A soldier guards the roadside checkpoint outsi...

A soldier guards the roadside checkpoint outside Srinagar International Airport (SXR) in Jammu and Kashmir, India. (January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

India, the world’s most populous democracy, continues to have a vibrant media, an active civil society, a respected judiciary, and significant human rights problems.

Custodial killings, police abuses including torture, and failure to implement policies to protect vulnerable communities marred India’s record in 2011 as in the past. Impunity for abuses committed by security forces also continued, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, and areas facing Maoist insurgency. New state controls over foreign funding of NGOs led to restrictions on legitimate efforts to protect human rights. However, killings by the Border Security Force at the Indo-Bangladesh border decreased dramatically.

Social unrest and protests deepened in resource-rich areas of central and eastern India, where rapid economic growth has been accompanied by rapidly growing inequality. Mining and infrastructure projects threaten widespread displacement of forest-dwelling tribal communities. The government has yet to enact comprehensive laws to protect, compensate, and resettle displaced people, although a new land acquisition law has been drafted.

Although at this writing deaths from terror attacks had decreased significantly from earlier years, there were serial bomb explosions in Mumbai on July 13, 2011. On September 7, 2011, a bomb explosion outside the Delhi High Court killed 15 people. The perpetrators remain unidentified. Progress was made in restraining the police from religious profiling of Muslims after bombings.

Despite repeated claims of progress by the government, there was no significant improvement in access to health care and education.

An anti-corruption movement erupted into public view in August and brought the government to a standstill, with widespread street protests and sit-ins demanding legal reform and prosecutions. Activists working with two prominent efforts to address poverty and accountability—India’s rural employment guarantee scheme and right to information laws—came under increasing attack, facing threats, beatings, and even death.

Accountability

India has yet to repeal laws or change policies that allow de jure and de facto impunity for human rights violations, and has failed to prosecute even known perpetrators of serious abuses.

The Indian defense establishment resisted attempts to repeal or revise the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law that provides soldiers in “disturbed” areas widespread police powers. In September Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that there was an ongoing effort “to build a consensus within the government” to address the problems with AFSPA, but no action has been taken. Various government-appointed commissions have long called for repeal.

Jammu and Kashmir

Thousands of Kashmiris have allegedly been forcibly disappeared during two decades of conflict in the region, their whereabouts unknown. A police investigation in 2011 by the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) found 2,730 bodies dumped into unmarked graves at 38 sites in north Kashmir. At least 574 were identified as the bodies of local Kashmiris. The government had previously said that the graves held unidentified militants, most of them Pakistanis whose bodies had been handed over to village authorities for burial. Many Kashmiris believe that some graves contain the bodies of victims of enforced disappearances.

The government of Jammu and Kashmir has promised an investigation, but the identification and prosecution of perpetrators will require the cooperation of army and federal paramilitary forces. These forces in the past, have resisted fair investigations and prosecutions, claiming immunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

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