India, the world’s largest democracy, has a strong civil society, vigorous media, and an independent judiciary, but also serious human rights concerns.
Religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, accused the authorities of not doing enough to protect their rights.
There was encouraging progress on security force accountability in 2015, with the army confirming life imprisonment for six soldiers for a 2010 extrajudicial killing of three villagers in the Machil sector in Jammu and Kashmir states. The rare guilty verdict was delivered by a military court in November 2014 and was confirmed in September 2015.
Dalit rights groups welcomed progress toward enactment of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill; if passed, the bill will strengthen protections for Dalit and tribal communities, and make it easier for them to pursue justice.
Four Muslim men were killed by Hindu vigilante groups in separate incidents across the country in 2015 over suspicions that they had killed or stolen cows for beef. The violence took place amid an aggressive push by several BJP leaders and right-wing Hindu groups to protect cows, considered sacred by many Hindus, and for a ban on beef consumption.
Churches were also attacked in several states in 2015. Anti-Muslim rhetoric by several BJP leaders, including members of parliament, further stoked insecurities among religious minorities.
The government failed to implement policies to protect Dalits and tribal groups from discrimination and violence. We can find 6 major incidents of violence against the Dalit community in the 1990s in Bihar state—in which at least 144 people were killed by an upper-caste militia—once again triggered dismay over the difficulty marginalized communities face in obtaining justice.
In May, the northeastern state of Tripura revoked the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), citing a decline in insurgency. However, it remains in force in Jammu and Kashmir and in other northeastern states. AFSPA has been widely criticized by rights groups and numerous independent commissions have recommended repealing or amending the law, but the government has not done so in the face of stiff army opposition.
A May report by the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions noted that “impunity remains a serious problem” and expressed regret that India had not repealed or at least radically amended AFSPA.
Proposed police reforms again stalled in 2015 even as police committed serious violations including arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial “encounter” killings. In April, police killed 20 men in the forests of Andhra Pradesh, alleging they were smugglers and claiming they fired in self-defense. On the same day, five terrorism suspects in Telangana state were killed in custody as they were being transported from jail for a court hearing. Investigations are pending in both cases; rights groups say there is evidence that police staged both sets of killings.
Violence against women, particularly rape and murder, made headlines throughout 2015. While legal reforms introduced in response to the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder gave prosecutors new tools for pursuing such crimes, they also expanded use of the death penalty. The Indian government does not appear to have a mechanism in place to track the efficacy of the reforms in preventing and punishing sexual violence. It has also failed to take effective measures to reduce sexual harassment and improve women’s access to safe transportation.
In August, village leaders in Uttar Pradesh state allegedly ordered the rape of two Dalit sisters to pay for the “sins” of their brother who had eloped with a higher-caste woman.
Government statistics show that two out of five children drop out of school before completing eighth grade. The numbers are even higher for children from poor and marginalized communities because of discrimination based on caste, religion, and ethnicity. Those who drop out often end up being subjected to child labor and early marriage.
LGBT individuals continue to face harassment, extortion, intimidation, and abuse, including by the police. In December 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of section 377 of the Indian penal code, which criminalizes same-sex conduct between consenting adults. An appeal was pending at time of writing.
The upper house of parliament approved a proposed law in April that, if enacted, would protect the rights of transgender people. In 2014, the Supreme Court mandated legal recognition of transgender people as a third gender and ruled them eligible for special education and employment benefits.
In several cases, interest groups that claimed to be offended by books, movies, or works of art pushed for censorship or harassed authors. The government often allowed them a “heckler’s veto” rather than protecting those under attack. In January, a Tamil author decided to give up his writing career after being coerced by state authorities to tender an unconditional apology to calm down angry mobs unhappy with one of his books.
On the morning of 27 February 2002, the Sabarmati Express, returning from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad, was stopped near the Godhra railway station. Several of the passengers were Hindu prilgrims, returning from Ayodhya after a religious ceremony at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. Under controversial circumstances, four coaches of the train caught on fire, trapping many people inside. In the resulting conflagration, 59 people, including 25 women and 25 children, were burned to death.
Authorities in 2015 intensified their crackdown on civil society by using the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law regulating grants from foreign donors, to harass organizations that questioned or criticized government policies. The government cut off funds to organizations, including Greenpeace India, and put restrictions on others, including the Ford Foundation.
In January, the government barred Priya Pillai, a Greenpeace India activist, from boarding a flight to London where she was to speak to members of the British Parliament, alleging that her testimony would have portrayed the government in a negative light abroad at a time when it was looking to attract foreign investment. In March, the Delhi High Court ruled that authorities had violated Pillai’s rights to travel and to freedom of expression. In November, authorities in Tamil Nadu state, where Greenpeace India’s registered office is located, cancelled the organization’s registration.
India was a weak proponent of human rights at the UN in 2015. In March, India voted in support of a Russian-backed resolution to remove benefits for same-sex partners of UN staff. India abstained on Human Rights Council resolutions on Syria, North Korea, and Ukraine, and voted against resolutions on Iran and Belarus.
Human trafficking is a $8 million illegal business in India. Around 10,000 Nepali women are brought to India annually for commercial sexual exploitation. Each year 20,000–25,000 women and children are trafficked from Bangladesh