National and International Issues

Amnesty International: Yet Another Victim of Modi’s Fascism

From time to time, India gives out to the world that its overblown democratic credentials are a sham; that its secularism is in reality humbuggery; that its holier-than-thou attitude is but vain tub-thumping; that its peace overtures are no more than chicanery; and that its soft power is essentially flatulent. To any keen observer of Indian politics, New Delhi’s recent decision to choke the funding of UK-based international human rights organization, Amnesty International, forcing it to put the shutters down on its operations in India, has hardly sprung up a surprise. 


In September, the Modi regime froze the bank accounts of the Amnesty International, India on the unsubstantiated charge of receiving funds illegally. The decision was made following months of harassment of the human rights organization and with a view to putting a crimp on its activities. As funds are the lifeblood of an organization, the Amnesty International had to wind up its operations in the country. That was manifestly the motive behind the high-handed measure.


A government, whose warp and woof is marginalization and victimization on the basis of caste and creed, which draws sustenance from pulling down religious symbols of the minorities, which has earned notoriety for inordinate use of force, and which is unscrupulous enough to treat its citizens to pellet guns and keep them in lockdown for months, can go to any length in silencing critical voices.  
In September, the Modi regime froze the bank accounts of the Amnesty International, India on the unsubstantiated charge of receiving funds illegally. The decision was made following months of harassment of the human rights organization and with a view to putting a crimp on its activities. As funds are the lifeblood of an organization, the Amnesty International had to wind up its operations in the country. That was manifestly the motive behind the high-handed measure.
But why did New Delhi choose to go after the Amnesty International? In the words of Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International, India: “The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government, more recently for accountability of the Delhi police and the Government of India regarding the grave human rights violations in Delhi riots and [illegally occupied] Jammu & Kashmir.”   
The Modi government may try until it’s blue in the face but it can’t take the world’s attention off the colossal human rights violations in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K). Although for years the Kashmiris are facing the wrath of New Delhi for demanding to exercise the right to self-determination promised to them by both the United Nations and India, since August 5, 2019, their plight has been on the skids. On that fateful day, the Modi regime, riding the crest of Hindutva, unilaterally revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which conferred autonomy on the occupied state in all matters excluding foreign affairs, defence and communication. Over the years, thanks to the repressive and despotic policies of New Delhi, the disputed state’s autonomy had been reduced to a farce. Nevertheless, a semblance of autonomy was maintained on paper. However, that semblance fell to pieces with the August 5, 2019 unilateral and illegal action, as the occupied Jammu & Kashmir was bifurcated into two union territories under the central government. 
On August 5, 2020 Amnesty International published a report entitled “Jammu and Kashmir after One Year of Abrogation of Article 370,” to mark the first anniversary of the illegal and unilateral action. It’s the third report in the series since the constitutional status of the occupied territory was turned upside down. The report is based on interviews, particularly with journalists, in the IIOJ&K, and corroborating evidence gathered by the Amnesty International. The key findings of the report are:
Arbitrary political detentions. Arbitrary political detentions remain the order of the day in IIOJ&K. The entire mainstream political leadership has been put behind bars including even three former chief ministers, who have been pro India (one of them has recently been released). Since August 2019, executive magistrates in the region have been unlawfully issuing verbal orders of detentions. These detentions are calculated to putting down all credible opposition and dissent in the region, leaving no room for demanding accountability for the gross human rights violations. Political leaders and activists have been asked to sign “bonds” to secure their release on the condition of maintaining silence on political issues. Those who refuse to do so continue to languish in lock-ups.
Suppression of the media. The Indian government maintains near-total control over information coming out of the region. This is done through protracted communication restrictions together with intimidation of journalists. As a result, several cases of human rights violations remain unreported. The continuing harassment and intimidation of journalists by the authorities is leading to censorship and gradually extinguishing the independence of the media. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), India’s flagship counter-terrorism law, which itself fails to measure up to international human rights standards, is being misused against journalists to further muzzle dissent. On June 2, 2020, the government unveiled a new draconian and punitive media policy, which gives it carte blanche to decide what is “fake”, “unethical” or “anti-national” news, and to proceed against the journalist or media organization concerned.  
