Millions of children in India grow up uncared for, condemned to miserable conditions. They live in abject poverty without education, medical treatment, or food. Bombs over blackboards appear to be the priority.
Child marriages continue despite specific laws to restrict the practice. Child slavery is rampant, violence against children endemic and the right to education, though now established by law, exists only on paper. Children are trafficked from all parts of the country for commercial sexual exploitation, begging rackets, adoption rackets, and cheap labor.
Despite the enactment of the Juvenile Justice Act, resources to ensure effective implementation are not committed. They continue to languish in child-care institutions, which often lack even the most basic facilities. In the justice system, children are often tried as adults.
Though India has a large number of laws to protect and promote the rights of children, the issue of child rights is looked at as a welfare issue rather than a rights issue. Despite policy announcements and new legislation, in practice, the changes are extremely slow. In 1992 the Indian government ratified the ‘United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Years have passed since the ratification, but there are no signs that the government is inclined to take affirmative action. Since Independence, all statutes, such as the Factories Act,
Mines Act, and the Shops and Establishments Act, have strictly prohibited child labor. In 1986 the government enacted the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, which insidiously permitted the use of child labor while promising regulation. Children continue to work in hazardous industries despite the prohibition.
Children are still physically abused, raped, forced to work in inhuman conditions, tortured, incarcerated, trafficked and abandoned. Now more than ever, there is a critical need to respond to an ever-increasing number of children and youth growing up in a violent society, confronting brutality on a large scale.
To combat all forms of violations against children and increase their access to the justice system, lawyers and social workers of the Child Rights Initiative (CRI) provide pro bono legal services to children at the Juvenile Justice Boards. In addition to representing children CRI is closely linked with organizations working in the field of children and provides legal and other assistance to such organizations. The CRI engages in advocacy and policy formulation, publishes ‘Know Your Rights’ material, participates in campaigns, and conducts training for activists, para-legals, lawyers, and others.
The level of barbarism in a nation’s treatment of its prisoners is perhaps more uniform than we Indians expect. Developed and developing countries alike treat their convicts with a kind of depravity, which speaks volumes about the nature of contemporary civilization and its attitudes towards the human person. Another grim reminder of the backwardness of the Indian criminal justice system is the continuing use of capital punishment. Civilized nations have moved consistently towards abolition whereas, in India, the death penalty is increasingly enforced.
Applying even the most retrogressive standards, Indian prisons are in terrible condition. Rape, buggery, torture, custody without legal sanction, bars, and fetters, detention far in excess of the sentence, increasing use of the death penalty, solitary confinement, lunacy, the brutal treatment of women and children are common in Indian prisons. If the complete absence of human rights in India has escaped notice it is because the prison system hides behind an iron curtain. The press, the public, and the social activist are debarred. While the
Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 provides for free and competent legal services to weaker sections of society, few results are seen on the ground.
The increasing powers of the police and the complete absence of systems of accountability necessitate constant monitoring of torture, executions, and disappearances on the one hand, and indiscriminate firing and mass arrests as means of intimidating popular non-violent movements on the other.
Oppressive legislation such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), and the Public Safety Act (PSA) are upheld and human rights violations continue under the provisions of these laws.
Judicial reluctance, administrative indifference, and the spread of corporate crime (this fastest-growing body of crime ignored by the state) have led to a situation where the poor find themselves brutalized and isolated and the justice system is seen as a class weapon perpetrating and perpetuating injustice.
HRLN’s work on civil and political rights, its opposition to draconian legislation, and interventions in the criminal justice system are formalized through the activities of the Criminal Justice Initiative (CJI).
One day the cry and despair of a large number of people would shake the very foundation of our society and imperil the entire democratic structure. When that happens we shall have only ourselves to blame.”
The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is one of many disasters India has been faced in the recent past. Despite an almost annual occurrence of major disasters, India is yet to develop a comprehensive domestic strategy to manage disasters: whether of an unprecedented scale such as the tsunami, or smaller, such as the Mumbai flood of July 2005. The Disaster Management Bill was passed in 2005.
Areas of Bihar experience floods routinely; coastal Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat deal with cyclones; major earthquakes have occurred in Maharashtra, Uttaranchal, Gujarat, and most recently in J&K. In July 2005, the floods in Mumbai once again exposed the unpreparedness of civic authorities and the shockingly poor state of disaster management services in the country.
Each disaster has been met with a massive response from the Indian and international community. While the initial response is undoubtedly heartening, the crux lies in ensuring the implementation of successful long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction strategies. Often, as the relief phase ends and public and donor interest wanes, the onus is on victims themselves and civil society groups to ensure that every policy announcement benefits those it was intended for and every rupee promised reaches the victims. That the policies follow basic principles of sustainable development and envisage and allow for the participation of the affected communities is also critical.
