Skip to main content

Why on Human Rights Day, December 10, there was 'nothing to celebrate' in India


By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
December 10 was the Human Rights Day, once again! Another anniversary, when post World War- II the world gave itself the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- a pathbreaking and much needed Magna Carta. Sadly, for many (particularly for India) this past year has been a bad one: the pandemic Covid-19 has played havoc with lives and livelihoods of millions everywhere.
It has been a particularly bad year for human rights in India: in a systematic but brutal manner, the legitimate rights of people are not only denied but are crushed. The victims as usual are the poor and the marginalised; the Adivasis and the Dalits; women and children; the excluded and other vulnerable workers.
To add to it, human rights defenders, and others who take a visible and vocal stand against a regime which day by day prove to be anti-people, anti- Democracy and anti-Constitutional are at the receiving end of a system which reeks of vendetta.
On November 26 (the Constitution Day in India) it was estimated that more than 250 million people in India went on strike protesting against the anti-farmer and anti-labour policies of the Government. On December 8, a nation-wide bandh was called where millions of farmers demanded their legitimate rights!
The farmers are denied their rights: today thousands of them are literally on the warpath, converging in Delhi, ensuring a massive blockade. Their message is clear: it is they who provide the nation with sustenance through their toil and sweat; they no longer wish to be taken for granted; as a group that can just be treated with disdain: as a vote-bank.
Their protest is apolitical yet members of the ruling class have calling them names like ‘Khalistanis’, terrorists etc. They demand that their legitimate rights are respected: they want an immediate roll back of three bills recently passed by the Government; they are convinced that these bills will have a negative impact on their livelihood and are blatantly designed to help the crony capitalists to profit.
In a statement the farmer groups said that in their talks with the government they have asked for the withdrawal of the three laws that they say will leave them at the mercy of large corporations and override safeguards against being cheated. Support for the farmers rights is pouring in from all over the country but also from abroad.
The migrants are denied their rights: the nation witnessed their plight from the night of March 24/25 when the lockdown was first announced. Millions of migrants were stranded overnight without food, cash, and shelter. What the Government did not visualize was that they would have the grit and determination to walk back home. There are the terrible pictures and footage of them walking miles back to their native places.
They were subjected to violation of their fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 and often to severe police harassment on interstate borders. Many reportedly died as a result of the lockdown, due to exhaustion en route home, starvation, suicides, police excesses, illnesses, and rail and road accidents. There is a Supreme Court order demanding that the plight of these migrants is not only looked into but their suffering is also alleviated; but who cares?
The workers are denied their rights: the working class has suffered tremendously during this pandemic. Besides, the Government denying them public transportation for almost two months to return home, they were also denied wages when their establishments were closed during the lockdown.
The Government seemed to desperately have wanted to keep them back at their ‘workplace’ so that they could be available as soon as the lockdown to work once again at the mercy of their employer; many of them are back for long hours of work but with reduced wages. To add salt to their wounds, on September 23 Parliament passed three labour code Bills when the opposition was boycotting the monsoon session on the issue of the farm Bills.
The three Bills, the Industrial Relations (IR) Code, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) Code, and the Social Security Code, along with the Code on Wages, 2019, amalgamate 44 labour laws. All these Codes deal with wages, industrial relations, social security, safety, and welfare conditions.
There are several features of the Codes which are problematic and go against the rights of workers; besides, the process by which they were pushed through was hardly transparent. For one, all central trade unions were opposed to the amalgamation of the hard-won labour laws and had submitted their objections on several occasions. The Government, however, does not relent.
The Adivasis are denied their rights: one experiences this, the way the jal-jungle-jameen is being taken away from them. The areas which they have inhabited for centuries is being for industrialisation, for mining, for so called ‘development’ works and other mega-projects. 
Human rights defenders taking vocal stand against a regime which is anti-people, anti- democracy, anti-Constitutional are at receiving end of a system which reeks of vendetta
More than two million of them and other forest-dwellers remain at risk of forced displaced and loss of livelihoods after their claims to stay on in their habitats under the Forest Rights Act were rejected. Many Adivasis from the Kevadia area (which is around India’s latest white elephant – a gross statue in the name of Sardar Patel) were made to leave their homes overnight.
The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) is a law enacted by the Government of India for ensuring self-governance through traditional Gram Sabhas for people living in the Scheduled Areas of India. The sad part is that the Adivasis are also being denied their rights under PESA.
Panipat: Water cannon used against protesting farmers
Human rights defenders and NGOs are denied their rights: this Government brooks no dissent. What is happening to this essential dimension of democracy has come in from no less a person than the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet who on 20 October appealed to the Government of India to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent.
Bachelet expressed regret at the tightening of space for human rights NGOs in particular, including by the application of vaguely worded laws that constrain NGOs' activities and restrict foreign funding. In a strongly worded statement Bachelet said:
"India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of groundbreaking human rights advocacy within the country and globally, but I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices...
“I am concerned that such actions based on the grounds of vaguely defined 'public interest' leave this law open to abuse, and that it is indeed actually being used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy that the authorities perceive as critical in nature. Constructive criticism is the lifeblood of democracy. Even if the authorities find it uncomfortable, it should never be criminalized or outlawed in this way."

