Human rights in India

Human rights in India is an issue complicated by the country's large size and population, widespread poverty, lack of proper education, as well as its diverse culture, even though being the world's largest sovereign, secular, democratic republic. The Constitution of India provides for Fundamental rights, which include freedom of religion. Clauses also provide for freedom of speech, as well as separation of executive and judiciary and freedom of movement within the country and abroad. The country also has an independent judiciary[1][2] and well as bodies to look into issues of human rights.[3]

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

The 2016 report of Human Rights Watch accepts the above-mentioned faculties but goes to state that India has "serious human rights concerns. Civil society groups face harassment and government critics face intimidation and lawsuits. Free speech has come under attack both from the state and by interest groups. Muslim and Christian minorities accuse authorities of not doing enough to protect their rights. But in the recent years, more emphasis is given to minority rights & freedom of speech.The government is yet to repeal laws that grant public officials and security forces immunity from prosecution for abuses."[4][5]

Chronology of events regarding human rights in India

1950The Constitution of India establishes a sovereign democratic republic with universal adult franchise. Part 3 of the Constitution contains a Bill of Fundamental Rights enforceable by the Supreme Court and the High Courts. It also provides for reservations for previously disadvantaged sections in education, employment and political representation.
1952Criminal Tribes Acts repealed by government, former "criminal tribes" categorized as "denotified" and Habitual Offenders Act (1952) enacted.
1955Reform of family law concerning Hindus gives more rights to Hindu women.

Untouchability offenses Act (1955).

1958Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958[6]
1973Supreme Court of India rules in Kesavananda Bharati case that the basic structure of the Constitution (including many fundamental rights) is unalterable by a constitutional amendment.
1975-1977State of Emergency in India
extensive rights violations take place.
1978SC rules in Menaka Gandhi v. Union of India that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution cannot be suspended even in an emergency.
1978Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978[7][8]
1984Operation Blue Star and the subsequent 1984 Anti-Sikh riots
19842006 Extrajudicial disappearances in Punjab by the police
1985-1986The Shah Bano case, where the Supreme Court recognised the Muslim woman's right to maintenance upon divorce, sparks protests from Muslim clergy. To nullify the decision of the Supreme Court, the Rajiv Gandhi government enacted The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986
1987Hashimpura massacre during communal riots in Meerut.
1989Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is passed.
1989–presentKashmiri insurgency sees ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, desecrating Hindu temples, killing of Hindus and Sikhs, and abductions of foreign tourists and government functionaries. (See: Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus)
1992A constitutional amendment establishes Local Self-Government (Panchayati Raj) as a third tier of governance at the village level, with one-third of the seats reserved for women. Reservations were provided for scheduled castes and tribes as well.
1992Demolition of the Babri Masjid occurred after a political rally at the site turned violent.
1993National Human Rights Commission is established under the Protection of Human Rights Act.
2001Supreme Court passes extensive orders to implement the right to food.[9]
20022002 Gujarat riots which claimed at least thousand lives of Muslims and Hindus.
2005A powerful Right to Information Act is passed to give citizen's access to information held by public authorities.[10]
2005National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) guarantees universal right to employment.
2006Supreme Court orders police reforms in response to the poor human rights record of Indian police.[11]
2009Delhi High Court declares that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which outlaws a range of unspecified "unnatural" sex acts, is unconstitutional when applied to homosexual acts between private consenting individuals, effectively decriminalising homosexual relationships in India.[12] See also: Homosexuality in India.
2013Criminal Law (Amendment) Act was passed by the Lok Sabha on 19 March 2013, and by the Rajya Sabha on 21 March 2013, which provides for amendment of Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 on laws related to sexual offences.
2015Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act was passed by both the Houses of the Parliament. This act aims to curb black money, or undisclosed foreign assets and income and imposes tax and penalty on such income.