Just as disasters provide an opportunity for change, the process of recovery also requires constant vigilance and monitoring on many fronts. Systems of accountability need to be in place and continuing assistance and protection must be provided throughout the reconstruction and rehabilitation process. Steps must be taken to arrest spending on inappropriate or poorly conceived aid programmes.
Corruption and misuse of aid money must be checked. The utility of programs and pattern of government spending of huge sums of aid must be evaluated.
To assist local organisations in monitoring the relief and rehabilitation activities and to assist victim communities in navigating through the maze of policies and processes, HRLN has responded in times of such disasters by providing direct legal assistance, organising legal awareness camps, and conducting fact findings.
Though India has traditionally been a host to diverse groups of refugees, the country has no specific laws or cohesive policy for refugees. Neither is India a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees.
The 1951 UN Convention defines a refugee as a person…“ who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country ”.
Ever-changing political and economic factors, war, and human rights violations have forced millions to flee their homes. In India, viewed as a drain on resources and a threat to national security, refugees have little protection of their civil and political rights and no legal provisions for their safety and welfare. They are subject to arbitrary arrests, detention and in violation of the basic principle of refugee protection, non-refoulment, often deported.
Due to the lack of a refugee-specific statute, the judicial system can only apply laws that are applicable to foreigners in general, such as the Foreigners Act of 1946, Citizenship Act, Passport Entry to India Act of 1919-20 among others. India has also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which seek equal treatment to all non-citizens wherever possible as well as emphasise non-refoulment and
provision of safe asylum to refugees.
The granting of safe asylum and the welfare of refugees in India depends also on ad-hoc measures adopted from time to time by the government. Tibetans and Srilankans receive full protection and recognition as refugees by the Government of India. Others such as the Afghans, Burmese, Iraqis, Iranians, and Palestinians have UNHCR recognition. However, people from Bangladesh are not acknowledged as refugees either by the government or the UNHCR.
Lawyers and social workers of the Refugee Rights Initiative (RRI) provide legal assistance to refugees arrested or facing deportation. Through its interventions and consultations, the RRI works to bridge the gap between displaced communities and policymakers. Through fact-finding reports, training, and direct representation the RRI aims to inform public opinion about the status of refugees in India. As an implementing partner of UNHCR, the organization assists refugees in securing, maintaining, and improving the quality of asylum for Mandate Refugees in India.
Secularism and Peace
We, the people of India , having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular , democratic republic… …Preamble, Constitution of India
• 1984 Sikh Riots – Over 2,700 Sikhs killed
• 1992 Bombay Riots – Over 1,800 Muslims killed
• 2002 Gujarat Riots – Over 2,000 Muslims killed
• Continuing attacks on Christian nuns and missionaries
After Independence and particularly with the adopting of the Constitution of India, secularism became a value of civil society in India . Even though the partition of India was a traumatic experience for many, with large-scale atrocities by both Hindu and Muslim communities, the co-existence of religious communities was essentially peaceful. Independent India did not see such a recurrence of strife for many decades.
This is not to say that the post-independence period was one of complete calm. There were sporadic communal massacres but these were limited in both scale and duration. However, the massacre of Sikhs on the streets of Delhi in 1984 was, perhaps, one of the strongest ever indicators of the disintegration of the secular fabric of Indian society. According to official figures, over 2,700 Sikhs were brutally burnt, killed, and slaughtered. Countless others were injured, women were raped, and hundreds of homes and shops were looted and destroyed. The word ‘riot’ is often used to describe the events that took place, but it camouflages the true nature of events. There is substantial recorded testimony of victims as well as other citizens of Delhi to show that it was not a riot but a carnage. There was no large-scale rioting between Hindu and Sikh communities. On the contrary, mobs were specifically assigned the task of systematically looting and eliminating Sikh families.
As if to confirm the rapid decline of secularism in India, Muslims were massacred on the streets of Bombay in 1992, and in the state of Gujarat in 2002.
The struggle for justice in all these cases continues. However, the Muslim minority was not the only community that was targeted. Between these two horrific large-scale massacres, social worker Graham Staines and his children were burnt alive in a jeep by a fanatic right-wing group, and numerous Christian nuns and priests were attacked and sexually molested in different parts of northern India.
Citizens’ reports, findings of Commission of Inquiries appointed by governments, newspaper reports, and eyewitness accounts of victims fall clearly indicted the police and the governments. It was not simply an issue of the majority community running riot. In all cases, there was, and is, evidence of the active participation, instigation, and encouragement of the police and governments.