What is happening to Fr Stan Swamy and the fifteen others arrested (and now languishing in prison) under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence, is a case in point. Many others are detained for no reason.
The minorities are denied their rights: it keeps happening at a frightening regularity. Muslims and Christians are at the receiving end of venomous hate speeches, constant denigration and even attacks. The Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir issue had two Supreme Court verdicts with communal overtones favouring the majoritarian community.
Come December 6 and one is reminded of that infamous day in the annals of the country when the Sangh Parivar destroyed the Babri Masjid in 1992 -- of course no one was declared guilty of this heinous crime! The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 A in Kashmir has enhanced the communal divide. The ‘Love Jihad’ law of UP is clearly focussed on a Muslim boy marrying a Hindu girl.
Besides it is expected to lead to a spate of anti-conversion laws in the country. A real bogey and which certainly violates the fundamental rights of a citizen. The recently concluded Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections had very strong communal messages delivered which has polarised the communities there very sharply. The Government conveniently forgets that India is a secular country.
Ordinary citizens are denied their rights to a clean, green ‘common home’! Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has given a green signal to more than forty projects without the mandatory environmental clearances. Most of these projects favour their rich crony capitalist friends literally giving them a license to loot, plunder and rape the environment and much more!
The felling of thousands of trees and the destruction of a natural sanctuary in Mollem, Goa – has brought thousands of Goans out on the streets. The aim of this project is to build a double track railway line for the shipping of coal for the Corporation of one of the country’s henchmen.
Our precious biodiversity and our fragile ecosystems are being destroyed. The Government today just does not care and has clearly gone on a downward spiral: doing everything they can to destroy the environment: The Western Ghats and the Aravalli Hills; the building of a dam in Dibang; the selling of coal mines to private companies and much more.
The environment is destroyed with the growth of polluting industries without the necessary environmental safeguards because of callousness and corruption. On May 7, a gas leak that occurred at the LG Polymers chemical plant near Visakhapatnam killed eleven persons and affecting more than a thousand others.
December 3 marked 36 years since the highly toxic chemical methyl isocyanate (MIC) leaked from a storage tank in Bhopal’s Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant killed around 25,000 people and injured nearly 550,000 people in 1984 .Three and a half decades later, the latter continues to demand justice from India’s judiciary and governance with the help of some civil rights groups; in a joint press release recently they said:
“The year 2020 has been an extremely traumatic period for Bhopal gas victims. The struggle for justice, which gas-victims had been relentlessly waging for the previous 35 years, was itself a testimony to the failure of the Indian State to mete out justice in all these years.”
The main culprits have however got away with murder and in connivance with ruling regimes.
The rights of women and children, the rights of Dalits, of the excluded and other vulnerable groups are being denied in a calculated manner. The right to freedom of speech and expression and of religion, the right to dissent – are all being denied by a fascist regime, a spineless judiciary, a pliant executive, a godified media and corrupt vested interest groups.
Be that as it may, the Human Rights Day 2020 was a call to wake-up from our slumber, shake off the apathy and to rise together: demanding and ensuring – Human Rights for All!
---
*Human rights and peace activist/writer

Comments

TRENDING

'Halt Covid-19 vaccination drive': Indian doctors join campaign across 36 nations

By Rosamma Thomas*  A group of Spanish doctors first got together to call for a halt to the Covid-19 vaccinations, and doctors from other countries too later joined them – there are now over 12,000 doctors from India, Portugal, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Israel and a host of other nations who have issued a call to halt vaccinations. On September 10, a group of Indian doctors came together to address the press over a webinar to explain why they thought the vaccination drive should end forthwith. Dr Amitav Banerjee, who after a career as an epidemiologist in the Indian Army now teaches at a private medical college in Pune, said there was no longer a medical emergency. Children are at low risk of infection, and there is good reason to halt vaccination and conduct proper research, given the high number of adverse events. There is a sudden and poorly explained spike in the number of young and healthy people dying. While it may be impossible to attribute deaths entirely to the vaccinatio

Did Mother Teresa trivialise poverty? 'You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you'

By Harsh Thakor*  The world commemorated the 25th death anniversary of Mother Teresa on September 5. Whatever her flaws, she rendered service to humanity in regions almost untranscended, resembling the relentless spirit of the waves of an ocean. Irrespective of community or religion, she offered her service. Even those not drawn by sainthood revere the role of Mother Teresa. For 68 years, she had worked selflessly and tirelessly in India and elsewhere in the world, taught the destitute, healed the sick, fed and clothed the poor, cared for abandoned children, housed lepers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and offered dignity in death to desolate persons abandoned by family and society. Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910 to an Albanian family as AnjezĂ« Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She became wedded to religious vows at an early age and moved to India to join the missionary work of the Catholic Church. Heartshaken by the misery faced by the Indian masses, in 1950 she set up her own

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".