U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - India

INDIA   India is a longstanding parliamentary democracy with a free press, a civilian-controlled military, an independent judiciary, and active political parties and civic associations. Competitive elections produce regular changes of leadership at the national, state, and municipal levels. Although the 25 state governments have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, the central Government provides guidance and support through use of national paramilitary forces. The Union Ministry for Home Affairs controls the nationwide police service, most of the paramilitary forces, and the internal intelligence bureaus. Paramilitary forces are deployed throughout India and have committed significant human rights abuses, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. India has a mixed economy. The private sector is predominant in agriculture, most nonfinancial services, consumer goods manufacturing, and some heavy industry. The Government continued economic liberalization and structural reforms begun in 1991. India's economic problems are compounded by rapid population growth of 2 percent per year with a current total well above 900 million. Income distribution remained very unequal. Forty percent of the urban population and half the rural population live below the poverty level. There continue to be significant human rights abuses, despite extensive constitutional and statutory safeguards. Many of these abuses are generated by intense social tensions, violent secessionist movements and the authorities' attempts to repress them, and deficient police methods and training. These problems are acute in Kashmir, where the judicial system has been disrupted both by terrorist threats, including the assassination of judges and witnesses, and by judicial tolerance of the Government's heavy handed antimilitant tactics. Serious human rights abuses include: extrajudicial executions and other political killings, torture, and excessive use of force by security forces and separatist militants, as well as kidnaping and extortion by militants, in Kashmir and Northeast India; torture, rape, and deaths of suspects in police custody throughout India; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention in Kashmir and the Northeast; continued detention throughout the country of thousands arrested under special security legislation; long trial delays; widespread intercaste and communal violence; legal and societal discrimination as well as extensive violence, both societal and by police and other agents of government, against women; discrimination and violence against indigenous people; and widespread exploitation of indentured, bonded, and child labor. During 1995 India made significant progress in resolving human rights problems. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), special security legislation under which thousands of persons had been held for prolonged periods without charges, was allowed to lapse. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Government reached an agreement to permit prison visits in Kashmir. The ICRC made its first visits to prisoners in October. In Punjab, the insurgent violence of past years has largely disappeared, and there is visible progress in correcting patterns of abuse by police. The assassination of the Punjab Chief Minister at the end of August, an isolated exception to restored civil peace in the state, resulted in neither a widespread crackdown nor a breakdown of order. The National Human Rights Commission continues to play a useful role in addressing patterns of abuse, as well as specific abuses, and is consolidating an attitudinal shift toward acknowledgment of human rights problems as it seeks to create a "human rights culture" through educational programs.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political killings by both government forces and insurgents continued at a high rate in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the seven northeastern states, where separatist insurgencies continued. Extrajudicial killings of suspected militants by security forces in Kashmir continued at a high level, but some credible observers believed that they had declined somewhat compared with previous years. Still, human rights groups consider credible reports that dozens of such killings occur every month. Typically, those killed were detained by security forces, and their bodies, bearing multiple bullet wounds and often marks of torture were returned to relatives or were otherwise discovered the same day or a few days later. Well-documented evidence to corroborate individual cases or quantify trends is lacking. Nevertheless, press reports and anecdotal evidence leave no doubt that the pattern exists. Security forces claim that these killings, when they are acknowledged, occur in armed encounters with militants. Terrorist attacks accounted for hundreds of deaths. As in the past, Kashmiri militant groups carried out politically motivated killings on a wide scale, targeting progovernment politicians, government officials, alleged police informers, civilians, members of rival factions, and non-political community leaders who dared call for an end to violence in the state. The total number of deaths in Kashmir remained very close to 1994's toll. Reliable press reports indicate that 1050 civilians, 202 security force personnel and 1308 militants died in insurgency-related violence in Kashmir. In Punjab, the assassination of Chief Minister Beant Singh at the end of August was the year's first instance of terrorist violence, although acts of violence attributed to Sikh militants occurred in other Indian states during 1995, particularly in Jammu. Killings of Sikh militants by police in armed encounters appear to be virtually at an end. During the first 8 months of the year, only two persons were killed in police encounters. Attention was focused on past abuses in Punjab by press reports that hundreds of bodies, many allegedly those of persons who died in unacknowledged police custody, were cremated as "unclaimed" during 1991-1993 or discovered at the bottom of recently drained canals. Numerous alleged criminals continue to be killed in encounters with police. Police personnel were wounded in a number of these encounters, however, and such incidents do not appear to reflect a pattern of extrajudicial execution. While extrajudicial killings continued in areas buffeted by separatist insurgencies, the press and judiciary continued to give attention to deaths in police custody and faked encounter killings elsewhere in India. Such deaths probably numbered 100 to 200 in 1995. In April, the Supreme Court ordered prosecution of five Punjab policemen accused of the murder of a couple in Calcutta 2 years earlier. Charges were brought against police in Uttar Pradesh in the case of a youth who died after being beaten in custody. In Delhi, 6 policemen were suspended and one arrested on charges related to the death in custody of Rajesh Montoo Suresh. Killings by Maoist Revolutionary Naxalites continued in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and West Bengal. Naxalites held "people's courts" in which village headmen and others were condemned to death and summarily executed as "class enemies" and "caste oppressors." For example, in August 1995, a Congress Party district leader in Bihar was beheaded by Naxalites. The Andhra Pradesh government claimed that Naxalites killed 103 persons during 1994. Some politicians, human rights groups, and the press claimed that faked encounter killings and excessive violence by police against Naxalites continued, but individual cases in 1995 have not been documented. In Andhra Pradesh, police violence against Naxalites was expected to abate after the state government in May called an end to an anti-Naxalite campaign by police in a unilateral gesture aimed at encouraging reconciliation. Naxalites belonging to the Peoples War Group in Andhra Pradesh were reportedly responsible for the assassination in December of National Parliament member Magunta Subarami Reddy. Extensive, complex patterns of violence continued in the seven states of northeastern India. Numerous killings can be attributed to conflicts in each of the following categories: between indigenous people, usually Buddhist or animist, and immigrant groups, usually Muslim or Hindu; between tribes of indigenous people; between security forces and militants of one or more of at least 18 insurgent groups; and among factions of insurgent groups. Ripunjay Acharjya and Hem Chandra Sharma were arrested in Nayakpura, Assam in February. Their bodies were later found with bullet wounds. Both were alleged to have ties to the militant separatist organization United Liberation Front of Assam. In March Nationalist Social Council of Nagaland militants assassinated the Deputy Commissioner of the Kohima District in Nagaland. In Tripura tribal militants attempting to force non-tribals off tribal lands reportedly killed 11 civilians and 14 paramilitary personnel in July and August, and abducted some 500 civilians during August. More than 100 security force personnel were among the victims of the violence in the Northeast, including 22 of the 26 persons killed in the February 25 bombing of a train in eastern Assam. There were several killings related to state assembly election campaigns early in the year. In Bihar at least 10 people, including two policemen, died in election-related violence. This violence appeared to reflect rivalries between individual candidates or between caste groups in individual villages, not a coordinated effort by any group to affect the election outcome through intimidation.