Communication lockdown. Since 2019, internet access has been disrupted in IIOJ&K by at least 90 government-imposed internet shutdowns – the highest in the world. 4G mobile internet remains suspended in the region. Despite restoration of 2G mobile internet in March 2020, regular suspension of internet services keeps taking place in individual districts of or across the occupied Kashmir. The police have also invoked UAPA against people for accessing social media sites through proxy servers.  
Access to health. The region has seen curtailed access to medical services, doctors and critical supplies during the communication blackout. In the COVID-19 situation, the people have been denuded of the right to remain informed of the hazards to their health, the measures to mitigate risks, early warning information of possible future consequences and information on ongoing response efforts.   
Access to education. Since August 5, 2019, children in IIOJ&K have been unable to substantially attend schools and colleges. Before the nation-wide lockdown was imposed to curb the pandemic, schools were open only for 19 working days in Pulwama district in 2020. As broadband WiFi is not accessible, students have to rely on mobile internet connections, with low 2G bandwidth, thus hampering education activities.    
Access to justice. As per Supreme Court of India’s directives, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir has been holding virtual hearings since March 23, 2020. However, these online hearings have been hobbled by internet lockdown. In 2020, both the number of habeas corpus petitions (HCPs) and the number of HCPs disposed of have registered a steep decline. This has adversely impacted access to justice in occupied territory, considering the sheer number of people who have been detained without charge or trial since August 5, 2019.     
Plight of prisoners. The occupancy in the jails of the occupied Jammu & Kashmir is 12 percent more than their capacity, as the 14 jails in the region house 3,628 inmates against an overall capacity of 3,234. The overcrowded conditions in prisons make physical distance recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) impossible.      
Human rights commissions. The Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (J&K       SHRC) was among the seven commissions abolished after the disputed territory’s status was changed. The National Human Rights Commission has been authorized to deal with all human rights matters from the region, contrary to the recommendations from J&K Law Commission, of creating a separate rights body for the new union territory. Among commissions that were abolished along with the J&K SHRC was the State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights (SCPWCR), thus leaving the two vulnerable sections of society in lurch.               
The other report entitled “New Delhi/Bengaluru 28 August 2020 Investigative Briefing,” documents several cases of human rights violations committed by the New Delhi police, which works under the central government, against peaceful protesters in the Indian capital. The protests kicked off across the country in December 2019 against the passage and promulgation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). The statute in a nutshell offers citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries, namely Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, by amending India’s erstwhile citizenship law, which prohibited illegal immigrants from acquiring citizenship. The law, which offers citizenship — and thus discriminates — on the basis of religion and is in dissonance with the secular character of the Indian constitution, gave rise to widespread condemnation — both domestic and international — and protests. The critics saw — and rightly so — in the law another attempt to marginalize the Muslims in India, who are already stuck in the firetrap as Hindutva is in full spate under the ruling BJP and its mentor, the RSS. According to the Amnesty International, the CAA is a bigoted law, for the reason that it discriminates among citizens on the basis of religion, and is “specifically exclusionary towards Muslims.” 
The Amnesty report in question documents some egregious cases of human rights’ abuses as the New Delhi police under the Modi regime’s nose sought to put down the peaceful protests. On December 15, 2019, the police stormed the Jamia Milia Islamia University (JMIU) in New Delhi and brutally thrashed and allegedly sexually harassed anti-CAA student protesters. Multiple complaints were filed against police officials but, according to Amnesty, no FIR has been registered against the police brutality. On January 5, 2020, a masked mob, armed with rods and sledgehammers, ransacked the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, beat up a number of students and teachers and laid the campus property to waste. The mob raised slogans such as “Kill the Anti-Nationals” and “Death to the Traitors.” As in case of the JMU, the complaints filed by the JNU faculty and students against the mob have gone unattended. On the other hand, the police promptly registered an FIR against the students who were protesting against the CAA. 
