A history of blisters

By: Deepika’s Corner

April 10, 2008. The world caught a glimpse of India’s ornamental pluralism. A mélange of tresses unveiling, and somewhat nullifying, what India claimed to maintain from the outside. Universal Periodic Review, just as Ban-Ki-Moon had prophesied, shone down the show child of democracy and secularism – draped in a ‘fancy dress’ for the world to awe.

India’s much trumpeted commitment to tolerance; it’s forward looking constitution and all inclusive polity set in a multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society seemed too little to dress the felt unwillingness on part of India to be on parity with the international community when it came to human rights violations against the marginalized. As Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch aptly puts it: Indiais a vibrant electoral democracy with an abysmal human rights record.

Despite a wand of constitutional and legislative arrangements, the international laws against Human Rights violations are not ‘self-executing’ in India (Peoples’ Forum for UPR), since India chose to ‘only cosmetically sign’ and not ratify and/or domesticate these treaties to make them law, most crucial of which are, Convention against Torture and other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) OP 1 and OP 2, Rome Statute of International Criminal Court, etcetera.

Torture is not a crime in India (Asian Legal Resource Center, ALRC). To try an abuser employed by the state, the act of violation has to qualify any other crime under the Indian Penal Court. To make convicting the abuser beyond impossible, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) the only ‘Ombudsman type watchdog’ that has a major role in the drawing of National Action Plan of Human Rights in India is not an independent agency that can solely and apolitically investigate instances like custodial torture. Amnesty International also laments widespread torture in police custody – especially of members of the marginalized groups, as well as that of generally acknowledged political interferences and of corruption in India when it comes to religious minorities, scheduled castes, women and children. Failure to incorporate laws for protecting marginalized communities particularly Dalits, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims, scheduled castes, women and children has caused deep fissures between the theory and practice of what India deems secularism.

The Human Rights Committee pointed out during the UPR that some parts of India remain subject to declaration as ‘disturbed areas’ such as Punjab, Nagaland, Jammu and Kashmir and these states are using emergency powers. The effect of ’emergency powers’ in these areas ought to be closely monitored. Particularly during counter-insurgency operations, security forces have been committing crimes like extra-judicial killings, “disappearances” and torture especially in Punjab from the onset of Operation Bluestar in the 1980s, and currently in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Manipur and the red corridor.

Impunity afforded to the law enforcement officials, security forces and police, through special legislations, is a crucial problem in India. Various researches reveal a definite ‘pattern of impunity’ owing to government’s policy. What’s eminent is a constant failure to prosecute violators during counter-insurgency operations in Punjab from 1985- 1996 and violations ad continuum in Jammu and Kashmir.

Police and paramilitary forces are protected under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code while the army is provided with additional impunity when deployed in areas of internal conflict under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. In both the legal instruments, the law enforcement personnel are barred of any allegation during the discharge of their official duties without express sanction from the federal government.

Serious crimes committed by law enforcement apparatus are rarely investigated, pass up prosecution. This coupled with a lack of genuine political will, traditionally shields abusers employed by the state in a way that the perpetrators do not only remain unaccountable but are ‘rewarded’ for killing ‘suspects and terrorists’ leisurely turning court of law into a redundant exercise; citations of which are lavishly furnished countrywide, everywhichway, inside the vault of its much celebrated constitutional history.

In an Amnesty International Report titled: India: Break the cycle of torture and impunity in Punjab, it is learned that torture and custodial violence is still routine despite termination of militancy period in the late 90s. Two reasons of which AI lists is the setting up of a norm over the years that afforded paramilitaries special powers. And secondly, the fact that none of the violators of human rights during the militancy years, among the law enforcement officials, were tried which left an atmosphere in which state officials felt as though they were above the law.


Mass attacks on religious minorities is another saga of brilliant failure on part of the government at prosecuting public officials; whether it is attacks upon Sikhs in 1984 or upon Muslims in 1993 or 2002 despite Nanavati or Srikrishna Commission that concluded involvement of government officials in the pogrom of Sikhs 1984 and Muslims 1993, respectively.

Although, in the National Report through the UPR system, India boasted its internal systems of inquiry and punishment to tackle violations by security forces, details of the same hardly ever saw the light of day. Soldiers and paramilitaries are customarily buffered by laws that make it extremely difficult to prosecute them in civilian courts. This doesn’t only affect victims and their families but also leads to cynicism and distrust of the government in the affected communities. For instance, a human rights lawyer in Kashmir, Jalil Andrabi, was killed in March 1996. A special police team investigating the murder identified Major Avtar Singh and a few soldiers under his command responsible for his abduction and murder, yet, some 14 years later Major Singh and his men have yet to be brought to justice while the latter has been allowed to immigrate to Canada.

The gruesome case of Jaswant Singh Khalra is textbook example of Impunity enjoyed by the Indian Law Enforcement Agencies. A human rights activist in Punjab who unearthed thousands of secret cremations committed by the Punjab Police was killed in October 1995 during an illegal detention. It took ten years before a judge convicted 6 police officials for their roles in the abduction and murder of Khalra, during the time police tried its best to intimidate key witnesses by framing false charges upon them ranging from bribery to rape to robbery to establishing terrorist organization. The Then Director General of Police, KPS Gill whom key witnesses’ testimony implicate for Mr. Khalra illegal detention, torture and eventual killing is still working as government official as counter insurgency officer in sensitive areas, scot-free.


From the letters of Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Khalra to the Government of India, to the whereabouts of Mr. Pal Singh, to the everyday tragedies in the face of Karnail Singh (India’s Grim Record on Torture, VFF) and the illegal detention and corporal torture of a juvenile named Rohit from a small town in UP; millions of Sikhs, Muslims and Christians await the efforts of international community and implore the world to urge India into the fold of Human Rights bearers by signing basic international treaties that bind it to mercy that is long due, so that the tabooed and bereaved minorities of India that are illegally abducted, detained, tortured and cremated (read disappeared/fake encountered) are at least aware of their crimes.



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One Response to “A history of blisters”

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