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

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

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".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen