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Modi Govt Calls US Human Rights Report 'Biased', but Can India Reject Facts?

The 80-page document about India is much less conjecture and comment, and far more data-centric and fact-driven.

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Yeh Jo India Hai Na, here the Narendra Modi government has rubbished the US State Department’s 2023 Human Rights Report on India. The Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) taking a customary stand, has called the report "biased”, adding that it "reflects a poor understanding of India."  

Yes, we may question getting a rap on the knuckles about our 'human rights performance' from the USA which has plenty to introspect about, and also, why does the US play 'cop of the world’ and lecture us on human rights? Yet, over the years, the US report prepared for countries across the world has acquired some clout and credibility.

The 80-page document about India (read here) is much less conjecture and comment, and far more data-centric and fact-driven.

And can we really reject facts?

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Gross Human Rights Violation in Manipur 

The report cites police and administrative inaction despite repeated human rights abuses in Manipur, which has witnessed the Meitei versus Kuki-Zomi ethnic conflict since 2023.

For instance, police inaction in the shocking case of two Kuki women being sexually assaulted and paraded naked in Kangpokpi district, is now a fact. The incident took place on 4 May 2023, but the police did not respond to a complaint filed at the time. It acted only after the video went viral in July.

The inaction was described by the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud as the "grossest of human rights violations." We may accuse the US report of perpetuating bias, but is our chief justice biased too?

In fact, the CBI’s chargesheet mentions that the two women, trying to escape an armed mob of Meitei rioters, even got to a police vehicle and asked for help. But a police official in the car allegedly claimed not to have the keys to the vehicle. Soon after, the women were dragged out, stripped, paraded naked, filmed, and one of them was subsequently gang-raped.

Over 31 Meiteis and 14 Kuki-Zos remain missing in Manipur, and many of the families allege that the government has not done enough to locate them.

The government has also been accused of an insufficient response to Hindu Meitei temples and Kuki-Zo churches being vandalised. They have been criticised for not preventing guns and ammunition from being stolen from the state armoury and police stations, which further fuelled the violence.

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How Did Govt Sidestep the Ethnic Conflict in Manipur?

From Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, the violence has been blamed on 'illegal immigrants’, a veiled way of naming Kuki-Zo tribals, who also happen to be predominantly Christian. But the Kuki-Zo people have actually lived on both sides of the India-Myanmar border for centuries.

In fact, the most heavily armed and well-resourced militant groups in Manipur, that have taken on the Indian Army for almost six decades, are Meitei groups. While Kuki militant groups are active, they are far smaller, often maintaining ceasefires with the Army. 

And it is the lack of political will to address decades of insurgency that has created a situation in which all ethnic groups are informally armed. Add to that Manipur’s chronic economic backwardness, resulting in limited opportunities, we are left with a tinderbox situation that’s always ripe and ready for violence.

The government’s 'look away’ approach towards the conflict in Manipur is best spelt out by another fact – that despite the killing of over 200 Indian citizens on both sides of the ethnic divide, PM Modi has chosen to stay away from Manipur.

In March 2023, he came close, when he visited Assam’s Kaziranga National Park. In January, he was seen at the Lakshadweep islands, and in February, he went scuba-diving off Dwarka, but did not visit Manipur.

These, again, are facts. The MEA may well say that the US has a ‘poor understanding’ of India. But such an ‘understanding’ of India is worrying too – one in which Manipur barely matters.
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Persistent Persecution of Minorities

The US Human Rights Report also talks about the continued targeting of India’s minorities in the form of the growing practice of Muslim homes and shops being bulldozed by government agencies in various parts of India as a form of 'punishment’.

While the government wears a fig leaf of calling them demolitions of ‘illegal constructions’, they have often openly been described by the BJP leaders as 'payback’ after local communal clashes. On social media posts too, the 'bulldozer’ symbol is now frequently used to warn and taunt Muslims about majoritarian 'retribution’.

Repeated calls for the economic boycott of Muslims, and for violence against Muslims by radical Hindutva leaders, have also been well documented and reported on. In most instances, little or no action has been taken.

Certainly no arrests under the UAPA, and certainly no bulldozers. There have been multiple incidents of mosques and churches being vandalised, again well documented, often videographed and shared on social media with impunity by the 'perpetrators’ themselves.

Most such incidents have been followed only by muted police action.

Undeniably, these are all documented incidents of human rights abuse. Any other ‘understanding of India’ doesn’t alter the fact that such abuse is indeed taking place.  

The one shocking incident, that brought home the degree to which hate has seeped into our social fabric was the killing of three Muslims on a Jaipur-Mumbai train in July 2023.

Railway Protection Force constable Chetan Singh killed his superior officer along with three Muslims whom he sought out while moving through the train. Videos shared on social media also show him hailing PM Modi and Uttar Pradesh CM Adityanath during his killing spree.

Why is it not surprising, then, to hear even the prime minister using communal slurs against Muslims in an election speech? In Rajasthan's Banswara, Modi referred to the entire Muslim community as 'ghuspaits’ or 'infiltrators’, and as 'that community’ whose members have lots of children.

His speech has received no censure from India’s Election Commission.

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Weaponising UAPA Against Opponents

The US State Department’s report does list other human rights abuses. For instance, between November 2022 and April 2024, Anand Teltumbde, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Mahesh Raut, Gautam Navlakha and Shoma Sen – all Elgar Parishad case accused, were granted bail, and in every case, the concerned court ruled there was not enough evidence to justify their arrests under UAPA.

The suggestion is clear, that the stringent anti-terror law has been misused to silence dissent by shutting political opponents in jail for years, even before the prospect of bail, let alone a trial.

There are also multiple incidents of some state governments claiming credit for 'extra-judicial’ police killings, or 'fake encounters’ as law and order successes.

UP CM Adityanath has claimed such killings as evidence of being 'tough’ on crime. The fact that our enforcement agencies chronically fail to gather prosecutable evidence against such criminal elements, and the reasons for that aren't examined.

That such 'fake encounters’ are carried out when our traditional justice system fails, and are then used by our netas to gain political capital is a travesty, and of course, human rights abuse.
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Most Number of Internet Shutdowns

The US report also mentions that India has repeatedly topped the world in internet shutdowns. Again, a fact. 

India has enforced 84 internet shutdowns in 2022 – the most in the world for five years running, as per a report by Access Now and the KeepItOn coalition. We could cite the size of the nation or that Pakistan stirring trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, but even so, it’s a damning distinction.

Clearly, the list and range of human rights abuses in India is long. No wonder, India has fallen from #75 in the Human Freedom Index in 2015, to #109 in 2023. In fact, we were even lower at #119 in 2021.   

Yeh Jo India Hai Na, here we may reject reports, but can we reject facts?

(Please read the US State Department’s 2023 Human Rights Report on India here.)

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