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Who is defending the defenders in India: Human Rights

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Reports have come in of an attack on Tribal Rights Activist and leader Soni Sori. Reports suggest that oil paint mixed with chemicals was thrown on her face by unknown assailants. This attack, which has left the activist in intense pain, and other reports of intimidation of persons such as lawyers and journalists working in the Jagdalpur area raises the question of the safety of human rights defenders and shows that there isn’t enough being done by the State machinery to defend the defenders.

Human rights defenders are those who work to protect or promote human rights. The State has an obligation to protect human rights defenders from violence, and also to create an enabling environment for them to work in. The phrase ‘human rights defenders’ been used increasingly since the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders was adopted in 1998. Though the Declaration is not a legally binding document, the roots of the State’s duty to protect the defenders can also be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India has ratified. These rights can also be derived from Indian Constitutional law, particularly the celebrated golden triangle of Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

We often refer to these defenders using many phrases such as ‘activists’ ‘monitors’ ‘development professionals’ etc. It is not necessary to be a person being paid to do full-time human rights work, to qualify as such defender, and many other professionals may be doing work that is strongly allied with rights of a human. For example journalists, doctors, teachers, or even engineers may, in the course of their work, promote or protect the human rights of people, and as such they are human rights defenders.

Further, it is not necessary to be correct to qualify as a human rights defender. For example, the criticism of a Human Rights Defender to a particular development project may not be legally correct. However, this does not and should not disentitle them to the protection of the State against violence and reprisals. The reason for this will become clear when we examine the role human rights defenders play in a society.

These Defenders face problems, in many parts of the world, and India is not an exception. Often the work being done by human rights defenders brings them in conflict with vested interests such as the land mafia, the mining lobby, or other corporations. A case in point is the story of Satyendra Dubey, an officer in the Indian Engineering Service, who lost his life due to exposing corruption in a highway construction project.

At other times, the advocacy done by them requires them to be critical of the State action including in areas where there is considerable unrest. Given that human rights essentially are rights that people hold against the state (most civil and political rights) or rights that the state is required to nurture (most social and economic rights), it is not surprising that the criticism of State action forms a large part of the work done in human rights advocacy.

This gives room for propaganda that human rights defenders or NGOs are ‘anti-development’ or even ‘anti-national’. It leads to them facing the wrath of more draconian security legislations, or attacks on them by vested interests. It is very easy to make the mistake of thinking ‘Why should we use state resources to protect those who are critical of the State? The obvious answer, is that the State may not always be correct.

Given the great power state and corporate entities enjoy, their ability to make mistakes if unchecked is also correspondingly large. A hard reckoning of the work done by human rights defenders shows that they act as an essential check and balance on the State, and throw light on existing state-industry nexus, to protect the rights of people.

The State derives its legitimacy from an implicit contract with its citizens, which necessitates a mechanism to check that the State adheres to this contract, and this is a function carried out by the human rights defenders. In this sense, human rights defenders are necessary for a healthy functioning democracy.

The Whistle-blower’s Protection Act of 2011 addresses some of these concerns by protecting those who expose corruption by public servants. India, however, needs a comprehensive legislation to protect the rights of these defenders.

Cases of harassment that is faced by RTI Activists, LGBTQ Activists, as well as Human Rights Defenders who work for the rights of Tribals and Scheduled Caste Persons has been documented  by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, as well as the National Human Rights Commission. The gravity of these hurdles faced can extend from harassment, illegal detention, custodial torture, to grievous hurt or murder (including what is known as ‘RTI killings’). In this environment, it becomes difficult for human rights defenders to do their work without fearing for the physical safety of themselves and their families.

While there are general laws that can be (and are) used to protect these defenders, but those working for the enactment of a special law argue that the role of the law is also to play a certain ‘normative, expressive and educative’ function. By this, they mean that a special law to protect human rights defenders will also confer legitimacy on the work that they are doing, and create an enabling environment where they may do so peacefully.

Of course, the enactment of a special law is not adequate to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. It has to go hand in hand with better law and order, better legal services in areas where these defenders work, transparency in governance, toleration of dissent by the State machinery, and continued proactive action by the Focal Point for the protection of Human Rights Defenders, at the National Human Rights Commission.

This focal point is involved in providing assistance to such Rights defenders, and following alleged violations of their rights. Although there has been greater collaboration between the NHRC and Human Rights defenders, much needs to be done to ensure that defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment.

This article was first published at Kafila.org. Srishti Agnihotri is a lawyer appearing in Trial Courts and the Delhi High Court, and has been involved in research and advocacy on women’s rights and child rights. She completed her Masters in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame, USA.

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Brutal media, the beloved minority, and the tortured majority

The media has changed its sphere of projecting people who are national and the anti-national elements are tragically boasted for their deeds

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This glaring aberration in the world of media is visible as clearly as stars in the darkness of the night.
This glaring aberration in the world of media is visible as clearly as stars in the darkness of the night. Wikimedia Commons

I’m afraid, it’s quite clear that the ferocious jaws of the media and the fierce claws of the minority are well up to the annihilation of the whole civilization of the Indian subcontinent. Wake up, wake up from your slumber! The “secularism” is a sharp-edged dagger handed over to you to cut your own root.

– SALIL GEWALI, Shillong

If something that really makes one look at certain reputed media with the eyes of suspicion then it is for their blatant play of double standards. The double standard itself is disgusting. The integrity of the service is greatly compromised here. When such unethical trick is played at the cost of humanity then the consequences could be very disastrous. This could steadily push the society into the sea of frustration. Thereafter the social anarchy.

