By: Pramod Thomas
The US state department in its yearly report on human rights practices stated that India had “significant human rights issues” and instances of abuse, which included the targeting of dissidents, journalists, and religious minorities.
This report was released almost a year following secretary of state Antony Blinken’s statement that the US was observing an increase in human rights violations in India by some government, police, and prison officials.
Such a direct criticism by Washington was rare because of the close economic ties between the two countries and India’s growing significance to the US in countering China in the region.
Significant human rights issues in India have included credible reports of the government or its agents conducting extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; political prisoners or detainees; and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, the US report added.
Advocacy groups have raised concerns over what they see as a deteriorating human rights situation in India in recent years under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of prime minister Narendra Modi.
Human Rights Watch has said the Indian government’s policies and actions target Muslims while critics of Modi say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014.
Critics point to a 2019 citizenship law that the United Nations human rights office described as “fundamentally discriminatory” by excluding Muslim migrants from neighboring countries; anti-conversion legislation that challenged the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and revoking Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status in 2019.
The government dismisses the accusations by saying its policies are aimed at the development of all communities.
In 2022, authorities also demolished what they described as illegal shops and properties, many of them owned by Muslims, in parts of India. Critics say the demolition drive was an attempt to intimidate India’s 200 million Muslims. The government defended the demolitions, saying they were enforcing the law.
“Human rights activists reported the government was allegedly targeting vocal critics from the Muslim community and using the bulldozers to destroy their homes and livelihoods” without due process, the U.S. report released on Monday added.
Since Modi took office in 2014, India has slid from 140th in World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, to 150th place last year, its lowest ever. India has also topped the list for the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world for five years in a row, including in 2022, internet advocacy watchdog Access Now says.
“Civil society organizations expressed concern that the central government sometimes used UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) to detain human rights activists and journalists,” the US report said.