b. Disappearance

According to credible reports from national human rights groups, unacknowledged, incommunicado detention of suspected militants continued in Kashmir although the practice diminished as compared with previous years. The Government acknowledges that, as of April, it held 3,023 persons in connection with the insurgency in five detention centers in Jammu and Kashmir. Of these, 1,331 were held under the Public Safety Act and 1,692 under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act. Several thousand others are held in short-term confinement in transit and interrogation centers. Human rights groups maintain that as many as 3,000 more are held in long-term incommunicado detention. The Government maintains that screening committees run by the state government provide information about detainees to their families. However, other sources indicate that families are able to confirm the detention of their relatives only by bribing prison guards. A program of prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), under an agreement with the Indian Government signed in June is designed in part to help assure communications between detainees and their families. The ICRC prison visits began in October. In Punjab, the pattern of disappearances prevalent a few years ago appears to be much diminished. Although there is no reason to believe that missing or faulty arrest records are less a problem in Punjab than in the rest of India, there were only a few reports of disappearances or unacknowledged arrests associated with suspected militant activity. In early September, Jaswant Singh Khalra, Secretary General of the Akali Dal Party's human rights cell, was allegedly taken from his home by uniformed police. The state police asserted to human rights groups and in response to a Supreme Court order that they were not holding Khalra. Another Supreme Court order required a report on the abduction by September 29. After the state government failed to respond adequately to previous orders, the Supreme Court in November ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the investigation. By year's end, the investigation had yielded no results. In another case, the brother of Surinder Singh Fauji was held for a week by police in incommunicado detention, apparently in an effort to persuade Fauji not to testify on extrajudicial executions he witnessed in 1993. There are credible reports that police throughout India often do not file required arrest reports. As a result, there are hundreds of unsolved disappearances in which relatives claim an individual was taken into police custody and never heard from again. Police usually deny these claims, countering that there are no records of arrest. Militants in Kashmir and the Northeast have increasingly resorted to kidnapings to sow terror, seek the release of detained comrades, and extort funds. According to the Government, Kashmiri militants kidnaped 548 persons in 1995, of which 207 were killed by their captors. In July, two Americans, two Britons, a German and a Norwegian were kidnaped by separatist militants in Kashmir. One American escaped, the Norwegian was beheaded, and the others were still held at year's end.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture, and confessions extracted by force are generally inadmissible in court. Nevertheless, there is credible evidence that torture is common throughout India and that the authorities often use torture during interrogations. In other instances, they torture detainees to extort money and sometimes as summary punishment. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called on the Government to sign the 1984 International Convention Against Torture. Human rights groups continue to report that police and paramilitary forces use torture during interrogations in Kashmir and the Northeast. Past practices have included beating, rape, burning with cigarettes and hot rods, suspension by the feet, crushing of limbs by heavy rollers, and electric shocks. Because many alleged torture victims die in custody, and others are afraid to speak out, there are few first-hand accounts, although the marks of torture have often been found on the bodies of deceased detainees. The prevalence of torture by police in detention facilities throughout India is borne out by the number of cases of deaths in police custody (see Section 1.a.). The rape of persons in custody is part of the broader pattern of custodial abuse. Although custodial abuse is deeply rooted in police practices, increased press reporting and parliamentary questions offer evidence of growing public awareness of the problem. The NHRC has identified torture and deaths in detention as one of its priority concerns. It has directed district magistrates to report all custodial deaths within 24 hours and stated that failure to do so will be interpreted as an attempted coverup. Magistrates appear to be complying with this directive. At the end of the 1994-95 fiscal year, inquiries by the NHRC were pending in 107 cases of death in custody. Prosecution of police has been initiated in two cases and was recommended by the NHRC in a third case. In Bihar, an investigation by the NHRC's Investigative Branch into custodial deaths mentioned in a report by Amnesty International resulted in prosecution in 14 out of the 15 cases cited in the report. There are three classes of prison facilities. Prisoners are not classified by the nature of their crimes, but by their standing in society. Class "C" prisoners are those who cannot prove they are college graduates or income taxpayers. Their cells are overcrowded, often have dirt floors, no furnishings, and poor sanitary conditions. The food is of poor quality and the medical care inadequate. The use of handcuffs and fetters is common. Class "B" prisoners--college graduates and taxpayers--are held under markedly better conditions. Class "A" prisoners are prominent persons, as designated by the Government, and are accorded private rooms, visits, and adequate food, which may be supplemented by their families. Class "A" prisoners are usually held in government guest houses. Overcrowding in Indian jails is severe. Prisons often house more than three times their design capacity. According to a statement in Parliament in 1994 by Minister of State for Home Affairs, New Delhi's Tihar Jail considered one of the best-run in India, housed in March 8,577 prisoners--in facilities designed to hold 2,487. According to the Minister, 7,505 detainees awaited the completion of their trials, while 672 others have been on trial for 3 years or longer. With the exception of an agreement with the ICRC for visits to detention facilities in Kashmir, the Government does not allow NGO's to monitor prison conditions. Nevertheless, prison conditions are a subject of press reports and have received attention from human rights groups. Press accounts of prison conditions include reports of sexual abuse of prisoners, the use of prisoners by prison officials as domestic servants, the sale of food and milk for prisoners on the black market, the sale of female prisoners to brothels, and the marketing and export of prison-made goods. Women constitute 2 to 6 percent of the total prison population, according to the 1987 Justice Krishna Ryer Report. Although Parliament passed the Children's Act of 1960 to safeguard young prisoners against abuse and exploitation, and the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986 provides that boys under 16 years and girls under 18 years are not to be held in prison, most states have not implemented these acts. The Supreme Court has criticized the state governments for not providing reformatories and separate detention facilities for children. In July the death by illness of businessman Rajan Pillai while he was detained awaiting an extradition hearing caused a public outcry. A court had ruled against releasing Pillai for medical treatment. A commission of inquiry has been appointed to investigate his death.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Over the past decade, the Government implemented a variety of special security laws intended to help law enforcement authorities fight separatist insurgency. There were credible reports of widespread arbitrary arrest and detention under these laws. One of these laws that had been subject to the most extensive abuse, the Terrorism and Disruptive Practices (Prevention) Act, lapsed in May and, at year's end, had not been reinstated or replaced. As of June 30, 6,060 persons arrested under the Act were held in a number of states. Although TADA detainees continued to be released, many were still held at year's end. The Constitution requires that detainees have the right to be informed of the grounds for arrest, have the right to be represented by counsel, and, unless the person is held under a preventive detention law, the right to appear before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. At this initial appearance, the accused must either be remanded for further investigation or released. The Supreme Court has upheld these provisions. An accused person must be informed of his right to bail at the time of arrest and may, unless he is held on a non-bailable offense, apply for bail at any time. The police must file a charge sheet within 60 to 90 days of arrest; if they fail to do so, court approval of a bail application becomes mandatory. The Constitution permits preventive detention laws in the event of threats to public order and national security. These laws provide for limits on the length of detention and for judicial review. Several laws of this type remain in effect. The National Security Act (NSA) of 1980 permits detention of persons considered security risks; police anywhere in India (except Kashmir) may detain suspects under NSA provisions. Under these provisions the authorities may detain a suspect without charge or trial as long as 1 year on loosely defined security grounds. The state government must confirm the detention order, which is reviewed by an advisory board of three high court judges within 7 weeks or arrest. NSA detainees are permitted visits by family members and lawyers and must be informed of the grounds for detention within 5 days (10 to 15 days in exceptional circumstances). Nationwide, more than two-thirds of the 16,000 people detained under NSA since 1980 have been released by order of state governments or advisory boards. At year's end, 514 persons throughout India continue to be detained under NSA. The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) of 1978 covers corresponding procedures for that state. Over half of the detainees in Jammu and Kashmir are held under the PSA. The court system is overloaded. The result has been the detention of persons awaiting trial for periods longer than they would receive if convicted. Prisoners may be held months or even years before obtaining a trial date. According to a reply to a parliamentary question in July 1994, more than 111,000 criminal cases were pending in the Allahabad High Court, the most serious case backlog in the country, of which nearly 29,000 cases had been pending for 5 to 8 years. The Government does not practice exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

