Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 16:06 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - India

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - India, 18 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5f301a227.html [accessed 22 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

During 2008, parts of India continued to experience internal armed conflict and/or situations of random or general unrest. In many of the highly militarised areas, the Indian Government failed to uphold and defend human rights either indirectly, by failing to take measures to protect the targeted communities or by not taking action against the perpetrators of violence, or directly, through violence perpetrated by the police, paramilitary and other security forces. Such violence included enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, and was particularly prevalent during counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir, in the north-eastern States of Assam and Manipur, in addition to the strongholds of Naxalite insurrection.1

Impunity also continued, with the police and security forces being protected from prosecution under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code.2 The military enjoyed further immunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA),3 which still applied to areas of separatist and armed rebellion in Jammu and Kashmir and in the States of Assam and Manipur. The prevailing culture of impunity was exacerbated by the incapacity of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to independently investigate complaints of human rights violations by the armed forces.4

In addition to situations of internal armed conflict, terrorist attacks also wrought havoc in India during 2008. Bomb attacks in Jaipur (Rajasthan) on May 13, 2008, Bangalore (Karnataka) and Ahmadabad (Gujarat) on July 26, Delhi on September 13, and three towns in Assamon October 30, as well as a highly coordinated terrorist attack and hostage taking in Mumbai on November 26-29, all caused considerable loss of civilian life as well as injuries, increasing the insecurity and instability of the country, as well as raising questions on both the capacity and professionalism of the police force and once again raising the case of developing "stronger" counter-terrorism legislation.

Silencing those exposing or denouncing violations and violence

Those who sought to expose and seek remedial action for human rights violations were targets for repression in 2008. These actions against human rights defenders intimidated not only human rights organisations, but also sent a warning to victims who feared that, if the State can act with such impunity towards the organisations representing them, there are no limits on what could happen to them as victims. For example, on April 20, 2008, 400 participants in "The Long March for Justice for Special Task Force (STF) Victims", including Messrs. Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director of People's Watch, and Mahaboob Batcha, a member of Society for Community Organisation Trust, were arrested in Sathyamangalam in Tamil Nadu State. They were released later that day. The following day, 115 protesters (including 38 women and one child) were arrested after continuing their march. Again they were released the same day. The protesters had been peacefully campaigning for justice for violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, committed by the STF in Karanataka and Tamil Nadu States. They suspended their march after this date given assurances from the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu that all STF victims would be considered for compensation.

During 2008, the National Project on Prevention of Torture in India (NPPTI) organised a number of People's Tribunals on Torture (PTT) throughout the country, the aim of which was to enable victims to speak about their experiences of torture by the police and security forces. Many of those involved with this national campaign suffered intimidation and harassment, in particular through police investigations and searches, as well as being the victim of false criminal charges brought by the police. For example, a number of participants were arrested during the PTT in Tamil Nadu, and false charges were filed against Messrs. Henri Tiphagne, also National Director of the NPPTI, S. Martin, G. Ganesan, both members of People's Watch, and Prabakar, Madurai District Human Rights Monitor for the NPPTI. In West Bengal, following the successful completion of a PTT held on June 9-10, 2008, fabricated charges were also filed against Mr. Kirity Roy, President of "Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha" (MASUM), a human rights organisation based in West Bengal. Furthermore, on June 12, 2008, MASUM offices were arbitrarily raided by plain-clothes police officers, who confiscated both documents and audiovisual equipment. Further harassment took place on September 27, 2008, when police served a summons on MASUM for three documents relating to victims of torture who had given evidence during the PTT. These actions are likely to be retribution for involvement in the PTT as well as for MASUM's exposure of serious human rights violations by police officers and Border Security Forces, including torture and abuse of authority.

Furthermore, human rights defenders seeking to expose violence committed both by State forces and armed opposition groups were frequently demonised as "terrorists" and supporters of anti-State forces such as the Naxalites or the Maoists, or were even killed for their human rights activities. For example, on May 5, 2008, Mr. Ajay T. G., filmmaker, journalist and a member of Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), was arrested and detained under the Chhattisgarh State Public Security Act (CSPSA) in Raipur on charges of "sedition" and "association with an unlawful organisation", the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The State police had no evidence against Mr. Ajay T. G. except a letter that it claimed had been written by him to a Maoist leader. Mr Ajay T. G. had been actively involved in documenting human rights violations against the "adivasi" (indigenous/tribal) communities in Chhattisgarh committed by both the Maoists and Salwa Judum, an armed anti-Maoist group reportedly supported by the State. On August 5, 2008, Mr. Ajay T. G. was released on statutory bail after over 90 days in jail as the police were unable to produce a charge-sheet. However, as of the end of 2008, the charges against him had not been dropped despite the lack of evidence, and Mr. Ajay T. G. remained under his bail restrictions.5 Mr. Ajay T. G. is the second human rights defender to be arrested under the CSPSA, the first being Dr. Binayak Sen, National Vice-President of PUCL and Secretary General of the PUCL branch in the Chhattisgarh State, who continued to be detained without trial at the end of 2008 after his arrest on May 14, 2007. Mr. Ajay T. G had also made a film on Dr Sen's work after his incarceration.

