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US Human Rights Report on India: A Farcical Exercise!
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Few days back, this author was shocked to read a news item prominently published in a national English daily known for its leftist leanings and constant criticism of the working of the present ruling party and the government of India. The item basically dwelled upon the 2021 Human Rights Report on India recently released by the US State Department flagging umpteen defects and violations such as curbs on freedom of speech of individuals and civil society, etc. expressing concerns over the alleged arbitrary arrests and detentions, extra-judicial killings, violence against religious minorities, curbs on free expression by media, overly restrictive laws on funding of NGOs and civil society organizations, harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations, and so on. What appears even more ridiculous and obnoxious that major opposition political parties, a section of mainstream media and self-proclaimed liberals-intellectuals in India seeking and relying on certification from the West, particularly US, about the democratic functioning and secular credentials of the country, rather than applying own mind and working tools utilizing vast indigenous resources to decipher what is wrong or right in the country.
This author is having a serious contemplation if other than the military superiority and economic advantage accumulated largely at the expense of the developing Asian, African and Latin American countries, the Western countries such as US have what other moral or material qualifications and achievements that entitle them to intervene and be judgmental in the internal matters of other countries. The US is often said to be the largest country fostering democratic institutions and championing the cause of human rights, when they have frequently aligned with and encouraged the autocratic and dictatorial regimes in furtherance of own military, economic and other interests. Dozens of such instances could be quoted but perhaps the most recent and relevant could be virtual handing over of Afghanistan to the utter communal and fanatic Taliban with worst record of the human rights violations. Initially, the US had strengthened Taliban in 1980s with indirect military support through Pakistan in 1980s to counter Russian influence in Afghanistan and then militarily intervened in Afghanistan in 2000s to destroy same Taliban; such are the true credentials and record of the oldest democracy as the human rights champions. The author would, however, restrict his current analysis only in the Indian context.
Salient Features of US 2021 Human Rights Report on India
Recently, the US State Department released a lengthy and critical report on human rights in India through the Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 12 April 2022. Such a report is submitted to the US Congress every year containing country-wise details on the position of individual, civil, political and worker rights as assessed and perceived by the concerned US agencies. In the aforesaid report on India, the State Department has flagged concerns over the alleged arbitrary arrests and detentions, extra-judicial killings, violence against religious minorities, curbs on freedom of expression and media, unjustified prosecution of journalists, overly restrictive funding of the NGOs and other civil society organizations with notable lack of accountability for the official misconduct at all levels of government contributing to widespread impunity. Such violations as recorded in the Executive Summary of the ibid Human Rights Report are verbatim reproduced even at the cost of some repetition as under:
The complete report has been compiled under seven sections, each dealing with a different category, flagging related issues and alleged violations citing individual cases in some instances. The contents of the same are briefly mentioned in the following paragraphs.
Section 1 carries a heading ‘Respect for the Integrity of the Person’ and issues have been purportedly discussed under the sub-headings like arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings, disappearance of people, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention, denial of fair public trial, arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, etc. Citing past incidents and reports, many of these issues have been discussed in a general manner casting aspersions on the Indian state and its military, para-military and police organizations for the alleged lapses and violations. Some specific instances such as disappearance of Naseer Ahmad Wani in 2019 from Kashmir after being questioned by the army soldiers, arrest of the activist Disha Ravi in Bengaluru on sedition charges in February 2020 in the ‘toolkit’ case, arrest of Khurram Parvez by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) objected to by the civil society and trial of the student leader Umer Khalid for making a speech during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 have been highlighted as breach of human rights under this section.
The Section 2 of the report carries a heading ‘Respect for Civil Liberties’ listing the general and specific alleged violations which have been dealt with under the sub-headings such as freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Movement and the Right to leave the country, status and treatment of internally displaced persons, protection of refugees, and stateless persons. In this section, several individual instances of the journalists and other activists criticizing the government publicly and privately utilizing the online platforms, television, radio or print media, and consequent action, if any, by the latter has been categorized as violation of the freedom of expression. Under the category of violence and harassment, some individual occurrences have been listed where journalists or other people were attacked or killed by the criminals. Instances of internet restrictions or shutdown have also been quoted particularly in the context of the union territory of the Jammu and Kashmir.
