Civil Society Forum on Human Rights

CSFHR e-Newsletter

Violations in News
NHRIs/SHRIs in News
Important Judgements/Orders
Case Updates
Fact-finding Reports
Meetings & Workshops
HRDA-India: Support to Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand...Henry Tiphagne

Indian Democracy and the Current Political Dispensation...Dr. Ram Puniyani

Issues of HRDs and suggested measures to NHRC...Akhand
Editorial Team:

Dhirendra Panda
Adv.Chandranath Dani
Rizwana Akhtaree
Pragnya P Jena

Support and Coordination:
Prasanta Panda
Ranjit Sutar
Rashmi Ranjan Pattnaik
Contact Us:

VI-M-491, Sailashree Vihar, Bhubaneswar- 751021 Odisha, India

Email: csfhrindia@gmail.com
Phone: 0674-2741557
Web: www.csfhr.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/csfhr
Feedback from Readers

We are pleased to bring out the second edition of CSFHR’s electronic newsletter. This edition will familiarize you with the regular features and activities of CSFHR during the last month.

The last two months of the year have witnessed the harassment of social activists Teesta Seetalvad, her husband Javed Anand and Priya Pillai from Greenpeace who was stopped from leaving the country to travel to London to speak to British parliamentarians about the environmental concerns raised by coal mines in Madhya Pradesh.

CSFHR condemns deeply this hostile attitude of the state towards grassroots activists. It is sad that the activists who draw attention on human rights and environmental concerns in the country peacefully are being targeted and labeled as “anti nationals” by the state.

It’s also a matter of great concern that NGOs are being closely monitored under the new government and attempts are made to crush and suppress the opposing voices in the civil society. A total of 69 NGOs have been blacklisted by the government from receiving foreign funds which has created difficulty for the rights based organizations to function in the country.

Some good news just came in while writing the editorial. The Delhi high court recently quashed the lookout circular issued against Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai. The court directed authorities to expunge the “offload” remark from the passport of Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, remove her name from a database and allow her to travel abroad.
This is definitely a victory for justice and freedom!


Violations in News

AYUSH doctor arrested for torturing pregnant tribal

Ambika Mohapatra an Ayush doctor was arrested in Kandhamal District on charges of confining and torturing a pregnant tribal girl. The arrested doctor was posted in Ayush Health centre at Katringia. It was alleged that she had kept the victim at her rented house in Phulbani. The victim had also made allegation against the doctor that she had faced physical torture, which had left marks on her body. She was even been locked up inside the house for several days when the doctor use to go out to places like Bhubaneswar.

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Blind Student Death: Rights Panel Grants Rs two lakhs Aid to Kin

A helpless blind student Bhagirathi Das of Utkal Balashram, Cuttack, died because of drowning in an unguarded and unprotected pond of the school meant for the visually impaired. The death occurred because of the negligence of the school authorities and also due to State’s failure to discharge its duty in ensuring safety to the student. The school was run by Women and Child Welfare Department at Nuapada in Cuttack. The Women and Child Welfare Department was directed by Odisha Human Right Commission (OHRC) to pay a compensation of 2 lakhs within three months to the parents of visually impaired student, Bhagirathi Das.

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Dalit Girl Attempts to End Life for Torture

A 19 year old Dalit girl, Padmini Sethi of Kalashreegopalpur village of Jajpur, District was undergoing training at Auxiliary Nurse Midwife Training Centre in the Government Hospital, Kendrapar, attempted to commit suicide by an overdose of tablets. As said by Padimini Sethi, for the last one year she had been mentally and physically tortured by the principal of the training center Basantilata Panda and some students. On Monday morning she was asked by the Principal to wash all the dishes before going to classroom and on her refusal she was abused for which she tried to end her life.

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Child labor in Sugarcane mill: Minor boy loses his hand

Kamal Lochan Guada s ten year old son studying in class two, of Ambadola village of Nawarangpur district has lost his right hand while working in a sugarcane mill in Odisha’s Koraput district. On Wednesday while working his hand came under crusher where the doctor amputated his hand up his elbow. This is the third such incident in the last three months in the undivided Koraput district. A class VII student had lost his hand while working in a sugarcane mill in Nabarangpur district on October 11 last year and a 35 year youth had lost his hand on a sugarcane mill in Borigumma block in Koraput district on January 2 this year. Locals have alleged that due to the gross apathy of the district labour department, the mill owner is engaging minor boys in hazardous work.

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Student Abused by Excise Officials

A team of excise officials has been accused of making castes remark and assaulting Rakesh Mallik,a college student belonging to Kaima village under Dharmasala police limits during a raid in the village of Jajpur District. The victim was asked to sign in a plain paper as a witness to the raid on the neighbouring house, on his refusal Bijay Kumar Samal, Excise Inspector Jajpur remarked against victims’ caste, abused him and slapped him. Later on the victim was forcefully taken by the Excise Officials to an inspection bungalow near Chandikhole and threatened to spoil his carrier.

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44 SC & ST Girls Ashram Students Hospitalized After Eating Rotten Eggs

About 80 students hospitalized after consuming contaminated food served at SC and ST Ashram School Hostel run by Government of Odisha at Bankapalasa in Kalahandi. The condition of the students was stated to be danger, as there was bacterial infection in the stomach caused by eating smelly eggs served by the hostel authorities.

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Minor labourers rescued in Koraput

Twenty four minor girls used as child laborers in cashew processing units were rescued in Koraput district of Odisha.  Three of the rescued girls were from adjoining Nabarangapur district, while the rest were from the villages of Boriguma block. They were rescued from cashew processing unit at Chalanguda village under Boriguma block during a raid by a special squad led by Koraput Child Protection Officer (CPO), Rajeswari Das. As per the instruction of the CWC, steps would be taken for the rehabilitation of the girls in concultation with their parents.