Repression of those defending the rights of marginalised groups and communities

Despite the illegality of the caste system, discrimination persisted with NGOs working to promote the rights of Dalit and other marginalised communities coming under attack both from members of the upper caste as well as the authorities. Thus, during meetings of the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance in Geneva between October 6 and 17, 2008, the Indian delegation opposed the accreditation of national human rights organisations fighting against caste-based discrimination and for the protection and advancement of Dalit rights. India's opposition was on the grounds that caste-based discrimination does not fall under the scope of the International Convention against Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the activities of the organisations, therefore, do not fall under the objectives of the Durban Review Conference as such. Despite India's opposition, a number of such NGOs were accredited, with support from the European Union.6 Furthermore, Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, Convener of the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), began receive threatening telephone calls in April 2008. Dr. Raghuvanshi had previously received death threats in 2007, in relation to his work with the Dalit community. Between April 25 and May 18, 2008, Dr. Raghuvanshi received at least 18 telephone calls to his mobile phone, threatening him to stop working for the Dalit communities, particularly in Varanasi. Dr. Raghuvanshi registered a complaint with the police after receiving the first call and his mobile phone line was subsequently monitored. However, despite this, no action was taken and the State authorities failed to provide any protection to Dr. Raghuvanshi or other PVCHR activists, or to the relevant Dalit communities.7

Defenders of land rights of marginalised communities were also the victims of harassment and repression. Many activists peacefully campaigning for land rights of indigenous groups were accused by the police of having links with armed Maoist groups which sought land reform through violent means. For example, on July 11, 2008, Mr. Duskar Barik, Ms. Mamata Barik, Ms. Jyanti Sethy and Mr. Ranjan Patnaik, four activists working for the Keonjhar Integrated Rural Development and Training Institution (KIRDTI), an organisation that advocates for the land rights of adivasis, ecological protection from mining and illegal felling of woods in Keonjhar district, in the State of Orissa,8 fled Keonjhar district after being informed that they were under investigation by the police in relation to alleged connections with armed Maoist groups, as they feared that they too would face torture and ill-treatment in police custody. On July 12, local newspapers published articles according to which Keonjhar police would believe that KIRDTI activities were linked with armed Maoists groups, a claim denied by KIRDTI staff and human rights organisations who work with them. At the beginning of July 2008, four of their colleagues had already been arrested by police and accused of having links with armed Maoist groups. One of those arrested was severely beaten whilst in police custody. As of the end of 2008, no further information could be obtained on the situation of those KIRDTI activists.9 Also in the State of Orissa, Mr. Abhaya Sahoo, President of the "POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti" (PPSS), a movement of the people of Dhinkia, Gobindapur, and Nuagaon panchayats in the Kujang Tehsil of Jagatsinghpur district, which has been relentlessly resisting the take-over of their resources for the establishment of a 12-million-tonne mega steel plant by POSCO, the second largest steel-making company of the world,10 was arrested on October 12, 2008. According to the police, 25 cases were lodged against him.11 On December 3, 2008, Mr. Sahoo was hospitalised after his blood sugar levels rose up and he was illegally chained to the leg of a bed for a few days. He was subsequently sent back to prison and, as of the end of 2008, he remained detained.12 Activists in the State of Uttarakhand were also targeted. For instance, on February 29, 2008, Mr. Gopal Bhatt, an activist of a local organisation called "Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti" (MKSS), which works on land rights of the Tharu's, a poor tribal community of the hills, in Bindu Khatta, State of Uttarakhand, was arrested in the night by policemen to "clear some confusion" and was remanded in Khatima.13 Mr. Bhatt was reportedly tortured while in detention and made to sign blank pages. The police also warned his neighbours not to come out in public in his favour and took down their names. Mr. Bhatt had already been detained in late December 2007 for one night and one day. As of the end of 2008, three cases remained pending against Mr. Bhatt.14