India has an independent judiciary with strong constitutional safeguards. Under a Supreme Court ruling, the Chief Justice, in consultation with his colleagues, has a decisive voice in selecting judicial candidates. The President appoints the judges, and they serve up to age 62 in the State High Courts and age 65 in the Supreme Court. Courts of first resort exist at the subdistrict and district levels. More serious cases and appeals are heard in state-level High Courts and by the national-level Supreme Court, which also rules on constitutional questions. Subdistrict and district judicial magistrates are appointed by state governments. High Court judges are appointed on the recommendation of the federal Law Ministry, with the advice of the Supreme Court, the High Court Chief Justice, and the Chief Minister of the state, usually from among district judges or lawyers practicing before the same courts. Supreme Court judges are similarly appointed from among High Court judges. The Chief Justice is selected on the basis of seniority. When legal procedures function normally, they generally assure a fair trial, but the process can be drawn out and inaccessible to the poor. Defendants have the right to choose counsel from a bar that is fully independent of the Government. There are effective channels for appeal at most levels of the judicial system. The Criminal Procedure Code provides for an open trial in most cases, but it allows exceptions in proceedings involving official secrets, trials in which statements prejudicial to the safety of the State might be made, or under provisions of special security legislation. Sentences must be announced in public. Muslim personal status law governs many noncriminal matters involving Muslims--including family law, inheritance, and divorce. The Government does not interfere in the personal laws of the minority communities, with the result that laws that discriminate against women are upheld. In Kashmir the judicial system barely functions due to threats by militants against judges, witnesses, and their family members and because of judicial tolerance of the Government's heavy handed anti-militant actions. Courts there are not willing to hear cases involving terrorist crimes or fail to act expeditiously on habeas corpus cases. As a result, there have been no convictions of alleged terrorists in Kashmir since prior to 1994, even though some militants have been in detention for years. No persons are known to have been incarcerated soley on the basis of their political views or activities.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Home, or Correspondence

The police must obtain warrants for searches and seizures. In a criminal investigation, the police may conduct searches without warrants to avoid undue delay but they must justify the searches in writing to the nearest magistrate with jurisdiction over the offense. The authorities in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Assam have special powers to search and arrest without a warrant. The Indian Telegraph Act authorizes the surveillance of communications, including monitoring telephone conversation and intercepting personal mail--in case of public emergency or "in the interest of the public safety or tranquility." These powers have been used by every state government.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Both government forces and militants continue to commit serious violations of humanitarian law in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is believed that between 350,000 and 400,000 Indian army, paramilitary forces, and police are deployed in Jammu and Kashmir. The Muslim majority population in the Kashmir Valley is caught between the repressive tactics of the security forces and acts of terrorist violence committed by the militants. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, both passed in July 1990, security forces personnel have extraordinary powers, including authority to shoot suspected lawbreakers and those disturbing the peace, and to destroy structures suspected of harboring militants or arms. Although civilian deaths caused by the security forces in Kashmir continued at high levels and precise data are lacking, credible reports from Kashmir suggest that they diminished somewhat for the second consecutive year. Increased attention to human rights by security force personnel and publicized disciplinary action against offenders appear to be having some effect in moderating use of force by the government, according to reports from Kashmiris. In response to parliamentary questions in April, the Government stated that, between January 1990 and March 1995, 167 security force personnel including 15 army officers had been punished for offenses against civilians in Kashmir, including rape, murder, theft, and use of excessive force, although few officers are known to have recieved prison sentences. Kashmiri militant groups were also guilty of serious human rights abuses. Militants launched a series of attacks on traditional political figures in an effort to scuttle progress towards a political process. In addition to political killings and kidnapings (see Sections 1.a. and 1.b.), militants engaged in extortion and carried out acts of random terror that left hundreds of Kashmiris dead. In July and August, to cite only a few examples, three terrorist bombs in Jammu and Srinagar killed dozens of persons. Terrorist acts by Kashmiri militant groups have also taken place outside Jammu and Kashmir. Many of the terrorists are not Indian citizens. Kashmiris continued to be caught in the crossfire between militants and security forces. At least 5 civilians were killed in fierce fighting at the Charar-e-Sharif shrine in May. During a battle between militant and security forces, a fire destroyed over 1,000 homes and the 500-year-old Sufi shrine in the town. The militants and the Government have traded charges over who is to blame for the fire. In the Northeast excesses resulting in civilian deaths were committed by both security forces and militants. Near Kohima in Nagagland paramilitary Rashtriya Rifles reportedly panicked after an attack on their convoy and fired mortars and assault rifles into nearby settlements. Six civilians and 2 policemen were reported killed and over 20 injured in the incident (see Section 1.a.)