Use of torture by police

The Asian Centre for Human Rights estimated that from 2002 to 2008, over four people per day died while in police custody, with "hundreds" of those deaths being due to police use of torture.[13] According to a report written by the Institute of Correctional Administration in Punjab, up to 50% of police officers in the country have used physical or mental abuse on prisoners.[14] Instances of torture, such as through a lack of sanitation, space, or water have been documented in West Bengal as well. [15]

Religious violence

Communal conflicts between religious groups (mostly between Hindus and Muslims) have been prevalent in India since around the time of its independence from British Rule. Communal riots took place during the partition of India between Hindus/Sikhs and Muslims where large numbers of people were killed in large-scale violence.

The 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots was a four-day period during which Sikhs were massacred by members of the secular-centrist Congress Party of India; some estimates state that more than 2,000 were killed.[16] Other incidents include the 1987 Hashimpura massacre during communal riots in Meerut, 1992 Bombay riots. The killing was done at the behest of Congress leaders such as Jagdish Tytler. Congress Party officials provided assailants with voter lists, school registration forms, and ration lists. Nanavati Commission also found out that several Congress leaders were behind this lynching. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh apologized in the Loksabha for the involvement of Congress stalwarts in the Lok Sabha.[17] According to the 2011 WikiLeaks cable leaks, the United States was convinced of Indian National Congress complicity in the riots and called it "opportunism" and "hatred" by the Congress government of Sikhs.[18]

According to official figures, 2002 Gujarat riots ended with 1,044 dead, 223 missing, and 2,500 injured. Of the dead, 790 were Muslim and 254 Hindu.[19][20] Unofficial sources estimate that up to 2,000 people died.[21] There were instances of rape, children being burned alive, and widespread looting and destruction of property. The Chief Minister at that time, Narendra Modi, has been accused of initiating and condoning the violence, as have police and government officials who allegedly directed the rioters and gave lists of Muslim-owned properties to them. Narendra Modi was acquitted of such charges by the Supreme Court of India. The incident that resulted in the riots was the Muslim mob attack on a train full of Hindu pilgrims in the Godhra Train Burning, where 58 Hindus were killed.[22]

Lesser incidents plague many towns and villages; representative was the killing of five people in Mau, Uttar Pradesh during Hindu-Muslim rioting, which was triggered by the proposed celebration of a Hindu festival.[22] Other such communal incidents include the 2002 Marad massacre, which was carried out by the militant Islamist group National Development Front, as well as communal riots in Tamil Nadu executed by the Islamist Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazagham against Hindus.

Contemporary India, however, has seen the influence of caste start to decline. This is partly due to the spread of education to all castes which has had a democratising effect on the political system. However, this "equalising" of the playing field has not been without controversy. The Mandal Commission and its quotas system has been a particularly sensitive issue. It has been argued by Professor Dipankar Gupta that the role of castes in Indian elections have been overplayed.[23]

More recently there has been a flux in caste politics, mainly caused by economic liberalisation in India. This upsurge in lower-caste empowerment was accompanied in some regions by a spike in the level of corruption.[24] This was partly due to lower caste perceiving development programs and rule of law as tools used by the upper caste to subjugate lower castes.[25]

Amnesty International says "it is the responsibility of the Indian government to fully enact and apply its legal provisions against discrimination on the basis of caste and descent.[26]

Denotified tribes of India, along with many nomadic tribes collectively 60 million in population, continue to face social stigma and economic hardships, despite the fact Criminal Tribes Act 1871, was repealed by the government in 1952 and replaced by Habitual Offenders Act (HOA) (1952), as effectively it only created a new list out of the old list of so-called "criminal tribes. These tribes even today face the consequences of the 'Prevention of Anti-Social Activity Act' (PASA), which only adds to their everyday struggle for existence as most of them live below poverty line. National Human Rights Commission and UN's anti-discrimination body Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) have asked the government to repeal this law as well, as these former "criminalised" tribes continue to suffer oppression and social ostracization at large and many have been denied SC, ST or OBC status, denying them access to reservations which would elevated their economic and social status.[27][28][29]