Death threats against NGOs fighting against human trafficking

Human rights organisations working against human trafficking and forced prostitution in Varanasi were also victims of reprisals in 2008. On July 8, 2008, for instance, human rights defenders working for "Guria", a human rights organisation working against human trafficking and for the rehabilitation, health, education and other rights of women in prostitution and their children, were threatened by four unknown men in Varanasi. The men attended the Bal Kendra (child centre) in Varanasi, looking for Mr. Ajeet Singh, the President of Guria, who was at Guria's office in Khajuri at that time. The four men spoke with his wife, Ms. Santwana Manju, and threatened to kill both her and Mr. Singh if they continued to work against human trafficking. The men then telephoned Guria's offices in Khajuri and demanded that Mr. Singh stop working on the anti-trafficking cases. Mr. Singh filed a complaint with the police on July 12, 2008, but no action was taken nor was any protection provided by the police to Guria activists. Guria human rights defenders had previously been the target of intimidation and repression: in 2005, the police registered fabricated cases against Guria human rights activists, including Mr. Singh, allegedly following pressure by brothel owners and their mafia. This was intended to intimidate the activists to withdraw statements given in court in relation to cases brought against brothel owners for forced prostitution and raised the suspicion of local police involvement with the sex trade industry.15

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 200816

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Lachit BordoloiArbitrary detention / Search / Judicial proceedingsUrgent Appeal IND 001/0208/OBS 018February 14, 2008
Urgent Appeal IND 001/0208/OBS 018.1February 15, 2008
Mr. Arumugam Katuraja KanagarajArbitrary arrest / Ill-treatment / Judicial proceedings / Death threatsUrgent Appeal IND 002/0208/OBS 020February 20, 2008
Mr. Julfikar AliJudicial proceedings / HarassmentUrgent Appeal IND 003/0208/OBS 027February 27, 2008
Dr. Binayak SenSolitary confinement / Arbitrary detentionUrgent Appeal IND 004/0408/OBS 055April 11, 2008
Messrs. Henri Tiphagne, Mahaboob Batcha and V. P. GunasekaranArbitrary arrestUrgent Appeal IND 005/0408/OBS 058April 21, 2008
ReleaseUrgent Appeal IND 005/0408/OBS 058.1.April 22, 2008
Mr. Sapam Kangleipal MeiteiArbitrary detention / Judicial proceedingsUrgent Appeal IND 006/0508/OBS 076May 14, 2008
Urgent Appeal IND 006/0508/OBS 076.1May 19, 2008
Messrs. Henri Tiphagne, S. Martin, G. Ganesan, and PrabakarJudicial proceedings / HarassmentUrgent Appeal IND 007/0608/OBS 097June 6, 2008
Mr. Kirity Roy / MASUMJudicial proceedings / Search / HarassmentUrgent Appeal IND 007/0608/OBS 097.1June 12, 2008
Urgent Appeal IND 007/0608/OBS 097.2September 29, 2008
Mr. Konsom RishikantaAssassinationUrgent Appeal IND 008/1108/OBS 203November 27, 2008

1 See "Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha" (MASUM).

2 This provides that no court will consider any offence alleged to have been committed by an official (including a member of the armed forces) during the course of official duty, unless it has been authorised to do so by the Federal Government.

3 The AFSPA not only grants the military sweeping powers to arrest, detain and shoot at any person to "maintain public order", but also prevents the prosecution of members of the armed forces without prior Federal Government authorisation.

4 See MASUM. Section 19 of the Human Rights Protection Act 1993 provides that the NHRC has no power to carry out independent investigations. It can only request a report from central Government and make recommendations.

5 See MASUM and People's Watch.

6 These were the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), Swadikar and the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN). See Asian Legal Resource Centre Press Release, October 15, 2008, and Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE).

7 See PVCHR Press Release, May 21, 2008.

8 KIRDTI is also involved in working on development activities with the "Juang" tribal community.

9 See MASUM and CORE.

10 The project will have large-scale, irreversible socio-economic and environmental impacts not only on the areas under the threat of immediate acquisition but over vast numbers of the State's people, and huge tracts of its forests and other lands.

11 Cases were registered under sections 147 ("punishment for rioting"), 148 ("rioting, armed with deadly weapon"), 149 ("offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly"), 307 ("attempt to murder"), 323 ("punishment for voluntarily causing hurt"), 349 ("use of force"), 395 ("punishment for dacoity"), 427 ("mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees"), 436 ("mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.") and 506 ("punishment for criminal intimidation") of the Indian Criminal Code and sections 25 ("punishment for certain offences") and 27 ("punishment for using arms") of the Indian Arms Act.

12 See People's Watch.

13 Idem.

14 Mr. Bhatt has been charged, among others, with "punishment of criminal conspiracy" (section 120 B of the Criminal Code), "waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India" (section 121), "conspiracy to commit offences punishable by section 121" (section 121A), "assaulting President, Governor, etc., with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power" (section 124), "sedition" (section 124A) and "imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration" (section 153B).

15 See CORE.

16 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

Search Refworld

Countries