INDIA: Democratic pretentions and administrative follies
— Asian Human Rights Commission
“It is true that too many children die from malnutrition each year in this country. Some of their parents also die from starvation and hunger. But the children are more vulnerable … one of the reasons is the widespread ‘irregularity’ in the state and central government services … the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh state is a very kind person … the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres is not a solution for the millions of malnourished children. These centres are not cost effective. But now that the centres are there we must effectively use them. My suggestion is to appoint a Brahmin priest in each of these centres and require the priest to verify the horoscope of every child brought to the centre. After studying a child’s horoscope if the priest is of the opinion that the child will grow into a good citizen of this country, it must be provided treatment at the centre. For the rest, I would say, let us just leave them to their fate … if not where do we stop? … We cannot spend government money like this…” (Statement and opinion of Justice Ms. Sheela Khanna, the Chairperson of Madhya Praesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, made to the AHRC staff members during a visit to the Commission in October 2010).
The Government of Madhya Pradesh appointed Justice Ms. Sheela Khanna as the Commissioner at the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, after Justice Khanna’s retirement from the judicial service. Justice Khanna was the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court.1 The state cabinet’s decision, taken in September 2008 to institute a Child Rights Commission took one more year to be implemented, at a limited level, of the appointing of a commissioner. The Chief Minister of the state, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, while informing the public and the media about the decision of his cabinet to set up the Commission said that the Commission is mandated to help generate an atmosphere conducive to the all?round development of children.2 The reality today is that Justice Khanna, who entertains the above view of child development chairs the Commission, while the government is yet to appoint the rest of the six members that the Commission requires to function.
India is today a necropolis of human rights for the poor, the marginalised and the underprivileged.3 Many countries in the world might be the same. What makes India an alarming case is that its poor makes up more than 60 percent of itspopulation, estimated to be 421 million in number4, which is a third of the world’s poor and more than the entire poor living in 26 poorest African states.5 The Indian government however, wants to claim that the percentage of poor in India living below the poverty line is a mere 25 percent. It has remained so for the past 64 years, the period after the country’s independence, and for many years before 1947, particularly under the colonial rule. The colonial government was not concerned about poverty in India, even during the devastating Bengal Famine of 1943 that claimed an estimated three million lives.6 In fact independence has brought nothing muh to this 60 percent of the country’s population, other than a ritualistic change of guards in New Delhi and at the state capitals. For some unfortunate sections of the country’s population, this change of rulers has brought far worse. Since 1947, those living in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and northeastern states like Manipur have faced atrocious forms of human rights violations. Independent India and its various governments have killed, raped and tortured its own people in such large numbers in the past 64 years, in these two states alone to suppress dissent and political opposition, that the atrocities committed by the colonisers for over two hundred years today look like mere s7
The world’s largest democracy is today extremely polarised between the traditional haves and have?nots.8 Its administration is opportunistic and favours multinational corporations and family?run business empires while conceiving and implementing policies against its own people and their welfare. It is a country that claims itself a democratic republic but authorises the widespread use of torture. It is a state that had once resolved to be a secular democratic republic, but its demographic fault lines are drawn with the crayons of caste and religious prejudices, where millions of its citizens are still considered to be untouchable. It is a country of extreme paradoxes where hundreds of domestic and foreign banking and IT experts queue up for employment in its metros while at the same time, thousands of citizens, women and children included, in the early hours of everyday, work with bare hands cleaning sewers, and often carrying human faeces on their head.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games was the showcase where this anomaly was recently exhibited, where billions of tax money was spent to show the prowess of the so?called modern India. Little did the world know, nor was it concerned, that the money earmarked for the development of the Dalits and the poor were spent by the government to undertake the construction of the Games village and sporting venues to host the multinational sporting event.9 Yet many athletes refused to participate in the games since the games villages where they were supposed to be hosted were found uninhabitable for humans. Many rooms had bathrooms with washbasins stinking with human faeces since the poor construction employees did not know where to defecate and used washbasins to relieve themselves.10 They had no idea what a water closet is, having only ever used the roadside or the cover of a shrub to answer nature’s call. Corruption in procurement and construction was so rampant that a bridge connecting the main games venue and the car park collapsed a week before the grand opening ceremony.11
