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Why is India evading ratification of UN Convention against torture, other cruel, inhuman treatments

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
June 26th is designated by the UN General Assembly as the ‘International Day in Support of Victims of Torture’, with a view ‘to the total eradication of torture and for the effective functioning of the ‘Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’(UNCAT).
According to the UN “torture seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and denies the inherent dignity of the human being. The United Nations has condemned torture from the outset as one of the vilest acts perpetrated by human beings on their fellow human beings. Torture is a crime under international law. According to all relevant instruments, it is absolutely prohibited and cannot be justified under any circumstances. This prohibition forms part of customary international law, which means that it is binding on every member of the international community, regardless of whether a State has ratified international treaties in which torture is expressly prohibited. The systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity”.
Strangely enough June 26th is infamous in India. Exactly forty years ago on the night of June 25th/26th the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had a ‘state of emergency’ declared all over the country. Thousands were incarcerated, many were tortured in prison, freedom of speech and expression was banned, civil liberties were curtailed and human rights violations took centre-stage including a mass-sterilisation programme. The emergency which lasted for twenty- one months (till 21st March 1977) was surely a dark chapter of India’s history.
Today forty years after that terrible period, India is currently witnessing another ‘state of emergency’. This ‘emergency’ is perhaps much more dangerous: there is no official ‘proclamation’, the moves are subtle and seemingly innocuous. Efforts are made to destroy the sanctity, the spirit and the letter of the Indian Constitution. Rights and freedom guaranteed to citizens are systematically curbed or denied. Propaganda complete with lies, half-truths and false promises, (which could put even Hitler’s Goebbels into the shadow!) is dished out by the Prime Minister and his coterie,
The media is gagged; most are coopted and those who protest against the Government in any way (as with NDTV) are denigrated and have false cases foisted on them. Intellectuals who speak out, Human Rights Defenders and social activists are subject to constant intimidation and harassment. NGOs who side with the poor and marginalized are denied the possibility of receiving foreign funds. Minorities particularly the Muslims and Christians are subject to attacks, hate speeches and demonization. Fascists have the upper hand in deciding what people can read and write; dress and see; drink and eat. Cow vigilantes and lynch-mobs have no problem in assaulting and even killing so-called ‘beef-eaters.’ The powerful, the rich and the corrupt are favoured as clear seen in the ‘demonetization’ fiasco.
India has always taken great pride in an independent judiciary. Several recent appointments to the courts smack of partiality and prejudice; those who toe the line, subscribe to their ideology are favoured. Some of the recent decisions from the courts are a clear indication that the judges are compromised: they want to be on the good books of their political masters.
There is an obvious break-down of law and order in several parts of the country; the police are clearly after the dissenters and protesters (like the farmers who are protesting all over the country). It is common knowledge that torture is used extensively and on the rise in India. According to a report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), an estimated 1,203 custodial deaths take place every year. 
Fascists in India have the upper hand in deciding what people can read and write; dress and see; drink and eat
Another study by the ‘National Project on Preventing Torture in India’ has estimated about 1.8 million cases of torture, ill treatment and inhuman behavior recorded annually. Instances of torture continue to rise and thousands of citizens are subjected to inhuman treatment in custody, resulting in grave infraction of their fundamental human rights and dignity.
Victims of torture who are able to come out of the clutches of the torturers have terrible tales to share. Several Muslim youth in Gujarat were arrested during Modi’s reign as Chief Minister and subject to the most horrendous type of torture. One does not need to be too intelligent to realise that when the current BJP Supremo Amit Shah was the Home Minister of Gujarat many Muslim youth were brutally killed in what is referred to as ‘fake encounters.’
Recently, ‘People’s Watch’, the well –known human rights organization, launched a National Campaign ‘Make Torture Alien to our Culture’, “to show solidarity with the thousands of victims of torture in India, many of whom have also lost their lives”. This timely Campaign which was addressed to the Prime Minister, had among other things this to say, “Democracy and freedom can no longer be considered a jewel when the survival of its citizens it is in question;” and urged the Government of India immediately:
1. to swiftly ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and its optional protocol;
2. to ensure that domestic legislation defines torture in line with international standards;
3. to extend an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture for an official visit.
The Campaign goes on to state that “the Attorney General of India Mr. Mukhul Rohatgi at the 3rd UPR process stated that, “India remains committed to ratify the Convention against Torture. We believe in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance.” Dear Mr. Prime Minister, we can only hope that the government will listen to its own Attorney General and truly make torture a completely alien concept to our Indian culture of ahimsa.”
On June 26th however, the Prime Minister will be shopping in the United States for more arms and ammunition at the cost of the ordinary Indian citizen. Most probably he will not realise the global significance of the day; and even if he does, whether he has the courage to mainstream ahimsa and eradicate torture in India now!
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*Indian juman rights activist, currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications

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