Jan 17 A new report, “Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018”, has noted that as many as 19 human rights defenders (HRDs) were killed across India last year, which is the sixth highest among a group of 28 countries for which it has made an assessment. The highest number of HRDs killed was in Colombia, 126, followed by Mexico 48, Philippines 39, Guatemala 26, Brazil 23, and India 19.
Brought out by Front Line: International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a human rights organization based in Dublin, Ireland, and founded in 2001 with the specific aim of protecting HRDs at risk, it has an EU Office in Brussels, and regionally-based field staff in the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The names of HRDs who were killed last year in India, mentioned in the report, are: Sandeep Sharma, Poipynhun Majaw, Nanjibhai Sondarva, Shujaat Bukhari, Valmiki Yadav, Ashish Dahiya, Suresh Oraon, Jayant Kumar, Ajit Maneshwar Naik, Kedar Singh Jindan, Snowlin Vinista, P Tamilarasan, N Jayaraman, Gladston Maniraj, B Sailu, Rajendra Prasad Singh, Manoj Tripathi and Amit Topno.
Providing a case study of how police is being used in India to brand HRDs as ‘Urban Naxals’ to justify their arrests, the report especially takes strong exception to the manner in which in June and August 2018, Indian police arrested 10 prominent HRDs “under the regressive Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in a series of coordinated raids and arrests across the country.”
t says, “Several other activists had their offices and homes raided and documents, computers and equipment confiscated in simultaneous raids. On 6 June, police arrested HRDs Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, Prof. Shoma Sen, and advocate Surendra Gadling, all of whom remained in jail at year end.”
It adds, “On 28 August, police carried out raids during which they arrested five more defenders: lawyers Sudha Bhardwaj and Arun Ferreira, academic and writer Vernon Gonsalves, poet Varavara Rao and journalist Gautam Navlakha. Apart from Gautam Navlakha, whose arrest order was quashed by the Delhi High Court, all others continue to be detained under police interrogation.”
The report notes, “The police have branded the HRDs as ‘urban Naxals’ and falsely claim that those arrested were involved in inciting the violence that broke out on 1 January during the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregan. Authorities have sought to draw a false connection between the HRDs’ work, especially on the rights of the Dalit and Adivasi communities, and Maoist rebels.”
It continues, “The police, through their media statements and false documents, have also attempted to implicate other Dalit and Adivasi rights defenders and human rights lawyers in working with the Maoists or inciting violence. The raids and arrests were widely condemned as unlawful, baseless and as a clear attempt to silence the HRDs.”
The report comments, “In a system where the process is also punishment, the arbitrary detention and judicial persecution of HRDs without bail is a clear violation of their rights and a deliberate attempt to suppress their peaceful activism. Bail applications have stalled before courts due to the police failure to file a charge sheet within the stipulated time. The conduct of the police has created an environment that is hostile to the work of HRDs, especially those implicated in this case, and has severely compromised their security and safety in India.”
Coming to Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in India, the report notes that, no doubt, “the long-term marginalisation of women and the enduring patriarchal structures which perpetuate these trends were challenged by the #MeToo movement, which gained ground in 2018 most notably in Asia, where it started making an impact in India.”
It adds, “A rush of allegations about sexual misconduct by prominent men in India in October pierced the protective bubble of celebrity and political worlds which had ensured that most accusations had previously remained unspoken or had been ignored, with the accusers often being attacked.”
However, report regrets, serious concerns about the treatment of WHRDs remain in the country. It says, “In India regressive laws on criminal defamation are currently being used to silence and intimidate women campaigners who have spoken out on their own cases and on behalf of others. The level of social and political sanction afforded to powerful men has created an environment that is fundamentally hostile to women’s voices.” Credit