The United States has brought India to notice a number of human rights issues from custodial and civilian deaths to curbing press freedom. This is part of the US State Department’s annual exercise to assess and submit a report in regards to the rights as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements to the US Congress. Its 2018 India report has covered issues extensively. In this context, The Policy Times brings to fore some of concerns:
Custodial and Civilian Deaths
The report highlights 1,674 cases of such deaths between August 2017 and February 2018, with 1,530 occurring in judicial custody and 144 in police custody. The latest victim of custodial death is Rizwan Pandit, a 29-year-old school principal of Awantipora in South Kashmir. Pandit’s family had been told that Pandit was lodged at Cargo, a local name of the main centres of the Special Operations Group – J&K Police’s counter-insurgency unit, for some investigations and will be released soon but he wasn’t. The family soon got to know he had ‘died in police custody’. There are numerous of such cases in Kashmir which fail to be highlighted by the mainstream media.
The US report highlights alleged violation of human rights by the security forces in Kashmir. It also acknowledges organized insurgents and terrorists, committed numerous killings and bombings in J&K, the north-eastern States and Maoist-affected areas. “Maoists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and key infrastructure facilities such as railways, roads and communication towers”, report says. The report also cites Amnesty International’s 2017 report that says Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis comprised a disproportionate number of 53 per cent of pre-trial detainees.
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Freedom and Safety of Journalists
“There were numerous instances of journalists and members of media being threatened or killed in response to their reporting. Police rarely identified suspects involved in the killing of journalists,” the report says. Citing a 2017 Press Council of India report, it says at least 80 journalists were killed since 1990 but only one conviction was made. In 2017, Gauri Lankesh, the editor of Lankesh Patrike was shot dead in September; June of 2018, Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of a daily newspaper in Kashmir was shot dead in board day light; then A Doordarshan cameraman, Achyutananda Sahu was caught in crossfire in the Maoist affected Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh in October of 2018.
About editorial freedom, the US report says “The Editors Guild of India claimed the government limited press freedom by exerting political pressure and blocking television transmissions.” It also quotes the 2018 World Press Freedom Index and states online trolling and attacks on journalists was a major issue. The report brings to fore the Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns. The report further draws attention to women journalists being threatened with violence and rape.