In a country where its 820 million citizens earn less than two USD a day, the government spent 6.8 billion rupees of tax money to organise the Commonwealth Games.12 Together with corruption, impunity corrupt allowed the organisers and the contractors to inflate expenses on paper so that the cost of a roll of toilet paper was shown 80 USD and that of a soap dispenser 61USD.13 Yet, the organising committee of the games, in a miserable gesture of arrogance, justified the horrid state of affairs, accusing the ‘west’ that their expctations are too high and their hygiene standards abnormal and beyond . The reasonable human requirements for sanitation The explanation perfectly mimed India’s position concerning caste based discrimination, the worst form of discrimination known to human history; that it is an internal matter. This position has so far justified social evils like manual scavenging, the cleaning of dry latrines with bare hands and carrying human excreta on their heads, a job conveniently and forcibly allocated to the lowest among the Dalits.14 Those amongst the poor who survived the forced eviction prior to the Games and succeeded to remain in New Delhi’s slums, found themselves encircled with huge 30?foot?tall plastic hoardings with messages like ‘Welcome to India, the world’s fastest growing democracy’ so that the unhappy and uncomfortable reality of India was kept away from the world’s eye. Manual scavenging is an extreme derivative of caste?based discrimination that prevails unabated in India despite having more than two dozen government orders, interventions by courts and legislations against it. In fact, many upper caste Hindus ?? politicians, judges, journalists, academics and some ‘Commissioners’ included ?? believe that being born a Dalit and thus by default often poor, is one’s karma, and hence argue that it is not a social evil incompatible with the very notion of liberty, equality, justice and democracy. For these proponents of the Brahminical order, caste defines the very existential essence of humans. Fortunately for them, this reasoning has found resonance within the government, irrespective of its political colour; the Congress, the fundamentalist and rightwing Bharatiya Janatha Party, andthe Communists, including the so?called central left for the past six decades have supported this.15 This condition is not likely to change in the near future.
The term ‘development’ in India is restricted within the four corners of its rigid caste system, an order India’s upper caste cherishes and promotes. The perceived notion of wider people’s participation and the much trumpeted village level administration implemented thorough the Panchayat Raj after the 73rd amendment of the Constitution, has also fallen prey to the deep?rooted caste psyche of India; so muh so that decisions made by these bodies are overshadowed with caste prejudice. The decision of the Lank village panchayat in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh state made on 22 November this year prohibits the use of mobile telephones by unmarried girls, since the panchayat as well as parents are of the opinion that the use of mobile telephones allows girls to have affairs with boys outside their ‘caste defined’ limits of who marries who.16 It is alarming that such restrictions are considered to be perfectly normal and even necessary to preserve so?called Indian virtues.
Torture of the poor is one of the pillars of India’s social hierarchical structure. It is so widely practiced that none of India’s 12,618 police stations and 7,535 police outposts are an exception to it.17 Other agencies operating in India, like the paramilitary units also engage in brutal forms of torture and other human rights violations like rape and extrajudicial executions. Yet not more than three officers of the Indian paramilitary establishments were subjected to prosecution this year.18 Draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 provide statutory impunity to paramilitary forces, allowing them to kill anyone on mere suspicion.19
Torture has become not just a crude tool for criminal investigation, but also an instrument used with near absolute impunity for social control in the country.20The fear generated in society through its widespread use is employed to retain and enforce authority. All political parties encourage torture, so much so that all of them are unified in thwarting attempts to ensure accountability to police actions. So far torture is not defined as a crime in India and the attempt to legislate on this issue has been farcical; the proposed law to criminalise torture, the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010 neither defines torture in its true sense nor prescribes any independent mechanism that can investigate a rime of torture.
Despite the absence of a proper law or any independent mechanism that can do justice in a complaint against a police officer by a citizen, it is estimated that slightly more than 50,000 complaints are filed each year against police officers in India. It is no surprise however that out of this large number of complaints only a minuscule two percent result in prosecution. Immediately superior officers inquire into 99 percent of the complaints. In collusion with the accused officer, these officers summarily dismiss 60 percent of the complaints. Of the rest, less than 10 percent are recommended for departmental sanctions, whereby the punishments range from transferring the accused officer from one station to the other or the temporary suspension of a salary increment. Of the two percent of officers prosecuted each year, only a small number, estimated to be less than 30, are convicted by the courts. It is thus no surprise that between 2008?10 only 26 cases of human rights abuses were registered against police officers in India. Even according to the Union HomeMinistry, the number of cases registered against police officers in states like Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Chhattisgarh, is far too small; these are states notrious for police brutality and where an alarmingly large number of persons are killed each year in police actions.
A critical analysis of human rights in India therefore must deal with the following three elements ?? the widespread use of torture, the denial of the right to food and caste based discrimination.21 These three issues are also the AHRC’s key areas of engagement in the country. The following chapters examine the extent to which these three issues have negated the fundamental premises of democracy. In this process, how these fundamental human rights violations have affected the life of ordinary Indians and what attempt the government has made to address them will also be examined.