This glaring aberration in the world of media is visible as clearly as stars in the darkness of the night. Those who are suffering from a varying degree of mental glaucoma may fail to see it.

Have we not witnessed that media fraternity often sets off the alarm bells when the victims of the crime instances are from a “particular community” but it maintains a “brutal silence” when the perpetrators are those it considers minority or Muslim? Yes, the particular minority are eternally beloved, so they are blameless. Even the traitorous terror-makers from the minority are unblemished to such media folks and a major group of columnists associated with the media. That’s why such elite media and its associates zealously stand up to sympathise with terror-sponsored stone-palters in Kashmir, a bunch of secessionists in the academia and so on and so forth.

Also Read: ‘Don’t Sensationalize or Glamorize Suicide’ Asserts WHO ; Says Media Can Play a Significant Role in Preventing Suicides

No wonder if one who sings ‘Vande Mataram’ then he certainly stands to lose the support base of such media, no matter how influential he is, no matter how dedicated and truthful he is. So, I humbly advise any active citizens, particularly those who want to serve the country, not to utter this jingoistic phrase when alone. Better not at all. On the other hand, if you roar – ‘Bharat ke tukde tukde’ or ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, which are heard more aggressively and more frequently these days, then all defensive forces become hyperactive to safeguard you. These subversive activities by any brats will be soon celebrated and interpreted as a part of the fundamental right, that is ‘freedom of expression’. Have we not noticed in Kashmir where CRPF or other security personnel receiving humiliating bashings, the video clips of which often go around on WhatsApp, from the local? And in case the bold security persons retaliate then those elites from their armchairs thunder that the democracy in the country is under threat? The majority are attacking the minority, blah, blah, blah..!

Elite media and its associates zealously stand up to sympathise with terror-sponsored stone-palters in Kashmir.
Elite media and its associates zealously stand up to sympathise with terror-sponsored stone-palters in Kashmir. Wikimedia Commons

I believe everyone knows how certain so-called student leaders often openly incite their unruly crowds at JNU and other academic institutes. But when the questions of sedition are raised against them then the media comes forward to denounce the government. Mr Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya, Shehla Rashid Shora, Mr Jignesh Mewani… are lovable sweeties to those intellectuals because their treacherous adventures make them more cheery and lustier. Each anti-nationalist “scream” by these jerks never get wasted. It is systematically used to degrade the nation, demean the culture and denigrated the religion.

Till some years back college ruffians were nonentities but now they are held all of a sudden as leaders and opinion makers. These dangerous creatures are applauded and discreetly advised how best to go about. Many national political leaders as well jump to embrace and defend these troublemakers. But, on the other hand, the same warmth, attachment, and love are not at all showered upon any patriots by any mainstream media. So, citizens who want to sincerely endeavour to bring peace in the country are not at all given any platform, nor encouraged. Rather, the nation’s lovers are intensely scoffed at. They are non-existent, nay subhuman, to the pseudo-secularists. Of course, those people, often branded as ‘bhakts’, are aptly dragged only to paint them with bad colours.

Also Read: Fuelling propaganda: Has the modern media lost its sense of objectivity?

This Republic day brought a great grief to many. A 22 years old student – Chandan Gupta of Kasganj, UP, was heartlessly murdered. His crime is his participation in the ‘tiranga yatra’ singing Vande Mataram. No noticeable outcry of condemnation from any influential elites. Again, Ankit Saxena, a photographer who loved a Muslim girl, was attacked, and girl’s relatives silt his throat in cold blood. Most of the media carried the news as “honour” killing as if it was in some way justified. What would have happened if the same heinous crime was perpetrated by the majority? It would have been Dadri-2. In another monstrous incident, a BJP party worker Mr Santosh was stabbed to death in Karnataka. The killing of patriots is too frequent in Kerala. But no ‘award wapsi gang’ gets ever freaked out at the news …!

Such brutal attacks upon the majority are a very regular phenomenon. But what is “very less known” to the whole general public is that over 95% of such gruesome attacks, and also various kinds of sexual atrocities upon females of the majority, are “not at all reported”. Only those which can’t be suppressed get published. But they usually die down well before the dead bodies begin to rot. Well, no scream of criticism, no alarm of “intolerance” is ever raised by any over-conscious citizens when the people from the majority are killed. No media panel discussion ever called in otherwise cases. Nor even the condemnation of the “onslaught on the humanity” ever heard.

Kanhaiya-Kumar was responsible for openly inciting unruly crowds at JNU.
Kanhaiya-Kumar was responsible for openly inciting unruly crowds at JNU. Wikimedia Commons

Well, had there not been a double standard in reporting the attacks on the “humanity”, if ever the ‘freedom of expression’ is truly valued, such barbaric perpetrators, no matter which community they are from, would not have at all reared their ugly heads. Is it not probable in near future that those beloved villains might “double-cross” and pose continuous threats that would toll the death nail for the double-tongued journalism, apart from the majority! The prelude to that situation is double clear now than ever before.

Also Read: Macaulay’s harrowing effect on Indian media

Lastly, please note, none of the horrendous crimes by the particular community ever become a “Dadri” — the stench of which is still being felt by our depraved columnists. Is this not a part of the grandiose scheme? The situation is dangerously ominous! I’m afraid, it’s quite clear that the ferocious jaws of the media and the fierce claws of the minority are well up to the annihilation of the whole civilisation of the Indian subcontinent. Wake up, wake up from your slumber! The “secularism” is a sharp-edged dagger handed over to you to cut your own root. This is a bitter truth nobody can refute!