The Section 3 with the heading ‘Freedom to Participate in the Political Process’ deals with the constitutional provision of citizens role and ability to choose their government in free and fair periodical elections through the secret ballot. Under this section, the previous elections, political parties and their participation, as also the participation and representation of the women, minority and marginalized (referring to Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes) have been briefly recorded without listing any major issues. However, the position as shown in the report about the participation of women in the government as ministers in the previous and present cabinet appears erroneously represented.
Then the Section 4 is about the ‘Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government’ suggesting that although the Indian law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials but they frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Then it cites that the country’s ombudsman received 110 corruption complaints in June, of which four were against the members of Parliament. This averment probably refers to the office of Lokpal which is operative since March 2019. Then the report goes on to rely on NGOs and civil society organizations’ complaints and demonstrations about the bribery to expedite services in various walks of life without citing any specific cases to press the points raised. In Section 5 dealing with the government response towards international and nongovernmental investigation of the alleged abuses of human rights, only area where the report appears to have given clean chit by observing that they have generally operated without government restrictions.
Section 6 carries a headline ‘Discrimination and Societal Abuses’ and deals with the issues relating to woman rape and domestic violence including mutilation of female genital in some areas, the rape of minors under the gender neutral protection of children from sexual offenses act (POCSO), sexual harassment and reproductive rights, discrimination, gender-based sex selection, child abuse and child marriage, Organ harvesting, acts of violence, criminalization and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some NGOs reported heightened discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community in the eastern area of the country. Under Section 7 ‘Workers Rights’, issues relating to the freedom of association and rights to collective bargaining, prohibition of forced or compulsory labour, prohibition of child labour and minimum age for employment, and acceptable conditions of work has been discussed citing a few stray cases of non-compliance of law.
A Random Analysis of Report & Human Rights Status in US
The very idea of one country according a higher pedestal for itself posing as a self-proclaimed champion and judge for the democratic institutions and human rights across the world is erroneous and farfetched. There is an old saying that “the people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” which implies that the people who themselves have faults should not criticize other people for having the similar faults. The aforesaid saying perfectly fits in the case of the US as will be evident with just a few illustrative cases in the following analysis. If the US is the oldest democracy in the world then India too is largest democracy in the world. Years of colonial exploitation led to the constant erosion of India’s traditionally rich cultural and material wealth leading to impoverishment but it has once again emerged like a phoenix to reclaim its rightful place in the world and none can stop it now to achieve it in the near future. It looks so ridiculous that a country has assumed the role of judging the fault lines of others when its own human rights record is quite discriminatory, faulty and poor. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all individual occurrences in the Report but to illustrate the point made above, a few randomly picked up cases in India and US have been briefly discussed in the following paragraphs.
In the context of respecting the integrity of the person, the ibid US Report has quoted the UN special rapporteurs seeking from the Indian government the details regarding the allegations of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir, including the status of Naseer Ahmad Wani, who disappeared in 2019 after being questioned by army soldiers. It is well known fact that the Indian territory of Jammu & Kashmir has remained a disturbed area for the last several years due to Pakistan sponsored separatist movement and terrorists activities. The security forces have the onerous duty to deal with and apprehend people directly involved in terrorism or actively helping or abetting it. It’s obvious, the Indian government and security forces do not need advice or intervention of US to deal with own domestic problem. Information available indicates that Wani was taken to the Shajimarg army camp for interrogation and was released after the routine inquiry. However, he did not reach home and the parents started blaming the army for his disappearance. According to the assessment of the Shopian police, Wani joined the militancy and was active in the Valley since November that year. Now this in not an unusual or the only case because many Pakistan-sponsored terrorist outfits are active in Kashmir for long and they proactively target Kashmiri youth and brainwash them to join militancy citing it as a holy religious duty. It is irrational and grossly unfair to blame the Indian merely army merely on the basis of conjectures and suspicion as they never target any innocent people.