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution protects these freedoms, and with some limitations they are exercised in practice. A vigorous press reflects a wide variety of public, social, and economic beliefs. Newspapers and magazines regularly publish investigative reports and allegations of government wrongdoing, and the press as a whole champions human rights and criticizes perceived government lapses. The Press Council of India is a statutory body of journalists, publishers, academics, and politicians with a chairman appointed by the Government. Designed to be a self-regulating mechanism for the press, it investigates complaints of irresponsible journalism and sets a code of conduct for publishers. This code includes not publishing articles or details that might incite caste or communal violence. The council publicly criticizes newspapers or journalists it believes to have broken the code of conduct, but its findings, while noted by the press community, carry no legal weight. National television and radio, which are government monopolies, are frequently accused of manipulating the news to the benefit of the Government. However, international satellite television is widely distributed in middle class neighborhoods via cable and is gradually eroding the Government's monopoly on television. Under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), the Government may restrict publication of sensitive stories but the Government sometimes interprets this broadly to suppress criticism of its policies. The 1971 Newspapers Incitements to Offenses Act remains in effect in Jammu and Kashmir. Under the Act, a district magistrate may prohibit the press from carrying material resulting in "incitement to murder" or "any act of violence." As punishment, the Act stipulates that the authorities may seize newspapers and printing presses. Despite these restrictions, newspapers in Srinagar regularly carry militant press releases attacking the Government and report in detail on alleged human rights abuses. The authorities allowed foreign journalists to travel freely in Kashmir, where they regularly spoke with militant leaders, and filed reports on government abuse. Kashmiri groups threatened journalists and editors and even imposed temporary bans on some publications. In July the Urdu-language press in Srinagar went on strike for more than a week to protest conflicting threats from rival militant factions and the related kidnaping of three journalists. In September a photographer was killed and two other employees injured when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) office in Srinagar was bombed. A reporter for Zee Television and Outlook magazine was shot in December outside Partan after being dragged out of a taxi in which he was riding. In Tamil Nadu, the state government in a number of cases abused police powers in reaction to press criticism. For example, the editor of a leading daily was arrested for publishing expunged portions of assembly proceedings. The state High Court, in rejecting the case against the editor, criticized the state government for "frequent or indiscriminate use of power." A government censorship board reviews films before licensing them for distribution. The board deletes material deemed offensive to public morals or communal sentiment. Producers of video news magazines must also submit their products to a government censorship board which occasionally censors stories that portray the Government in an unfavorable light. The board's ruling may be appealed and overturned. Citizens enjoy complete academic freedom and students and faculty espouse a wide range of views. In addition to 10 national universities and about 160 state universities, states are empowered to accredit locally run private institutions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution protects the right of peaceful assembly and the right to form associations, and these rights are generally respected in practice. Authorities sometimes require permits and notification prior to holding parades or demonstrations, but local governments ordinarily respect the right to protest peacefully. At times of civil tension, authorities may ban public assemblies or impose curfew under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The authorities in Punjab frequently imposed such restrictions in previous years but limited their use since 1994; opposition Akali parties were permitted to hold public rallies and conduct membership drives. In Tamil Nadu, police often withhold permission for demonstrations by opposition groups and this practice was criticized by the National Human Rights Commission during its visit to the state early in the year. The state government also resorts to preventive detention on a massive scale as a means of restricting opposition demonstrations. For example, 30,000 people were reportedly detained the day before a general strike called for May 4. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act prohibits the establishment of organizations that promote communal hatred. The Government used this Act to prohibit two organizations, one Hindu and one Muslim, after Hindus destroyed a mosque in Ayodhya in December 1992. The ban on the Hindu organization was lifted following a judicial decision in June, however, and the authorities have not rigorously enforced the ban. Srinagar and other parts of Jammu and Kashmir were under sporadic curfew during much of the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

India is a secular state in which all faiths generally enjoy freedom of worship. Government policy does not favor any religious group. There is no national law to bar proselytizing by Indian Christians. Foreign missionaries can generally renew their visas but since the mid-1960's the Government has refused to admit new resident foreign missionaries. Those who arrive now do so as tourists and stay for short periods. As of January 1993, there were 1,923 registered foreign Christian missionaries in India. As in the past, state officials refused to issue permits for foreign Christian missionaries to enter some northeastern states. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims continue to pose a challenge to the secular foundation of the state (see Section 5).

