of cultural relativism and particularism . It is onerous to have a uniform standard that resonates with every nation. Experiential registers of nations vary and therefore it would be unfair to straightjacket them into categories and bind them with provisions unsuitable to their conditions . Yet , cultural differentiations do not justify violation of Human Rights . A Democracy breathes and flourishes when its Human Rights are respected .
India can become a vibrant democracy only if it thrives on the dialectic of opinions . Homogenisation poses the dangers of stagnation which may tie down India by fetters at the ground level of social realities ( that of illiberalism) threatening it to lose its position amongst the global champions of democracy .It is important to remember that every action has an equal and opposite reaction . Curbing dissent would only stimulate sentiments for a stronger democracy , that which extols humanity and Human Rights .
A Masters student in Political Science at Delhi University , Jahnobi Khanna is a shy girl with a critical eye . She has been a devoted Odissi Dancer for almost 12 years and a profound lover of Music and the Arts . She wishes to pursue research in feminist and postcolonial studies .