In an address to the UN Human Rights Council last week, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) criticised India for its increasing climate of Hindu extremism, its continued persecution of Dalit people and its intimidation of civil society.
Speaking on the outcome of the most recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India, in collaboration with its Indian member organisations, the IHEU highlighted a number of human rights concerns, including government derogatory remarks about minorities, and its fostering of deeply divisive Hindu nationalism.
With regard to Dalit-discrimination, we noted that no UPR recommendations were made concerning the practice of manual scavenging and highlighted the fact that in 100 days, 39 people from untouchable Dalit community were killed whilst cleaning sewer lines.
We also highlighted the grave role of the Armed Forces Act which has given license to armed forces to commit atrocities with impunity in some region of the country.
In response to the UPR outcomes of India, Vidya Bhushan Rawat of IHEU member organisation Social Development Foundation said, “India should respond the issues of human rights violation seriously as it is world’s largest democracy and international community is keeping a watch on things happenings here. The government needs to rein in the extra state actors intimidating and threatening human rights defenders.”
Whilst Narendra Nayak, President of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations and founder of Dakshina Kannada Rationalist Association, commented that, “unless the secular democratic forces organise themselves and safeguard our constitutional rights India will be on the path to become a theocratic state based on religious laws of the so-called majority community.”
The statement was made during a debate on the outcome of the most recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR is a UN mechanism through which the human rights situation of all UN Member States is reviewed every 5 years. 42 States are reviewed each year during three Working Group sessions dedicated to 14 States each. The result of each review is reflected in an “outcome report” listing the recommendations the State under review will have to implement before the next review. It was this outcome that was being debated in the case of India.
Our statement is in full below:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 36th Session (11 September – 29 September 2017)
UPR Outcomes: India
Since its last review, India’s secular constitution has been increasingly challenged by a rise in Hindu nationalism. In recent years, several rationalist activists have been killed by extremists, whilst government officials refrained from forcefully condemning the killings. Instead, politicians of the BJP party have voiced derogatory remarks about minorities.
India has continued to witness innumerable attacks on Dalits and members of its other minorities. Untouchables (who constitute nearly a fifth of the population) are systematically attacked for reasons varying from entering places of worship to skinning dead cows. Accordingly, we commend India’s acceptance recommendations made concerning the discrimination of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and those calling for a full and consistent enforcement of the law. However, we were disappointed to note that no recommendations were made concerning the practice of manual scavenging. In 100 days 39 people from untouchable Dalit community were killed whilst cleaning sewer lines. We urge the government to effectively implement the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act.
We were dissapointed to see India did not accept the recommendation that it revise the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. In areas of insurgency the armed forces have too often been given independence to conduct atrocities on the population, whilst investigative agencies are used on a selective basis to harass and suppress the voices of dissent.
Freedom of dissent is essential to a functioning democracy and keeping a check on power and abuse. Accordingly, we were extremely disappointed that the recommendations around amending the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act [which in its current form has been used to control and intimidate the civil society] and protecting human rights defenders against harassment and intimidation were not accepted.
We make this statement in memory of a champion for the marginalised, for Dalit rights, and vocal critic of Hindu extremism: Gauri Lankesh, who was murdered outside her home earlier this month.