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens enjoy freedom of movement within the country except in certain border areas where, for security reasons, special permits are required. Under the Passports Act of 1967, the Government may deny a passport to any applicant who "may or is likely to engage outside India in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India." The Government uses this provision to prohibit the foreign travel of some government critics especially those advocating Sikh independence. Citizens may emigrate without restriction. Millions of people of Indian origin live abroad. Although India is not a signatory to the U.N. Convention and Protocol on Refugees, the Government follows its general principles and has, on the whole, maintained an excellent record of receiving and caring for refugees. The Government recognizes certain groups including Chakmas from Bangladesh and Tamils from Sri Lanka as refugees by providing assistance in refugee camps or in resettlement areas, as in the case of Tibetans. The Government neither deports Afghans, Burmese, and other nationalities nor recognizes them as refugees. Instead these people receive renewable residence permits and are recognized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or are ignored. No further Chakma refugees were repatriated during 1995 pursuant to a 1993 agreement with the Government of Bangladesh. Human rights groups had claimed that these repatriations had in some cases been involuntary. The Government has rejected offers by the UNHCR to monitor Chakma repatriations. Human rights organizations continue to claim that the Government has reduced rations and cash assistance to refugee camps holding Chakmas to encourage them to repatriate. According to the UNHCR, 56,829 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka were living in India at the end of August, in 113 camps in the state of Tamil Nadu. Approximately 30,000 more are living with friends and relatives, and 1,311 suspected of militant activities are detained in special camps. The state government, using central government resources, provides shelter and subsidized food for those in the camps. Enforcement of a Tamil Nadu government ban on nongovernmental organization (NGO) assistance to the camps has been relaxed and NGO's have visited the camps. Voluntary repatriation of Tamil refugees under UNHCR supervision continued with 7 sailings in January and February, on which 3,576 Tamil refugees were repatriated.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens exercise this right freely. India has a democratic, parliamentary system of government with representatives elected in multiparty elections under universal adult suffrage. A parliament sits for 5 years unless dissolved earlier for new elections, except under constitutionally defined emergency situations. State governments are elected at regular intervals except in states under President's Rule. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the President may proclaim a state of emergency in any state in the event of war, external aggression, or armed rebellion. Similarly, President's Rule may be declared in the event of a collapse of a state's constitutional machinery. The Supreme Court in May upheld the Government's authority to suspend fundamental rights during an emergency. A Government proposal to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir in December came to nothing when the National Election Commission declared that conditions in the state were not suitable for holding elections. President's Rule therefore continued in Jammu and Kashmir throughout the year and was extended in December for an additional 6 months. President's Rule was also declared in Uttar Pradesh in October after a coalition state government collapsed for the second time in 5 months. President's Rule in Manipur ended in December 1994, when a new elected government took office. There are no legal impediments to the participation by women in the political process. A large proportion of women participate in voting throughout the country, and numerous women represent all major parties in the national and state legislatures. The Constitution reserves seats in Parliament and state legislatures for "scheduled tribes" and "scheduled castes" in proportion to their population (see Section 5). Indigenous people participate actively in national and local politics, but their impact depends on their numerical strength. In the northeastern states, indigenous people are a large proportion of the population and consequently exercise a dominant political influence in the political process. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, on the other hand, tribal peoples are a small minority and have been unsuccessful in blocking projects they oppose.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Independent human rights organizations operate throughout India investigating abuses and publishing their findings which are often the basis for reports by international human rights groups. However, the police have targeted human rights monitors for arrest and harassment. The Government appointed a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in October 1993 with powers to investigate and recommend policy changes, punishment, and compensation in cases of police abuse. In addition, the NHRC is directed to contribute to the establishment, growth, and functioning of nongovernmental human rights organizations. The Government appoints the members and finances the operations of the NHRC. Although the NHRC is prohibited by statute from directly investigating allegations of abuse involving army and paramilitary forces, the Commission has made effective use of indirect inquiries to address abuses by the armed forces. During the 1994-95 Indian fiscal year, the NHRC received 6,835 complaints of human rights abuses, as well as 152 cases of custodial death or rape. At the end of the fiscal year, 2,483 cases had been dismissed, 1,563 disposed of "with directions," 276 concluded, and 1,384 remained pending. In a February 20 letter addressed to every Member of Parliament, Commission Chairman Justice Ranganath Misra strongly urged