A human-rights advocacy group has voiced concern over the attacks on religious minorities in India often led by vigilante groups and the blocking of foreign funding to NGOs as well as the pressure on media and civil society groups critical of the government’s policies. Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its ‘World Report 2017’, however, lauded steps taken by the Narendra Modi government towards financial inclusiveness for the economically marginalised and the massive drive to improve sanitation.
It said authorities also failed to address attacks and harassment against religious minorities by vigilante groups claiming to be supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. “India’s crackdown on civil society groups threatens the country’s rich tradition of people’s movements,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of punishing the messenger by hindering their work, the government should engage with activists to improve access to rights and justice,” Ganguly said. The rights organisation added that authorities in India continued to use sedition and criminal defamation laws to prosecute critics, often describing them as “anti-national.” “Hindu vigilante groups attacked Muslims and Dalits over suspicions that they had killed, stolen, or sold cows for beef,” it said.
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Taking note of “some positive developments” in the country in 2016, HRW said the Modi government took steps toward ensuring greater access to financial services such as banking, insurance and pensions for economically marginalised Indians and sought to make modern sanitation available to more households through the ‘Swachch Bharat’ campaign. In July, the Supreme Court of India took a strong stand against impunity for security forces, ruling that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) does not protect soldiers from prosecution for abuses committed while deployed in internal armed conflicts, it said.
The report also took note of the “crackdown” on violent protests in Jammu and Kashmir beginning in July last year, saying the government failed to ensure accountability for police and soldiers in Kashmir and in other states or to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act. “The BJP came into office with the promise of development and foreign investment, but has been unable to contain its supporters who engage in vigilante violence. Repression and an ostrich approach to problems will only make investors doubt India’s commitment to basic rights and the rule of law,” ,” Ganguly said. In the 687-page ‘World Report’, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries.
In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.