About so-called arbitrary arrest or detention, the Report cites the arrest of the so-called Indian climate activist Disha Ravi in Bengaluru in February 2020 on sedition charges, who was granted bail by a Delhi court after ten days of judicial custody. She was a suspect in the case of making and sharing of a document (toolkit), which was widely circulated worldwide to garner support for the Farmers Agitation in India, roping in celebrities like environmental activist Greta Thunberg, pop singer Rihanna and some others for its promotion and wide publicity, which led to a large scale violence in Delhi on the occasion of 26 January 2020 challenging security and sovereignty of the country. The alleged toolkit and its circulation was an international conspiracy and cyber crime, engineered and coordinated by a pro-khalistani group ‘Poetic Justice Foundation’, the trail of money even suggested heavy payments made to some celebrities in lieu. Although the said activist was arrested based on the incriminatory material and links with the involved celebrities but later on the probe against her hit a roadblock following non-cooperation from the Google and Zoom, which did not respond to the repeated queries of the investigators.
The international media such as BBC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Telegraph, NBC News and the Time magazine publicised the incident as a part of the larger pattern of the Indian government’s intimidation of journalist and protesters using draconian colonial era sedition laws. The New York Times called it a crackdown on activists and internet freedom and Telegraph said that the Indian government’s angry response was due to the support of celebrities Greta Thunberg and Rihanna to the popular farmers’ protests in India. Without going much into the fallacy of the said US Report or very nature of the Farmers’ Agitation against the new legislation, withdrawal of which caused more harm to over 85% medium and marginal farmers in India. The recent statement of Yogendra Yadav, the key leader of Farmers’ Agitation, during a media-debate would suffice to explain the real objective of the said agitation:
In yet another case, the Report depicts Khurram Parvez as a Kashmiri human rights defender criticising his arrest in November 2021 by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) for the ‘terror funding’ and ‘conspiracy’ against the state as unlawful in violation of human rights more so because his arrest was immediately criticized by the domestic and international civil society. The Report also criticized the arrest of one Umer Khalid, still a student at the age of 35 years in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, in September 2020 for a speech against the the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 stating that the prosecutors were deliberately delaying the start of his trial. The correct position in this regard is that any case of crime, conspiracy and terror funding is not decided based on the purported pressure mounted by the international or national media and interested organizations but the concrete evidences available in the case. Recently, the Special Court has allowed the custody of Khurram Parvez and two other accused to NIA in February 2022 to confront a former police officer apprehended by the agency for Lashkar-e-Toiba links in the same conspiracy and terror funding case. As for Umer Khalid, constantly making news for his antinational activities, his trial was not delayed by prosecuting agency but by the Delhi government which actually sided with Umer Khalid Inc. for own political interests and held back clearance of the chargesheet for almost three years.
The US government often boasts of championing the cause of democracy and human rights in own country to justify their right of judging other countries across the world on these parameters. So let’s analyze a few cases to illustrate and ascertain the novelty of the US democratic institutions and human rights. The US constantly criticizes countries like India for the sectarian violence, police brutality and discrimination while their own position in this regard is no way better. The Afro-American and Hispanic people so often complain and criticize Hispanic white people for the racial discrimination and abuse, and even many Chinese and Indians too feel same way. According to the Washington Post police shootings database, although the African-American people are less than 14% of the US population, they account for nearly 24% of shootings leading to death of victims while similar average for the white Americans is much less. On an average, about one thousand people have been killed in US police firings every year since 2015. In such fatal shootings, the rate of police firings on unarmed black people is more than three times high compared to white people.
The case of George Floyd, a 46 years old American black, who was murdered by a cop in the US city of Minneapolis made international heading and resentment in May 2020. Floyd was arrested by two cops for using a suspected counterfeit $20 bill on 25 May, who were later joined by two more cops including Derek Chauhin, a 44 years old white officer. Floyd was hand-cuffed and was forced to lay face-down in the street with one cop pointing his gun at his head and the other keeping the bystanders at bay to prevent them from any intervention. Prior to forcing him on ground, Floyd exhibited clear signs of anxiety and difficulty in breathing while complaining about claustrophobia. Notwithstanding his condition, Chauvin knelt applying pressure on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes till he became motionless and passed away, and during this period Chauvin constantly ignored the pleas of bystanders to release his knee from latter’s neck. In ordinary circumstances, the majority people would not even know if the currency in their possession is counterfeit. In the instant case, the suspect was already hand-cuffed and made to lie on the ground; besides, he had neither shown any violent gestures nor offered resistance and there was no risk of his escape, so what was the express need of the cop pressing his neck so long leading to asphyxiation and ultimate death.
