The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

For those who follow India closely, a 2023 report on human rights abuses in the country isn’t that shocking.

A 2023 report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) titled “India: Human Rights Assessment” has cast a harsh spotlight on the alarming state of human rights under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. This comprehensive report reveals a troubling panorama of widespread abuses and systemic issues that severely undermine India’s democratic integrity and global reputation.

One of the most disturbing revelations is the plight of religious minorities. Despite India’s celebrated cultural and religious diversity, there has been a significant rise in attacks against Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. The CRS meticulously documents numerous instances of unlawful killings, extrajudicial actions, torture, and severe prison conditions targeting these communities. Additionally, arbitrary arrests and invasions of privacy have become distressingly routine. Discrimination based on social status, sexual orientation, or gender identity further exacerbates the challenges faced by these groups, deepening their vulnerability and marginalization.

The state of press freedom in India has also taken a significant hit in recent years, the report notes. Journalists and online critics who question government policies increasingly find themselves targets of intimidation and prosecution. Indian authorities have been using stringent counterterrorism and sedition laws to silence dissent, often leveraging fabricated or politically motivated charges. This crackdown not only stifles free speech but also erodes the foundation of democracy by restricting the flow of information and curbing critical voices. The report underscores that a free press is essential for a functioning democracy, and the current trajectory poses a severe threat to India’s democratic ethos.

Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have also surged. Extrajudicial killings, where individuals are executed without due legal process, have become alarmingly frequent. Enforced disappearances, where individuals vanish without explanation or legal recourse, are also on the rise. Manipur, a restive state, is highlighted as a hotspot for such violations, characterized by arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, and systemic abuses by Indian forces and police. These practices not only violate basic human rights but also instill fear and mistrust among the populace, creating an atmosphere of oppression and lawlessness.

India has earned the dubious distinction of leading the world in government-imposed Internet shutdowns. Between January 2020 and February 2024, there were 805 recorded shutdowns. These shutdowns are often implemented to stifle dissent and curb protests, reflecting a blatant disregard for the fundamental right to freedom of expression and access to information. The frequent use of this tactic undermines the democratic principle of open communication and transparency, further exacerbating the sense of oppression among citizens. The CRS report highlights that such measures not only disrupt daily life but also stifle economic activity and access to essential services.

Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) provides another grim aspect of India’s current state. With a score of 39 out of 100 and a global ranking of 93rd out of 180 countries, the index underscores the deep-rooted systemic corruption plaguing India’s public sector. This pervasive corruption impedes progress, erodes public trust, and undermines the rule of law. It also hinders economic development by creating an uneven playing field and discouraging foreign investment. The report stresses that combating corruption is crucial for fostering economic growth, ensuring social justice, and maintaining public confidence in governance.

The findings of the CRS report serve as a clarion call for urgent action to address the grave human rights violations tarnishing India’s democratic fabric. The responsibility lies not only with the Indian government but also with the international community to uphold the values of justice, equality, and dignity for all. It is imperative that both domestic and international actors take immediate and decisive steps to rectify these issues.

The international community must urgently address the escalating human rights abuses in India by applying diplomatic pressure and leveraging international forums to hold the Indian government accountable. Human rights organizations and civil society groups must intensify their efforts to document and expose these violations, ensuring that the global spotlight remains on the affected individuals and communities. Diplomatic engagement, economic sanctions, and strategic alliances should be employed to persuade the Indian government to comply with international human rights standards.

Furthermore, India requires robust legal frameworks to protect human rights and ensure accountability for violations. This involves reforming draconian laws that are frequently misused to suppress dissent and establishing independent oversight bodies to investigate allegations of abuse by security forces and government officials. Legal reforms should focus on safeguarding civil liberties, ensuring judicial independence, and protecting the rights of minorities and marginalized groups. Independent human rights commissions and ombudsman institutions should be empowered to monitor and address human rights violations effectively.

Indian civil society, encompassing journalists, activists, and legal professionals, must continue their unwavering pursuit of justice and transparency. Despite facing significant risks, their work is essential in holding the government accountable and advocating for necessary reforms. The media, both domestic and international, must persist in bringing these issues to light, ensuring that the voices of marginalized and oppressed communities are heard and amplified. Civil society organizations should collaborate with international bodies to provide legal assistance, document abuses, and support victims of human rights violations.

The CRS report exposes a troubling decline in human rights under Modi’s administration. From religious persecution to constraints on press freedom, from extrajudicial killings to pervasive corruption, the report paints a grim picture of India’s current state of affairs. It is imperative that both the Indian government and the international community take swift and decisive action to address these violations and uphold the principles of justice, equality, and human dignity. The future of India’s democracy and its standing on the global stage depends on immediate and concerted efforts to rectify these grave injustices. A collective commitment to protecting human rights, fostering transparency, and promoting accountability is essential for ensuring a just and democratic society for all.

Humma Rehman Qureshi is a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.