that the Terrorism and Disruptive Practices Act (TADA) be allowed to lapse when it expired in May. This letter contributed substantially to the decision to let TADA lapse and to subsequent debate in which Parliament failed to approve successor legislation. Acting on its legislated mandate to encourage nongovernmental human rights organizations, the Commission organized and/or participated in several joint programs with NGO's and associated human rights NGO's with its investigation of individual complaints. The Commission has also worked to build a "culture of human rights" by actively encouraging the introduction of human rights syllabuses into universities and public schools. State human rights commissions were established in West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh. In February United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jose Ayala Lasso came to India and visited the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In June the Government reached agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross on a program of ICRC prison visits in Kashmir. Implementation of the ICRC Kashmir prison program began in October. By year's end, an initial round of visits to detention centers in the Srinagar area had been completed and preparations were underway for visits to detention centers elsewhere in the state and in other states. ICRC representatives also continued training of police and border security force personnel in international humanitarian law. The Government granted requests for visits to India by some international human rights organizations but refused others. The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch/Asia received permission to visit New Delhi to meet with the National Human Rights Commission in May, but other officials of the same organization were refused visas earlier in the year. In February the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission called on the Government to permit Amnesty International to assess the human rights situation in Kashmir. The Government has not acted on this advice.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The traditional caste system as well as differences of ethnicity, religion, and language deeply divide Indian society. Despite laws designed to prevent discrimination, there are other laws as well as social and cultural practices that have a profound discriminatory impact.


India has an elaborate system of laws to protect the rights of women, including the Equal Remuneration Act, the Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act, and the Sati (widow burning) Prevention Act and the Dowry Prohibition Act. However, the Government often is unable to enforce these laws, especially in rural areas where traditions are deeply rooted. Female bondage and forced prostitution are widespread in parts of Indian society. According to a government study, borne out by press reporting, violence against women--including molestation, rape, kidnaping, and wife murder ("dowry deaths")--has increased over the past decade. Higher female mortality at all age levels, including female infanticide and foeticide, accounts for a decline in the ratio of females to males to 927 per 1,000 in 1991, from 955 per 1,000 in 1981 and 972 per 1,000 at the turn of the century. Domestic violence in the context of dowry disputes is a serious problem. In the typical dowry dispute, a groom's family will harass a woman they believe has not provided sufficient dowry. This harassment sometimes ends in the woman's death, which family members often try to portray as a suicide or kitchen accident. Although most "dowry deaths" involve lower and middle-class families, the phenomenon crosses both caste and religious lines. Government figures show a total of 4,277 dowry deaths in 1994, a decrease of more than 20 percent from 1993. Under a 1986 amendment to the Penal Code, the court must presume the husband or the wife's in-laws are responsible for every unnatural death of a woman in the first 7 years of marriage--provided that harassment is proven. In such cases, police procedures require that an officer of deputy superintendent rank or above conduct the investigation and that a team of two or more doctors perform the postmortem procedures. Nonetheless, convictions in dowry death cases are rare. For example, 357 dowry death cases placed before the courts in Delhi from 1992 to 1994 resulted in 6 acquittals and no convictions; the remaining cases were pending at year's end. Lawyers note that judges and prosecutors, usually men, are uninterested in cases of domestic violence and susceptible to bribes. The personal status laws of the religious communities discriminate against women. Under the Indian Divorce Act of 1869, a Christian woman may demand divorce only in the case of spousal abuse and certain categories of adultery while for a man adultery alone is sufficient. Under Islamic law, a Muslim husband may divorce his wife spontaneously and unilaterally; there is no such provision for women. Islamic law also allows a man to have up to four wives but prohibits polyandry. The Hindu Succession Act provides equal inheritance rights for Hindu women, but married daughters are seldom given a share in parental property. Islamic law recognizes a woman's right of inheritance but specifies that a daughter's share should be only one half a son's. Under tribal land systems, notably in Bihar, tribal women do not have the right to own land. Other laws relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale. In November a state court acquitted five upper-caste men accused of gang-raping lower-caste woman social activist Bhanwari Devi, allegedly in retaliation for her efforts to ban the traditional practice of child marriage in Rajasthan. Widespread press commentary condemned what are seen as spurious grounds for acquittal, as well as gender and caste prejudice implicit in the decision. There are thousands of grassroots organizations working for social justice and economic advancement of women, in addition to the National Commission for Women. The Government usually supports these efforts, despite strong resistance from traditionally privileged groups.