In the run-up to the February 15, 2020 Legislative Assembly elections in New Delhi, several politicians, to make a political capital out of the situation, made hateful speeches against the anti-CAA protesters, demonized them as ‘anti-nationals’ and incited violence against them. Union Home Minister and BJP stalwart Amit Shah, who controlled New Delhi police, in his election rallies egged on his supporters to take the protestors to task. Not to be left behind, the Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur made the crowd chant “Shoot the traitors of the nation”. A BJP member of parliament (MP) vowed not to leave a single mosque in New Delhi intact after the polls. Thus BJP ministers and MPs set the stage for violence against the anti-CAA protestors by armed mobs. Their inflammatory words and threatening tone also encouraged the police to wade into the protestors or passively watch BJP-sponsored mobs as they lashed out at the protestors. 
The hate speeches continued after the elections followed by widespread violence in the city. On February 23, BJP leader Kapil Mishra gave the police a three-day ultimatum to evict the protestors from the major protest sites. The same evening communal violence broke out in the city in which several Muslim neighbourhoods were attacked. As documented by the Amnesty International, various calls on the police to rescue the beleaguered inmates fell on deaf ears. According to one riot survivor, “We called the 100-emergency [police] number multiple times but there was no answer. When they did answer, they kept saying, ‘You want azaadi (freedom)? Here take azaadi now’.” One may ask if that wasn’t police complicity with the rioters, then what that was? The Amnesty notes that despite court orders, BJP leaders have not been booked for their incitement to violence. 
The human rights violations that the Amnesty has documented include police officials using excessive force against protestors; torture in custody, dismantling protest sites, and being hand in glove with the rioters. Despite their high-handedness, the cops continue enjoying state-sponsored impunity, which shows that the police can commit grave human rights violations and evade accountability. The perpetrators of mob violence against the peaceful protestors have gone scot-free as well, which should leave no one in doubt that they were backed by the state. The report refers to a video that went viral on social media in which New Delhi police officers can be seen kicking five wounded men and asking them to sing the national anthem of India. Thereafter, the wounded men were detained by the police, thus adding insult to injury. Another video depicted rioters vandalizing a mosque, which was subsequently set on fire. 
According to the Amnesty International, the number of Muslims who were killed in the riots is three times more than that of Hindus. Muslims also bore the brunt of the loss of property and business. Thus the Indian Muslims suffered a double whammy. First, the BJP government introduced an anti-Muslim law. When Muslims protested peacefully against the law, they were made to pay through the nose. 
At the end, the report recommends that the police and political leaders must be held accountable through an independent, transparent and impartial inquiry for their acts of omission and commission during the protests and riots and that the accountability of the police entails that of the state. The Modi regime’s stock-in-trade answer to those recommendations was to penalize the Amnesty International. 
The two short reports produced by the Amnesty International are merely a tip of the iceberg. Since August 5, 2019, the human rights’ situation in IIOJ&K has been pitch-black, as nearly eight hundred thousand troops have laid siege to the disputed territory. Contrary to its constitutional responsibility to protect the life, liberty and property of Kashmiris, New Delhi is acting as a freebooter to squelch their legitimate struggle. This is neither democracy nor good governance. The inhuman treatment being meted out to Kashmiris also runs counter to both Indian laws and international treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. By the same token, although India has seldom been safe for the minorities, under the Modi-BJP combine, religious bigotry and persecution in the country have reached a fever pitch. Treating minorities and Kashmiris — who predominantly are Muslims — with abandon. This unmistakably is the motto of the Modi regime.
Seen in a broader context, the situation in IIOJ&K and the promulgation of the CAA and its aftermath are part of the Modi regime’s policy of aggrandizement. Just as internally it has turned Hindutva into a juggernaut; externally, the regime is itching for keeping the neighbouring states in a blue funk through an ever-increasing military expenditure and build-up. Such an aggressive posture is a blight on regional and global peace and, by implication, development. It’s time the world took due notice of New Delhi’s fascism.


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Twitter: @hussainhzaidi

  

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