This report does not however, claim (and nor is it within the capacity of any single organisation) tothoroughly examine the entire human rights scenario of India. Like the socio?cultural and geopolitical landscape and vastness of the country itself, human rights issues in India are diverse and vary in intensity from region to region. The attempt in the following pages is to present what the AHRC has learned from its engagement in India during the past 12 months. It is in no manner an absolute or all inclusive human rights report on India. Sincere such attempts by several rganisations interested in India and its people, could together provide one such omprehensive analysis.
1 The Commissioner, throughout her discussion with the staff members of the AHRC, used the word ‘irregularity’ referring to corruption. For the Commissioner, corruption is a mere irregularity, not a crime. When a corrupt act, like selling of subsidised food grains intended to be distributed to the poor in black markets, denying it to the poor, that directly results in the death of dozens if not hndreds of children each year in many districts less than capable homicide. Yet, for the Commissioner.
2 Madhya Pradesh to setup a child rights commission; hindustan Time, 24 September 2008
3 Field Notes on Democracy : Listening to Grasshoppers; Arundhati Roy, Haymarket Books, 2009
4 for further details please see Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, a study that used Multi?dimensional Poverty Index (MPI)
5 Identity and Violence : The Illusions of Destiny; Amartya Sen, W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. There are no credible statistics available regarding the exact state of poverty in India. The census data is highly corrupted since many citizens are not counted, due to various prejudices, including but not limited to caste, gender and religion. The district collectors, an apex authority in each district that is responsible for maintaining statistical data of the poor are often under pressure from the state administrations that require these officers to underestimate the severity of poverty so that these states are not categorised as ‘under performing’ states. In addition, the Government of India has used every trick out of its hat to bring down poverty, statistically, by making calculations after bringing down the per?capita purchase capacity from Rs. 44 per person per day to Rs. 12 per person per day. The government’s Millennium Development Goals Report, claims that India has addressed p25 poverty effectively thus by bringing down the number of the poor from 36 percent to percent between 1994 ? 2009. Such is development in India.
6 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the government he led deliberately let millions of Indians starve to death during the Bengal Famine, motivated in part due to his racial hatred. Churchill’s only response to a telegram from the government in Delhi about people perishing in the famine was to ask why Gandhi has not died yet. British imperialism had long justified itself with the pretence that it was conducted for the benefit of the governed. Churchill’s conduct in the summer and fall of 1943 gave the lie to this myth. I hate Indians, he told the Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault, he declared at a war?cabinet meeting, for breeding like rabbits. For further information please read Ugly Briton, Sashi Tharoor, 29 November 2010, Times, commenting on Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II; Madhusree Mukerjee, Basic Books, 2010
7 A clear statistics regarding the atrocities committed against civilians and suspected extremists in the Indian?Administered Kashmir is not available. Yet UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 400,000 persons have migrated out of Kashmir due to fear of violence into India since 1947 and about 2 million persons into Pakistan?Administered Kashmir. Estimates made by various agencies and organisations suggest that each year about 400 to 700 persons are murdered extra?judicially in the Indian?Administered Kashmir. None of these cases are investigated and the reports of the officers engaged in these encounters are held to be final. In Manipur on the other hand, the state government itself admits that the state police alone murders about 300 persons extra?judicially each year. Indeed the state administration claims that all of those who get murdered are extremists killed in armed encounters. There has been no inquiry into these claims whatsoever and the state
International Human Rights Day 2010 – NEPAL
administration for the past ten years has been using countering insurgency as an excuse for claiming and receiving huge amounts of secret funds from the central government. Counter insurgency has become a tool for extracting money by the political administration in Manipur. No wonder, the petty c years before is now on civil contractor, Mr. Ibobi, who became the Chief Minister of Manipur a fewrecords the richest person in the Northeast of India.
8 Regional Disparities in India, Planning Commission of India Report, 2010
9 In my view, prima facie, that using of 67.891 million rupees out of Schedule Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) to contribute for CWG appears to be wrong, P. Chidambaram, Union Home Minister, in a speech he made the Rajya Sabha, August 2 at 010 10gar sgn The ames villages are filthy nd unfit fo humaninhabitation. Sinks tinkin with huma faeces and street dogs sleeping on beds, Time of India, September 2010 11 See generf the CWG Organising Committee estigatedally: Corruption rid CWG games, Members oinvfor widespread corruption, Times of India 12 Still Game, Manu Kaushik, Business Today, 1 September, 2010
COURTESY:Asian Human Rights Commision