The Government has made commitments to improve the welfare of children. A national authority for the elimination of child labor was formed to coordinate education, rural development, women and child development, health and labor programs with the goal of progressively withdrawing children from the workplace and placing them in schools by 2000. There are an estimated 500,000 street children nationwide. Child prostitution in the cities is rampant, and there is a growing pattern of traffic in child prostitutes from Nepal. According to one estimate 5,000 to 7,000 children, mostly age 10 to 18, are victims of this traffic. The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act of 1976 prohibits child marriage, a traditional practice in northern India. The Act raises the age of marriage for girls to 18 years from 15 years, but the Government does not enforce it effectively. According to one report, 50 percent of the girls in Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are married at or before age 16. Amniocentesis and sonogram tests are widely misused for sex determination, resulting in a disproportionate number of abortions of female fetuses. A law passed in September 1994, prohibits the use of these tests for sex determination. Human rights groups estimate that at least 10,000 cases of female infanticide occur yearly, primarily in poor rural areas. Female infanticide and foeticide are factors in the decline in the ratio of females to males. In addition, parents often give priority in health care and nutrition to male infants. Women's rights groups point out that the burden of providing girls with an adequate dowry is one factor that makes daughters less desirable. Although abetting or taking dowry is theoretically illegal under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, it is still widely practiced.

People with Disabilities

The Government's Ministry of Welfare has principal responsibility for programs for the disabled, and it delivers comprehensive rehabilitation services to India's rural population through 16 district centers. A national rehabilitation plan commits the Government to putting a rehabilitation center in each of India's more than 400 districts, but services are still concentrated in urban areas. The Government reserves 3 percent of positions in official offices and state-owned enterprises for people with visual, hearing, or orthopedic disabilities. The Government provides special railway fares, education allowances, scholarships, customs exemptions, and rehabilitation training to assist people with disabilities. There is no legislation or otherwise mandated provision of accessibility for the disabled.

Indigenous People

The Innerline Regulations enacted by the British in 1873 still provide the basis for safeguarding tribal rights in most of the border states of northeastern India. These regulations prohibit any person, including Indians from other states, from going beyond an inner boundary without a valid permit. No rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products may be removed from the protected areas without prior authorization. No outsiders are allowed to own land in the tribal areas without approval from tribal authorities. Despite constitutional safeguards, the rights of indigenous groups in eastern India are often ignored. There has been encroachment on tribal land in almost all the states of eastern India, including by illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and businesses which have removed forest and mineral products without authorization. Moreover, persons from other backgrounds often usurp places reserved for members of tribes and lower castes in national education institutions. Such violations have given rise to numerous tribal movements demanding protection of land and property rights. The Jharkhand Movement in Bihar and Orissa, and the Bodo Movement in Assam, reflect deep economic and social grievances among indigenous people. In the Jharkhand area, tribal people complain that they have been relegated to unskilled mining jobs, have lost their forests to industrial construction, and have been displaced by development projects. The Government has considered the creation of an independent Jharkand state, but the affected state governments oppose the idea. However, there is some local autonomy in the northeast. In Meghalaya tribal chiefs still wield influence in certain villages. The Nagaland Government controls the rights to certain mineral resources, and autonomous district councils in Tripura, Assam, and Meghalaya control matters such as education, rural development, and forestry in cooperation with the state governors.