There have been repeated and detailed findings of even the official Inquiry Commission to this effect. As a result of the connivance by the State, few involved in the massacres and the looting have ever been punished.
A study of the riots and carnages that have unfolded in the past two decades will show that the existing criminal justice system completely collapsed when it came to the punishment of the police and members of the majority community. In many cases, police officers indicted by the Inquiry Commissions were, in fact, promoted by the government thus rewarding them for their heinous acts.
Religious minorities are deprived of their rights to life and liberty and face routine discrimination. Concerted efforts are being made in different parts of the country to combat the propaganda of hate and violence and strengthen the secular values in society. Together with other human rights organisations and secular groups, members of the Human Rights Law Network have actively intervened in courts to ensure that justice is done for minority communities. The Initiative seeks to intervene in the legal area in order to enable access to
justice for the victims of communalism through cases in courts, and works on training and publications to make people aware of their rights and dispel myths that fuel the rise in communal acts and crimes.
It is a cruel irony that India, a country on its way to becoming a global superpower has the highest number of women dying in childbirth. If the Gender-related Development Index GDI were the best indicator of a nation’s progress, then India’s reality with respect to maternal deaths, poor nutritional status of women, lack of access to healthcare and education for women demonstrates the country’s self-perpetuating backwardness. In rural areas where children and lactating mothers die of starvation, the state budget for nutrition allows them a rupee of 20 cents a day. Women naturally become the first victims of hunger and ill-health.
In India, women are marginalized, their voices stifled and choices restricted in many ways – both ‘modern’ and traditional. Reproductive rights are violated as seen in the conduct of sterilizations and the misuse of technology for sex determination as well as the skewed sex ratio in several parts of the country.
Patriarchal stereotypes continue to manifest themselves in the most violent crimes against women – sati, dowry deaths, witch hunting, acid attacks, domestic violence, and a number of rapes and sexual assaults.
While religious fanatics use the personal laws to debase and dominate women, the recent communal carnage in Gujarat highlighted once again that in situations of conflict women are the first targets both for ‘friendly’ and hostile forces. The specific targeting of women of the minority communities and caste-based violence against Dalit women is well documented.
Despite progressive labor laws, the system keeps a large part of the female population in servitude and bondage. Sexual harassment at the workplace is on the rise, women are routinely discriminated against at work even for parity of wages, and form a minuscule and ever-decreasing part of organized labor.
The last 25 years have seen much transformation in the law. Progressive statutes such as the Equal Remuneration Act, the Indecent Representation of Women Act, the Sati Abolition Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, and the Domestic Violence Act have been enacted. Family Courts and the Women’s Commission have been established.
Though the history of women and the law has been a mixed bag, the brighter side shows the increasing number of women from all classes coming out to assert their rights, some of them effectively using the law. Also welcome is several judgments by the Indian courts that have read international standards, especially CEDAW into the domestic laws.
The Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) opposes all forms of gender-based discrimination and violence against women and aims at enabling women’s access to the justice system, as a vital means to their empowerment. In keeping with our philosophy, WJI provides comprehensive free legal services to poor and marginalized women and also works through legal education, advocacy and policy analysis to continue the struggle for women’s rights.
In the past decade, the volume of human trafficking has grown to the extent that it is now the third-largest form of transnational organized crime after firearms and drugs. In India, the scale of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking is steadily rising despite the existence of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
In the language of trafficking, India constitutes a country of origin, transit, and destination for trafficked persons. In 1996, a report published by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Asia Pacific, reported that there were 2.3 million women in prostitution in India, a quarter of whom were minors, in over 1,000 red-light districts all over the country. Recent trends disclose the alarming fact that the age of entry into sexual slavery is rapidly decreasing, against the backdrop of steadily rising numbers of both women and children being
inducted into commercial sexual exploitation.
‘ Trafficking is the illicit and clandestine movements of persons across national borders, largely from developing countries, and some countries with economies in transition, with the end goal of forcing women and girls into sexually or economically oppressive and exploitative situations for a profit of recruiters, traffickers, crime syndicates and other activities (e.g. forced domestic labour, false marriages, clandestine employment, and false adoption).’ – United Nations General Assembly, 1994.
Trafficking is the recruitment and transportation of a person, within and across national borders, by means of deceit, violence or threat of violence, abuse of authority, or dominant position for work or services which may result in forced labor or slavery-like practices. Victims of trafficking are exploited and tortured for the financial gains of their exploiters.
An estimated 5 lacs of women and children are trafficked every year with an annual increase of 10% of which 20 – 30 % are below 13 years of age.
Children are mainly trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, begging, child labor, or adoption purposes. Trafficking takes place either from state to state or through international borders. In most of the trafficking cases that are tried in court, the children are rescued after they have been trafficked to someplace.