‘New Norm to Accuse India of Human Rights Violations’: NHRC Chair and Ex-SC Judge Arun Mishra

His comments came against the backdrop of several reports on attack on human rights defenders, and India's falling rank on press freedom and democracy index.

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New Delhi: India is one of the strongest democratic forces today, but there is a new tendency to accuse it of human rights violations at the behest of international forces, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairperson and former Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra said on Tuesday, Bar and Bench reported.

He said that Indians enjoy religious freedom and citizens here have the freedom to construct temples, churches and mosques. “Such freedom is not available in many other countries. (But) we cannot glorify terrorism and terrorists. No one has the freedom to destroy institutions through their contemptuous act.”

Justice Mishra was speaking at the 28th Foundation Day of NHRC, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi also attended.

His comments came against the backdrop of several media reports on attack on human rights defenders, and India’s falling rank on press freedom and democracy index.

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Religious freedom

In April, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its report said that religious freedom conditions in India “continued their negative trajectory”. It included India in the list of nations termed as “countries of particular concern” as their “their governments engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations.”

On May 17, a mosque in the central Uttar Pradesh town of Barabanki was demolished by the administration in defiance of an order of the Allahabad high court. The Wire reported how the process was carried out with ease and was in the works several months ago before the demolition.

An anti-conversion law — termed as Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020, or ‘Love Jihad’ law — was passed in UP to prevent inter-faith couples from getting married, despite the Indian Constitution giving citizens the freedom to “profess, practice and propagate” religion. A former Delhi high court chief justice had called it out saying the law creates an unnecessary communal rift in a peaceful society. Several other BJP-ruled states have also passed similar laws.

Much before that, in February 2020, at least 53 people died in the communal Delhi riots which broke out in the Northeast part of the capital between Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and pro-CAA protestors. The Wire reported, citing a Delhi Police affidavit, that three-quarters of those killed in the riots were Muslim, and the vast majority of homes and shops damaged in the violence belonged to Muslims too. Critics say the CAA, which makes religion a condition of citizenship, violates the secular principles enshrined in the Constitution.

Human rights violations

Amnesty International India, which addressed several crucial human rights violations amid growing hostility and the government’s clampdown on civil liberties, had to shut its operations. The move came after the Enforcement Directorate froze the organisation’s accounts on charges of an alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). The Wire in an analytical piece has explained how the government has repeatedly used the FCRA as an instrument for harassment of political rivals or activist organisations like Amnesty International.

In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), a month after its special status was read down on August 5, 2019, 290 people were booked under the Public Safety Act. More than 2,300 people in J&K have been arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) since 2019. The Indian Express reported that nearly 50% of the people booked under UAPA and 30% of those detained under the PSA are still in jail.

Under UAPA, getting bail is nearly impossible.

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The Wire reported on August 16 that cases against 50 persons were registered by Delhi Police under UAPA during the last one year, of which 34 have been arrested and another 16 have been chargesheeted but not arrested. The list comprises 26 Muslims, 21 Sikhs, one member of a Scheduled Tribe and two Hindus, both of whom were arrested for their role in the protests against the CAA, which discriminates against Muslims.

Civil rights groups have criticised the Act as draconian and accused the government of misusing it against people belonging to minority communities, Dalits and adivasis in particular.

In his speech, Justice Mishra also said that there is a tendency on the part of the police to hoist false cases which has to stop. “In the quest for instant justice, there is a tendency of police to foist false cases. This has to stop,” he said.

The police system should improve so that there is no requirement at all for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, Mishra added.

He also highlighted the importance of environmental protection and the need to ensure that poor are given access to medicines.

“We have to think globally and act locally to save the environment. We are the custodians of planet earth so it’s our duty to save our motherland,” he opined.