For the sake of brevity, the author is not quoting more such incidents in US but, in a way, discrimination and consequent behavior is part of the American life with considerable harmful impact on the target group of people. In the aforesaid context, the author would like to quote the key findings of research conducted during 2017 by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio (NPR), which is based on 3,453 people interviewed including Afro-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Whites and LGBTQ adults, both the men and women. The key findings reveal a widespread discrimination highlighting several human rights issues across the various groups in America, including both institutional and individual discrimination.
On the overall basis, the individual and collective reports about the experiences in the aforesaid cases depict a complex pattern of discrimination across different walks of life and different social groups in US. Broadly, the researchers agreed that these experiences of people, rather than isolated incidents, reflect a larger and systemic pattern of discrimination in US, which has a significant implication on the mental and physical well-being of the individual Americans and the nation as a whole.
The Floyd and a few other instances of racial discrimination against the Afro-Americans had led to massive protests in 2020 across the country against the police brutality, and systemic and institutional racism remaining unchecked for the decades. While the so-called US human rights watch dogs use so much of indiscretion in criticizing the Indian government and security forces, neither they nor the US media appear likewise fair and honest in reporting the status of human rights in own country. Also while they appear so sympathetic and favourable about the human rights of suspects, accused and offenders, and even terrorists in some cases, but the same awareness and zeal about the life and welfare of the security personnel and common civilians suffering at the hands of the stated offenders is found missing. For instance, the Jammu & Kashmir police inspector Parvaiz Ahmad Dar was shot dead by two terrorists outside a mosque in June 2021 in Srinagar’s Nowgam area; he is survived by wife, and two minor children but neither his death nor the family’s plight finds a mention in ibid US Report. Similarly, Maoists terrorists killed 22 security personnel in a dastardly ambush on 3 April but the Report is silent on the human rights of the victims of attack and their families.
US and India: Status of Crime, Violence and Rape
Both the US and India are democratic and secular countries which share common features in certain areas while marked differences too in other areas. For instance, India is a multiparty, federal and parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature with prime minister as the head of government and president as the head of state; while the US is largely a two-party and constitutional federal republic, in which the president is both the head of the government and head of the state. Both the prime minister and president in India can hold one or more five-years term while the US president is elected for a four years term and can hold a maximum two of such tenures. Officially, both India and US are secular countries: The secularism in India implies equal treatment by the state to all religions without endorsing or giving any preferential treatment to any one while in US the secularism implies complete separation of the religion from the state and officially it does not endorse any religion. Notwithstanding these positions, traditionally India has given preferential treatment to minorities since independence in 1947 while Christianity is a preferred religion in the US. In India, utmost reverence is attached to the written Indian constitution and all political appointees and many constitutional posts take an oath of office by the constitution. As against this, despite carrying a tag of the world’s longest written charter of the government, President Joe Biden was seen taking his oath of office on Bible instead of the constitution.
Section 6 of the ibid US Report under the headline ‘Discrimination and Societal Abuses’ has specifically dealt with the abuses on women, particularly rape, domestic violence and inequality in pay and status in jobs/work places. The ibid US report is critical on the condition of Indian women on various counts, so now let’s consider a comparative position of women in both the countries. A detailed examination of the violence and rape against women suggest that the instances of such crimes are underreported in most countries of the world including the US and India for multiple reasons, including the social stigma attached, law enforcement agencies’ keen desire to keep their records relatively clean. Such records and statistical data too are not up-to-date in most of the countries and even the definition of rape considerably varies from the country to country and/or even different organizations maintaining such data within same country. However, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in India, the reported sexual violence and rape rate was 5.2 per 100,000 people as of 2018, which considerably vary from the rural to urban areas and across the 28 states and 8 union territories. Of the 34,000 (approximately) rape cases reported in 2018, chargesheets could be framed in about 85 per cent cases with a low conviction rate of only about 27 per cent.
