Skip to main content

India's amended anti-atrocities Act "expanding restrictions" on free speech, alleges Human Rights Watch

By Our Representative
At a time when the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 – popularly anti-atrocities Act – is winning high accolades from Dalit rights activists across India, one of the world’s top advocacy groups, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has criticized it for using “vague and over broad language, expanding restrictions on speech.”
The sharp critique of the anti-atrocities Act comes in HRW’s new 121-page report, "Stifling Dissent: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in India", which largely focuses on India’s “criminal defamation laws”, which, it insists, “should be abolished, as criminal penalties infringe on peaceful expression and are always disproportionate punishments for reputational harm”.
Pointing out that the amended anti-atrocities Act raises “concerns over potential misuse of the law”, the HRW says, “The new law amends some existing categories of actions and adds some new categories of actions to be treated as offences. Some of these amendments are problematic from the perspective of freedom of expression.”
Thus, it says, under Section 3 (1), the amended law bans any expression that “promotes or attempts to promote feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will against members of the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes” and also any expression that “disrespects any late person held in high esteem by members of the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes.”
HRW comments, “Disrespectful speech, or expression that promotes negative feelings, however offensive, is not the same as incitement to acts of hostility, discrimination, or violence, and as such should not be subject to criminal penalty.”
At the same time, HRW says, it “welcomes” efforts to strengthen the law to end caste-based discrimination and hatred, “especially in the light of the high pendency and low conviction rates in cases filed under the Act.”
“According to the latest government data, in 2013, 84.1 percent of the cases filed under the Prevention of Atrocities Act were pending while only 22.8 percent resulted in conviction, compared to a 30 percent conviction rate in 2011”, it points out.
Calling the original 1989 anti-atrocities Act seeking to ban expression that “intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate” a member of a scheduled caste or tribe “one of the most important pieces of legislation for the protection of Dalits”, HRW regrets, “In reality, as research conducted by Human Rights Watch and others has repeatedly shown, discrimination against socially marginalized communities such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes continues.”
Upholding many of the important sections of the anti-atrocities Act as “entirely appropriate” by allowing “prosecution of violent actions against members of protected groups”, HRW believes, “The law has been occasionally used against individuals for expression.”
HRW cites a 2015 report by PEN International, an international free expression watchdog based in Canada, giving the example of how sociologist Ashis Nandy in January 2013 was booked under the anti-atrocities Act for his alleged comment about Dalits being among the “most corrupt” at the Jaipur Literature Festival (click HERE).
“Nandy clarified that he had said that the corruption of the poor was more visible and, in fact, this corruption was an equalizer because it allowed them to access the entitlements that should be theirs by right. Nandy also apologized for his comments", HRW says.
"Nonetheless, it drew the ire of some members of the scheduled castes and a politician from Rajasthan filed FIR against him under Section 3(1)(x) of the anti-atrocities Act”, HRW points out, adding, “Criminal cases were also filed against him in Maharashtra, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh.”
---
Download full HRW report HERE

Comments

TRENDING

Green revolution "not sustainable", Bt cotton a failure in India: MS Swaminathan

Counterview Desk
In a recent paper in the journal “Current Science”, distinguished scientist PC Kesaven and his colleague MS Swaminathan, widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution, have argued that Bt insecticidal cotton, widely regarded as the continuation of the Green Revolution, has been a failure in India and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.
Sharply taking on Green Revolution, the authors say, it has not been sustainable largely because of adverse environmental and social impacts, insisting on the need to move away from the simplistic output-yield paradigm that dominates much thinking. Seeking to address the concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as on-farm and off-farm social and ecological issues associated with the Green Revolution, they argue in favour of what they call sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’, based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’.
Pointing out that Evergreen Revol…

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Some Hindu bodies in US defending BJP-RSS' divisive, violent activities: Agnivesh

Counterview Desk Last week, Washington DC saw speakers at a religious freedom roundtable, chaired by the US Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, express concern over "eroding" space for religious freedom in India. Dr Mike Ghouse, executive director, of the Center for Pluralism in Washington DC, referring to the roundtable, said in an email alert that Indian-Americans have "a moral duty to prevent India from being labeled as a Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)".

Rejoinder: Inescapable to have Central Water Commission as strong technical body in India

By BN Navalawala*
This is with reference to Counterview Blog (December 5, 2018), "Modi govt 'shelves' water reforms report, shows 'no interest' in its recommendations", below mentioned are my comments/observations thereon:
A committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Dr. Mihir Shah, Former Member, Planning Commission, for restructuring of Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) for optimal development of water resources in the country in the backdrop of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

Preventing childhood deaths: India performs worse than Bangladesh, "equals" Pakistan

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released study, “The Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report 2018”, prepared by the International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has identified India among 15 other countries which are still far off the mark in achieving the targets of the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD).

India's rewritten textbooks talk of demerits of democracy, praise Hitler, underrate Mughals

Counterview Desk
A detailed, 3,800-word review of the books rewritten under directions of the BJP rulers across India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014 has suggested that one of aims of the books is to instill a sense of doubt about India’s democratic polity among the country’s young minds. Reviewed in the prestigious US journal, “The New York Review of Books”, in its latest issue (December 6, 2018) by Alex Traub, the scrutiny insists, the effort has also been to paint Indian history from the angle of “Hindu triumphalism”, even as creating “Islamophobia”.

Govt of India "tarnishing" NGO reputation, dossier leaked selectively: Amnesty

Counterview Desk
Amnesty International India has said that a deliberate attempt is being made to tarnish its reputation by leaking a dossier, supposedly made by investigating agencies, to media without giving it access to any such information. The high profile NGO’s claim follows a Times Now report about proceedings launched by investigative agencies, including Enforcement Directorate (ED) against the rights body for “violations” of rules pertaining to overseas donations.

60 ex-civil servants seek release of CAG reports on Rafale, demonetisation before 2019 polls

Counterview Desk
As many as 60 retired civil servants have asked President Ram Nath Kovind to expedite the release of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports on demonetisation and the Rafale deal. The letter, signed mainly by former Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service and Indian Police Service officers, regrets that the status of the audit is "unclear”. According to them, “An impression is gaining ground that CAG is deliberately delaying its audit reports on demonetisation and Rafale deal till after the May 2019 elections so as not to embarrass the present government”.

Four children die after poor UP Dalit, Muslim families forced to flee to forest area: PVCHR

Counterview Desk
Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) has said that the forest department police’s crackdown, allegedly without any prior notice, on Dalit and Muslim households in Dakhin Tola, Churk Bazaar, Sonbhadra district, Uttar Pradesh, beating up “children and old people, women, and men in an inhuman way”, has led to “forced displacement, starvation and discrimination”. This has reportedly affected about 350 people.

Murder of Tamil Nadu teenage Dalit girl: "Stoic silence" despite #MeToo movement

Counterview Desk
Brinelle D'souza, who is with the Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, has prepared a strong statement to protest the brutal murder of 13-year-old Rajalakshmi. "Other than a few media reports, this gruesome killing has not caught national attention despite a very vibrant #MeToo campaign currently underway", regrets D'souza.