Freedom of expression

According to the estimates of Reporters Without Borders, India ranks 122nd worldwide in 2010 on the press freedom index (down from 105th in 2009). The press freedom index for India is 38.75 in 2010 (29.33 for 2009) on a scale that runs from 0 (most free) to 105 (least free).[30][31] In 2014 India was down ranked to 140th worldwide (score of 40.34 out of 105) but despite this remains one of the best scores in the region.[32]

The Indian Constitution, while not mentioning the word "press", provides for "the right to freedom of speech and expression" (Article 19(1) a). However this right is subject to restrictions under subclause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of "sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence". Laws such as the Official Secrets Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act [33] (POTA) have been used to limit press freedom. Under POTA, person could be detained for up to six months before the police were required to bring charges on allegations for terrorism-related offenses. POTA was repealed in 2004, but was replaced by amendments to UAPA.[34] The Official Secrets Act 1923 is abolished after right to information act 2005

For the first half-century of independence, media control by the state was the major constraint on press freedom. Indira Gandhi famously stated in 1975 that All India Radio is "a Government organ, it is going to remain a Government organ..."[35]

With the liberalisation starting in the 1990s, private control of media has burgeoned, leading to increasing independence and greater scrutiny of government.

Organisations like Tehelka and NDTV have been particularly influential, in bringing about the resignation of powerful Haryana minister Venod Sharma. In addition, laws like Prasar Bharati act passed in recent years contribute significantly to reducing the control of the press by the government.

LGBT rights

Until the Delhi High Court decriminalised consensual private sexual acts between consenting adults on 2 July 2009,[12] homosexuality was considered criminal as per interpretations of the ambiguous Section 377 of the 150-year-old Indian Penal Code (IPC), a law passed by the colonial British authorities. However, this law was very rarely enforced.[36] In its ruling decriminalising homosexuality, the Delhi High Court noted that existed law conflicted with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, and such criminalising is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution.[37]

On 11 December 2013, homosexuality was again criminalized by a Supreme Court ruling.[38]

On 6 September 2018, a five judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgement, decriminalized homosexuality and banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.[39]

By state


A Human Rights Watch report notes that journalists and human rights activists have been arrested for falsely reporting on human rights abuses. Assam continues to be one of the forefront states where the claims of human rights abuses have been committed by India. Resultant secessionist and pro-independence movements have intensified the political situation, with widespread allegations of human rights abuses being committed by Indian security forces yet without any concrete proofs for allegations. Freedom House stated in their 2013 report on India that journalists in rural areas and regions coping with insurgencies — including Assam — are vulnerable and face pressure from both sides of the conflicts.[40][41]


From 1984 to 1994, the state of Punjab in northern India was engaged in a power struggle between the militant secessionist Khalistan movement and Indian security forces.[42] The Indian government responded to the escalating Punjab insurgency by launching Operation Blue Star in 1984, storming the Harmandir Sahib, or Golden Temple complex in Amritsar—the center of Sikh religious and spiritual life, where some militant groups had retreated. The Operation was controversial and resulted in death of hundreds of civilians, militants and soldiers. After this incident, Sikh bodyguards assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, further violence ensued.[43]

The aftermath of these events were felt for more than a decade.[44] According to a Human Rights Watch report, state security forces adopted “increasingly brutal methods to stem the insurgency, including arbitrary arrests, torture, prolonged detention without trial, disappearances and summary killings of civilians and suspected militants”.[42] Militant organizations responded with increased violence aimed at civilians, state security forces, and Sikh political leaders deemed to be negotiating with the government.[42]