Similar official data based on statistics of the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Criminal Justice Information Service Division, has recorded 139,380 rape incidents in 2018 which works out to 42.6 per 100,000. The corresponding US figures in 2017 were 135,666 and 41.7 per 100,000. It may be mentioned that the total number of crimes against women including violence, assault and rape, etc. would much more in both the countries; thus the position of crime against women in US is no way better than India. In fact, the comparison of the rape rate per 100,000 in both the countries suggests that number of rape incidents is much higher in US compared to India. A 2011 US report on the prison rape suggested that there were at least 69,800 inmates in various US prisons who were raped under conditions involving force or threat of force. The aforesaid may not be exact like to like comparison as also the accurate number of actual rape incidents but the available data certainly establish that the US is certainly not justified in giving sermon to India in the context of the sexual crimes against the women.
In both the US and India, the laws prohibit gender based discrimination in the workplaces and require equal pay for equal work but, reportedly, the employers often pay women less compared to men for the same job. As for India, such gender based discrimination does not exist in the government and public sector. In the organized private sector too such instances would be less; however, in the large informal sector such instances cannot be denied and probably exist in many forms at different places. The US state and federal laws prohibit gender based discrimination at the workplace. However, a large workforce is employed in the private sector and such salary differences do exist. According to reports, half of the US population (women) loses millions of dollars because of an entrenched inequality i.e. the gender pay gap. The women arguably constitute the majority of household breadwinners in several states but are paid unfairly for their contributions. According to the Census Bureau data from 2018, the women of all races are paid 82 cents to the dollar compared with the men of all races. This gap is even more widened for the black and Latina women when compared to white, non-Hispanic men.
Last but not the least, let’s also compare the overall crime position between the two countries. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the total number of the reported incidents of various crimes in India was 5,156,172 in 2019. The crime rate i.e. crime incidence per 100,000 people was 385.5 in 2019 while the same was 383.8 during 2018. The marginal increase in the crime incidence in 2019 is attributed by the Bureau to the violations of the Covid-19 restrictions. According to the report, the period experienced a fall in the crimes like rape, violence and kidnapping of children, etc., while minor crimes like disobedience in public increased. Of the total crimes, approximately three million fall under the provision of the Indian Penal Code while remaining two million relates to the Special & Local Laws category. The average charge-sheeting rate ranged around 82 per cent during the period. Also the position of crime rate varies among the regions and states with the north-east region recording the lowest and the metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad having the highest registered crimes.
During the corresponding period i.e. 2019 in the US, the total number of the reported incidents of different crimes was 1,313,105 in 2019 as derived from FBI’s database. The crime rate in the same period was 398.5 per 100,000 people showing an increase over the previous year with the crime rate being 379.4. The classification of the crime too varies from country to country. In US, the crimes usually comprises of the criminal offenses such as the murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and gang violence while In Indian laws all cognizable, non-cognizable, bailable and non-bailable offenses are included in this category. Due to these reasons, it may not be practical to make an accurate like to like comparison; however, considering the fact that India has more than four times population compared to US with the former having a slightly lower crime rate, it can be comfortably concluded that both the countries have nearly comparable overall crime rate. If India is criticized for its caste related abuses and discrimination then US too has gained notoriety over its racial abuses and discrimination, including the behaviour of police in either cases.
It is true that in the fast changing world order, the US is still the most powerful nation with its military capabilities, mammoth wealth and prosperity, and hence it continues to be the most sought after destination globally. As against this, the People’s Republic of China has made considerable advances in its military, economy and technology over the last few decades and emerged as the main challenger to the US. Notwithstanding hundreds of years of Islamic misrule in large parts of the country followed by the colonial occupation & exploitation as also its umpteen internal problems in terms of caste tensions, communal conflicts and regional imbalances, India has risen like a phoenix in the recent years as a serious contender to the US and China in the new world order. If the US is the largest military power and economy giant today, India too is rapidly bridging this gap with its huge skilled and non-skilled manpower, the fastest growing economy, world class technology and military prowess. Therefore, this is right time that the US stops playing like the ‘Big Brother’ and that too on shaky grounds. As expected, the Ministry of External Affairs in India has refused to side with ibid US report with the observation that there must be a proper understanding in US about the developments in India. The US must discontinue publishing such farce human rights reports else, sooner or later, India would be constrained to seriously contemplate about publishing own periodical report on human rights watch on US.
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