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

Mystery around Gujarat PSU 'transfer' of Rs 250 crore to Canadian firm Karnalyte

By AK Luke, IAS (Retd)*
While returning from a Board meeting of the Oil India Limited (OIL) in Ahmedabad some time in 2012, two officers of the Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (GSFC), Nanavaty and Patel,  saw me off at the airport. They said they were proceeding to Canada in connection with a project GSFC had entered into with a company there. As we were running late, I hastily wished them the best.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad 'declared' two-nation theory in 1937, Jinnah followed 3 years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

J&K continues to be haunted, as parts of India 'degenerate' into quasi-Kashmir situation

By Rajendran Narayanan*, Sandeep Pandey**
“Jab har saans mein bandook dikhe toh baccha kaise bekhauf rahe?” (How can a child be fearless when she sees a gun in every breath?) remarked Anwar, a gardener from Srinagar, when asked about the situation in Kashmir. On November 30, 2019, a walk through an iron gate in a quiet neighbourhood of Srinagar took us inside a public school. It was 11 am when typically every school is abuzz with activity. Not here though.

Indians have made 119 nations their ‘karma bhumi’: US-based Hindu NGO tells Rupani

Counterview Desk
In a stinging letter to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, the US-based Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), referring to the report citing his justification for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – that “while Muslims can choose any one of the 150 Islamic countries in the world (for residence), India is the only country for Hindus" – has said, he should remember, Hindus have made several countries, including USA, their home.

Tata Mundra's possible closure? Power ministry's 'pressure tactic' on consumer states

By Bharat Patel*
Tata power has announced to the Union Ministry of Power that Tata Power may be forced to stop operating  its imported coal-based Mundra Ultra-Mega Power Project (UMPP) after February, 2020. It is not only unfortunate but also criminal that irreversible damage has been caused to the fragile ecosystem of Mundra coast for a project that will have a running life of only seven years.

Population control? 10% Indian couples want to delay next pregnancy, but fail

Counterview Desk
Shireen Jejeebhoy, director at Aksha Centre for Equity and Wellbeing, previously senior associate at the Population Council, India, argues that the debate on the country's population was fuelled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address to the nation, where he drew attention to “concern” about the challenges posed by this ‘exploding’ population growth, needs to centre around the promotion of rights and education, instead of the language of explosion and the threat of coercion that this term implies.

Upendra Baxi on foolish excellence, Indian judges and Consitutional cockroaches

By Rajiv Shah
In a controversial assertion, top legal expert Upendra Baxi has sought to question India's Constitution makers for neglecting human rights and social justice. Addressing an elite audience in Ahmedabad, Prof Baxi said, the constitutional idea of India enunciated by the Constituent Assembly tried to resolve four key conflicting concepts: governance, development, rights and justice.

What about religious persecution of Dalits, Adivasis, asks anti-CAA meet off Ahmedabad

By Rajiv Shah
A well-attended Dalit rights meet under the banner “14 Pe Charcha” (discussion on Article 14 of the Indian Constitution), alluding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi well-known campaign phrase of the 2014 Parliamentary elections, “chai pe charcha” (discussion over cup of tea), organized off Ahmedabad, has resolved on Wednesday to hold a 14 kilometres-long rally on April 14 to oppose the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), enacted on December 10-11.

Kerala governor turned History Congress into political arena, 'insulted' Prof Irfan Habib

Counterview Desk
In a signed statement, office bearers of the Aligarh Society of History and Archaeology (ASHA), Prof Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi (president), Prof Jabir Raza (vice-president), Prof Manvendra Kumar Pundhir (secretary) and Prof Farhat Hasan (joint secretary), have said that Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan had sought to insult veteran historian Prof Irfan Habib, 88, at the 80th session of the Indian History Congress, even as turning it into his “political arena”.