Jammu and Kashmir

Several international agencies and the UN have reported human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir. In a press release the OHCHR spokesmen stated "The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is concerned about the recent violent protests in Indian-administered Kashmir that have reportedly led to civilian casualties as well as restrictions to the right to freedom of assembly and expression.".[45] A 1996 Human Rights Watch report accuses the Indian military and Indian-government backed paramilitaries of "committ[ing] serious and widespread human rights violations in Kashmir."[46] One such alleged massacre occurred on 6 January 1993 in the town of Sopore. The Human Rights Watch also wrote of other regular human rights abuses being committed by the Indian forces including "using rape as a means to punish and humiliate communities".[47] TIME Magazine described the incident as such: "In retaliation for the killing of one soldier, paramilitary forces rampaged through Sopore's market setting buildings ablaze and shooting bystanders. The Indian government pronounced the event 'unfortunate' and claimed that an ammunition dump had been hit by gunfire, setting off fires that killed most of the victims."[48] In addition to this, there have been claims of disappearances by the police or the army in Kashmir by several human rights organisations.[49][50]

Many human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) have condemned human rights abuses in Kashmir by Indians such as "extra-judicial executions", "disappearances", and torture;[51] the "Armed Forces Special Powers Act", (AFSPA) which "provides impunity for human rights abuses and fuels cycles of violence. The AFSPA grants the military wide powers of arrest, the right to shoot to kill, and to occupy or destroy property in counterinsurgency operations. Indian officials claim that troops need such powers because the army is only deployed when national security is at serious risk from armed combatants. Such circumstances, they say, call for extraordinary measures." Human rights organisations have also asked Indian government to repeal[6] the Public Safety Act, since "a detainee may be held in administrative detention for a maximum of two years without a court order.".[52] One 2008 report determined that Jammu & Kashmir, was 'partly Free',[53]

Other Human Rights Violations

Conflicts such as Anti-Bihari sentiment have sometimes escalated to violence between communal groups, despite government and police efforts to mediate the situation.

Invasive methods like 'narcoanalysis' (controlled anaesthesia), Brain mapping, and lie detector tests were once commonly permitted by Indian courts for crime investigation. Even though according to Indian constitution "nobody may be made a witness against himself".

Concerns regarding human rights violations in conducting deception detection tests (DDT)s were raised long back and the National Human Rights Commission of India had published Guidelines in 2000 for the Administration of Polygraph tests. However, only few of the investigating agencies were seen to follow these guidelines.[54]

However, on May 5, 2010 the Supreme Court in India (Smt. Selvi vs. State of Karnataka) declared brain mapping, lie detector tests and narcoanalysis to be unconstitutional, violating Article 20 (3) of Fundamental Rights. These techniques cannot be conducted forcefully on any individual and requires consent for the same. When they are conducted with consent, the material so obtained is regarded as evidence during trial of cases according to Section 27 of the Evidence Act.[54]

Inadequate investigation and hasty rulings by courts have caused some wrongful convictions of innocent people causing them to languish in jail for many years. For instance, the Bombay high court in September 2009 asked the Maharashtra government to pay 100,000 as compensation to a 40-year-old man who languished in prison for over 10 years for a crime he didn't commit.

Woman’s Rights

Bride buying

Molki brides (one who is bought) or "paro" (from the far side), is a Bride buying phenomenon where the brides are sold by parents in the improvised states of India to the husbands in relatively richer states who due to the skewed sex ratio and other socioeconomic disadvantages find it harder to find a bride within their community and region. Major destination states are Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Western Uttar Pradesh. The major source states are the improvised parts of Northeast India (Assam), Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.[55][56][57][58] According to the research sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy at Delhi, the Molki brides are arranged for marriage in 4 ways: molki brides "as marriage mediators", husbands of molki brides arranging brides for family and friends, marriage brokers, and "trafficking of women for forced marriages" though it is "not as extensive and rampant".[57] Molki brides face social and color discrimination, racism, slur, social isolation and mental health issues.[57] Among molki brides, cases of those who are trafficked are rarely reported and they find it difficult to obtain justice.[56]