Religious Minorities

Controversy between Hindus and Muslims continues with regard to three sites where mosques were built centuries ago on sites where temples are believed to have previously stood. The potential for renewed Hindu-Muslim violence remains high. The Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act makes it an offense to use any religious site for political purposes or to use temples for harboring persons accused or convicted of crime. While specifically designed to deal with Sikh places of worship in the Punjab, the law applies to all religious sites. At the outset of the Kashmir insurgency in 1990, fear of political violence drove most Hindus in the Kashmir Valley (the Pandits) to seek refuge in camps in Jammu or with relatives in New Delhi or elsewhere. The Pandit community criticizes the Government for bleak conditions in the camps and fears that a negotiated solution giving greater autonomy to the Muslim majority might threaten its own survival in Kashmir as a culturally and historically distinctive group.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Constitution gives the President authority to specify historically disadvantaged castes and tribes which are entitled to affirmative action in employment and other benefits. These so-called "scheduled" tribes and castes benefit from special development funds, government hiring quotas, and special training programs. A national commission investigates specific complaints about deprivation of the rights of scheduled castes and tribes and submits an annual report. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 specifies new offenses against disadvantaged people and provides stiffer penalties for offenders. However, this law has had only a modest effect in curbing abuse. Government statistics indicate that 10,005 cases of abuse were committed against members of scheduled castes and tribes from January through May, as compared with 38,912 in all of 1994. The national commission is charged with giving special attention to the problems of these minorities. The practice of untouchability was in theory outlawed by the Constitution and the 1955 Civil Rights Act, but it remains an important aspect of life in India. Intercaste violence claims hundreds of lives each year.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of association: workers may establish and join unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. There are five major recognized national trade union federations, each of which is associated with, but not necessarily controlled by, a political party. Trade unions often exercise the right to strike, but public sector unions are required to give at least 16 days' notice prior to striking. Some states have laws requiring workers in certain nonpublic sector industries to give prior strike notice. The Essential Services Maintenance Act allows the Government to ban strikes and requires conciliation or arbitration in specified essential industries. Legal mechanisms exist for challenging the assertion that a given dispute falls within the scope of this Act. The Industrial Disputes Act prohibits retribution by employers against employees involved in legal strike actions. This prohibition is observed in practice. Abuses against nationally organized unions or unionized workers are generally not a problem. However unaffiliated unions of low caste or tribal workers are not always able to secure for themselves the protections and rights guaranteed by law. Unions are free to affiliate with international trade union organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to bargain collectively has existed for decades. The Trade Union Act prohibits discrimination against union members and organizers, and employers may be penalized if they discriminate against employees engaged in union activities. Collective bargaining is the normal means of setting wages and settling disputes in the organized industrial sector. Trade unions vigorously defend worker interests in this process. Although a system of specialized labor courts adjudicates labor disputes, there are long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases. When the parties are unable to agree on equitable wages, the Government may set up boards of union, management, and government representatives to determine them. In practice, legal protections of workers' rights are effective only for the 28 million workers in the organized industrial sector, out of a total work force of 376 million. Outside the modern industrial sector, laws are difficult to enforce. Union membership is rare in this "informal" sector and collective bargaining does not exist. There are seven export processing zones (EPZ's). Entry into the EPZ's is ordinarily limited to the employees. Such entry restrictions apply to union organizers. While workers in EPZ's have the right to organize and bargain collectively, trade union activity is rare. Women constitute the bulk of the work force in the EPZ's.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor, and legislation passed in 1976 specifically bans the practice of "bonded labor." A Supreme Court decision defined "forced labor" as work at less than the minimum wage, which is usually set by the state governments. Under this definition, which differs from that of the International Labor Organization (ILO), "forced labor" is widespread, especially in rural areas. "Bonded labor," the result of a private contractual relationship whereby a worker incurs or inherits debts to a contractor and then must work off the debt plus interest, is illegal but widespread. The Government estimates that between enactment of the Bonded Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act in 1979 and March 31, 1993, approximately 251,424 bonded workers had been released from their obligations. Other sources maintain that those released are only one-tenth of the total number of bonded laborers. State governments are responsible for enforcing the Act. Offenders may be sentenced to up to 3 years in prison but prosecutions are rare.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution prohibits employment of children under 14 years of age in factories, mines, or other hazardous employment. It also encourages the state governments to provide free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14. A law passed in 1986 banned the employment of children under age 14 in hazardous occupations, such as glass making, fireworks, match factories, and carpet weaving and regulated their employment in others. The Factories Act and the Child Labor Registration Act limit the hours of workers below the age of 15 to 4.5 hours per day. The Government estimates that there were 17.5 million child workers in 1985. The ILO estimates the number at 44 million, while NGO's claim that the figure is 55 million. The enforcement of child labor laws is the responsibility of the state governments. Enforcement is not effective, especially in the informal sector where most of the children are employed. The continuing prevalence of child labor may be attributed to social acceptance of the practice and the failure of the state governments to make primary school education compulsory. The Government has drawn up a comprehensive plan to eliminate child labor from hazardous industries by the year 2000. Approximately 260 million dollars has been allocated for this program, which includes enhanced enforcement of anti-child labor laws, income supplements for families, and subsidized school lunches in areas where child labor is concentrated, and a public awareness campaign. The Commission on Labor Standards and International Trade published a report on child labor that offers a frank assessment of the problem and needed remedies. The National Human Rights Commission has made child labor part of its agenda, investigating child labor practices in Tamil Nadu and in the Firozabad glass industry and intervening in individual cases. The Ministers of External Affairs and Commerce have made explicit calls to India's private sector to help eliminate child labor, stating that India should not be exporting goods made using child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages vary according to the state and sector of industry. Such wages are considered adequate only for a minimal standard of living. Most unionized workers receive much more than the minimum wage, including mandated bonuses and other benefits. The state governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers but do not enforce it well. The Factories Act establishes an 8-hour workday, a 48-hour workweek, and various standards for working conditions. These standards are generally enforced and accepted in the modern industrial sector, but tend not to be observed in older and less economically robust industries. State governments are responsible for enforcement of the Factories Act. However, the large number of industries covered by a small cadre of factory inspectors and their limited training and susceptibility to bribery make for lax enforcement. Although occupational safety and health measures vary widely, in general neither state nor central government resources for inspection and enforcement of standards are adequate. Safety conditions tend to be better in the EPZ's.  

This 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.