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

ALSO READ

India failing to dictate diplomatic preferences of Nepal, Bhutan, is unfairly blaming Beijing: Chinese daily

By Our Representative
In a sharply-worded editorial, a top Chinese media outfit, described by BBC as state-run, has said, commenting on India's foreign relations with its neighbours, that "speculation and suspicion" is "certainly not diplomacy". Published in "China Daily", the largest circulating English Monday-to-Saturday newspaper with branches across the world, the editorial notes (September 20) that "several recent events" in Nepal and Bhutan, are "gnawing worrywarts in New Delhi".
The editorial -- which comes close on the heels of a sharp critique of India's foreign policy in a state-supported Russian media outfit, Sputnik International, calling India's anti-Pak diplomacy as having "gone awry" following Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "half-baked" push for anti-terror drill down "others' throat" -- says, the " worrywarts" include "Nepalese troops taking part in a joint…

Ahmedabad, GIFT, Adani city get 1.68 lakh acre ft Narmada water; Gujarat's rural areas just 4.27 AF: Letter to CM

Counterview Desk
Well-known farmer rights leader Sagar Rabari, in an open letter to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, has demanded a transparent account of Narmada water, saying, while he has received a "routine reply" from him to his earlier, the data emerging from his RTI application show huge quantity of water being directed to Ahmedabad, the 10 km stretch of Sabarmati for the Ahmedabad riverfront, and nearby elite urban areas, including the Adanis' Shantigram township and GIFT City.

Accused of being RSS plant, Modi man, Hyderabad Urdu varsity chancellor asks President to probe "irregularities"

Counterview Desk
Refused entry in the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), the central university's newly appointed chancellor Firoz Bakht Ahmed, who claims to be grand nephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, has, in a letter to the President of India, said that MANUU vice-chancellor (V-C) Dr Aslam Parvaiz has accused him of being an RSS plant and a Modi man, whose sole aim is to "interfere in the working of the university".

17 lakh Jharkhand elderly, widows, differently abled do not receive pension: Public hearing told, aadhaar is a hurdle

By Our Representative
Hundreds of elderly, widows, single women and differently-abled persons from different districts of Jharkhand gathered near the Raj Bhavan in Ranchi for a public hearing organized by the Jharkhand Right to Food Campaign and Pension Parishad demanding the right to universal social security pensions ahead of World Elderly Day on October 1.

Ethnocide in Caribbean island filmed following award winning docufilm on Jamaica's anti-colonial Indian roots

International awards winner for Best Feature Documentary Linda Aïnouche for “Dreadlocks Story” (2014), which shows how Indians are entangled in the Jamaican society, and how Hinduism was a source of inspiration for the Rastafari movement, is all set to release her new documentary, “Marooned in the Caribbean”, which aims at documenting the awful desolating living conditions that Raizal people, the native inhabitants of San Andres Archipelago, endure.
Sons of slaves, these islanders have fallen prey to what the Colombian government calls Colombianization. “It’s a process”, according to her, “which kills the Raizal culture; it’s the killing of the Raizal soul. Colombianization subjugates Afro-descendants of San Andres to an ethnocide.”

Explorer, director and producer, Linda Aïnouche writes exclusively for Counterview: ***
Nobody escapes from blood and thunder in Colombia, and definitely not in the archipelago of San Andres, situated closer to Managua and Kingston than Bogota. The Raizal p…

India to deport Rohingya refugees, as the world moves towards prosecuting Myanmar for genocide

By Tapan Bose*
Seven Rohingya Muslims refugees who were held at a detention centre in Assam since 2012 will be handed over to Myanmar. The Supreme Court of India has refused to stop their deportation. The new Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gagoi said, "We are not inclined to interfere on the decision taken".

An elite Kutir set up by Modi far from the "madding" crowd: This Gandhi museum is formal, unapproachable

By Rajiv Shah
Have you ever heard of a Gandhi museum, sough to be projected as the “largest” on the Mahatma, yet totally inaccessible, in sharp contrast to Ahmedabad’s humble, approachable and unassuming Gandhi Ashram on the banks of Sabarmati, set up by the Mahatma during the heydays of the freedom movement? It exists about 30 kilometres away, its idea was conceived by none other than a person who has today become even more inaccessible than he ever was: Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister.

History less known: Kasturba's role as an independent woman and a freedom fighter in her own right

By Nandini Oza*
Even the most deserving of women do not find a place that equals their worth in history. Kasturba is one such woman whose contribution to India’s struggle for freedom has been exemplary, and yet, it has not received the recognition it deserves. Kastur Makhanji Kapadia was born in the year 1869, the same year and in the same town of Porbandar in Gujarat as Gandhiji. In fact she was older than Gandhiji by a few months.

Gujarat BJP MLAs, youth leader "incited" attack on North Indians: Cong releases video

Counterview Desk
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil, currently in charge of Bihar and national spokesperson, All-India Congress Committee, has sent a legal notice to chief minister Vijay Rupani threatening criminal case and civil defamation suit for accusing him with "baseless statement" that he was responsible for attacks on north Indians in Gujarat.

Poor response to tenders for Gujarat's bid for the world's tallest statue, no international firm shows interest

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government’s claim that its decision to build the world’s highest statue in the world, in the memory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, would attract “tremendous” response top international construction companies, has gone phut. The state government floated international tenders in August to build the statue, which is slated to be 182-metres high. Despite the “international” character of the tenders and big claims, well-informed Sachivalaya sources close to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi say, “not one international firm has come up to offer to carry out the construction activity.”