Muslim Woman’s Rights

One of the vital concerns in India is the non-discrimination between genders.[59] Muslim Woman in India are one of the major groups deprived of their equality within the Human rights framework.[60] Their hardship has derived from cultural and religious reasons.[60][60] This includes being negatively stereotyped within religion, incorporating both Muslim and even Judaic-Christian beliefs.[60] This also includes male interpretations of the Quran.[60] Where the functions of a woman concerning family matters are seen as less than half, according to hijab, then that of their male counterparts.[61]

Brief history of Muslim Law in India

Muslim law in South Asia is different from Islamic law of Sharia.[62] Shariat law (shari’a or fiqh) law is seen as a body of religious rules that are set out to manage the lives, in all aspects, of every Muslim.[63] However, in India there are only a few of these laws that are enforced.[63] This is due to India's laws having been modified by traditional English common law and equitable principles since the beginning of the British imperialist regime.[63] It is now called Anglo-Muhammadan law.[63] Although Islamic law is sacred, due to modern political and social developments sacred interpretation of classic Islamic law's in India have changed in response to societal requirements.[63]

The Constitution of India outlines the Fundamental rights in India to equality under Article 14.[64] Article 15 covers freedom from discrimination which includes that of gender equality. However, Article 25 justifies the freedom of religion which safeguards the religious rights of Muslim communities, in turn Muslim Personal Law, which is discriminatory between Muslim men and woman.[64] The continuance of discrimination within Muslim personal law contravenes that set out in India's constitution, notably articles 14 and 15.[65]

Personal law and inequality

Even though there is formal recognition of rights within the constitution, Muslim women experience gender in-equalities in practice within the sphere of personal law.[66] Personal law enables the continuing practice of giving a lower status to Muslim women in India. Which raises the need for legal reform.[67] This is hard to achieve because often uniformity of family laws are often upheld by staunch supporters of religious traditions, who will ensure that all efforts to keep traditional Muslim practices within the conformity of Islamic ideals.[61] The courts will also favor to not let constitutional rights intrude in personal law.[68] In the High Court case Harvinder Kaur v. Harmander Singh Choudhary, it was rejected that personal law was discriminatory towards Gender inequality in India and stated that the “…introduction of Constitutional law into the home is most inappropriate”.[69] Essentially depriving all woman in India the fundamental rights within the constitution.[70] Personal law discrimination was on the other hand was positively recognized in the case of Amina, here the court noted that Muslim personal law is discriminatory towards Muslim women, and as such is unconstitutional.[71]

Islamic law does however provide for certain rights.[67] One example can be seen within a matrimonial deed, or Nikahnama.[61] A Nikahnama can cover certain rights which pertain to polygamy and the woman's right to enforce a divorce proceeding.[61] This could even include shares in property rights.[72] Muslim law for financial support due to divorcement has been codified In the Muslim Women's (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986.[73] Nevertheless, these rights remain minimal. For example, the divorced wife can only receive three months of financial support.[74] Also the husband of the divorced wife only has to pay child support for 3 months if that child is born within the three-month period, but if they had a child before that then the husband is not obligated to pay any support.[74] Woman's rights in these matters are often not practiced due to Muslim women's lack of education toward their rights within the Islamic community.[75] Also Muslim woman in India are not protected when it comes to monogamous marriages, but Muslim men are, protected under the Indian Penal Code.[76]

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPPR) highlighted religious based personal laws In India's report in 1997.[77] It was informed that the Human Rights framework towards multiculturalism should be a remedy when addressing clearly biased provisions and practices towards Muslim women in Islamic legal community.[78]

Muslim woman and Education

DARPAN is often discriminated against due to their lower achievements within the sphere of education, employment and their general economic position.[78] This is because traditionally Muslim woman are discriminately excluded from participating within the public and private sector.[78]

See also


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