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Civil society members condemn the threat to Journalist

Civil society members including human rights defenders and journalist forum has condemned the threat and harassment to a senior TV journalist of Odisha. In recent days, many threat calls come from unknown numbers to Satya Prakash Nayak, who is the head of Bhubaneswar based Zee Kalinga news channel of Zee group.

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3 held for RTI activist Krupasindhu Sahu's murder

Krupasindhu Sahu (40), a farmer and an RTI activist of Nachhigan village of Krushnaprasad Panchayat under Niali police station in Cuttack district was murdered on cold blood by miscreants. Mr. Sahu was missing since 26 January evening. His dead body was found in the river bed of Tanla River on 31 January.

He had sought information pertaining to fund distributions in the block towards line sowing of paddy, fertilizer and seed in the Niali area. He was killed and his body was found buried.  Three accused have been arrested and efforts are on to nab another person who is at large. Though nine days have already elapsed, the police are yet to arrest the main accused, who has been absconding since January 30. It was alleged that police officials have not even touched the RTI angle to get clues in the case.  –

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NHRIs/SHRIs in News

NHRC National Workshop on Human Rights Defenders emphasizes the need to create conducive environment for them in the country

A day-long 'National Workshop on Human Rights Defenders' organized by the National Human Rights Commission concluded in New Delhi today by emphasizing that the Governments need to evolve an environment in their functioning to attach importance to the work of Human Rights Defenders. Apart from taking stock of the implementation of several recommendations given by the Commission to the Governments following its 'National Seminar on Human Rights Defenders' in 2009, the Workshop came out with several other suggestions to strengthen the mechanism wherein the Human Rights Defenders are given protection and their work is valued in right earnest towards good governance.

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OSCW’s camp courts no use for the victims

The camp courts were started by the Odisha State Commission for women started with an aim to provide justice to victims in their own places but in reality these courts, except for hearing cases filed by the victims, have failed in delivering timely orders on them. Their pleas instead of getting resolved are getting complicated with each passing day with hope of possible reconciliation nowhere in sight.

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Sex workers need better working conditions, says NCW chief Lalitha Kumaramangalam

The NCW chairperson, Lalita Kumarmangalam pitched for effective mechanism to deal with criminal aspects of sex trade like trafficking. Observing that the sex workers must be given the right to decide what they want to do with their lives, she said there was a need to provide better working conditions to them.

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NHRC issues notices on security of train passengers

National human right commission (NHRC) has issued notice to Odisha DGP and Railway Board chairman asking them to submit the action taken report with four weeks on last month loot and attack on train passengers by some dacoits at Malatipatpur between Sakhigopal and Delanga railway station. At Delanga station when a injured passenger reported the matter to the local police, the police in turn refused to react saying the matter comes under the jurisdiction of Government Railway Police. Due to the absence of security personnel at night the passenger are facing such nuisance regularly had alleged by advocate Nishikant Mishra of the Odisha High Court.

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OHRC Asks Home Dept to Pay for Illegal Arrest

Odisha Human Right Commission has directed the Home Department to pay a compensation of 50,000 to a family illegally arrested by Sambalpur Police in a marital discord case. The investigating officer has wilfully violated the human rights of the petitioner and his parents by making the arrest since the arrests were illegal as their cannot be two FIRs for the same offence as per supreme court judgement and the investigating officer Mamata Samantray did not clarify why she found it necessary to arrest the petitioner and his parents and that too without specifying reasons on writing as mandate by law.

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Odisha Human Rights Commission asks govt to pay compensation to dead boy's family

Orissa Human Right Commission (OHRC) awarded compensation of Rs 3 lakhs to the family of the four year old boy who died after falling into a septic tank inside a government school premises in Kuchinda of Sambalpur District. The tank was under construction and had left open for several days without any barricade around it. It was admitted that there was gross negligence on the part of the ITDA authorities for delay in completion of the tank in due time and leaving the deep pit uncovered for months.

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OHRC asks agencies to fix faulty road designs

Odisha Human Right Commission pulled up works department and National Authority of India (NHAI) for faulty road engineering in the city. At a high level meeting with different stake holders, OHRC chairperson Justice B.K.Mishra asked both the department to consult commission rate of police and rectify the road design to improve the traffic situation. The Commission took suo motu cognizance of the media reports on traffic issues and directed the agencies concerned to work in a coordinate manner.

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PUCL moves NHRC against ‘police torture’ of tribal

The People’s union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) appealed to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to provide “immediate protection” to tribal’s of Sundargarh district of Odisha, alleging that they are being tortured by the police for opposing the State Government move to bring the tribal village in the district under Rourkela Municipal Corporation. The PUCL’s complain said that the residents of Jagada, Jhartaranga and Suidihiand other villagers of Sundergarh have been protesting ever since the government issued the notification. The residents alleged that the police entered the villages on January 20 and beat them up, without springing women and children and warned of atrocities against the women.

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Important Judgements/ Orders/ Observations

Centre Says, Whistle blowers act only after amendments

The Central Government is set to amend the most awaited-The Whistle blower Protection Bill 2011 before it takes the shape of Act. After coming to power, the Narendra Modi government had decided against implementing the Whistleblowers’ Act till the necessary amendments on national security and sovereignty are brought in.

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Rights perspective missing from draft National Health Policy, 2015: NHRC

On January, 2015, NHRC’s core group on Health has observed that rights perspective is missing from the draft National Health Policy, 2015. It also felt that public health system needs to be made accountable and participatory. NHRC quoted: The 2015 draft does not talk about community action. The views were expressed while reviewing this year’s draft Policy of Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at a meeting of the Commission’s re-constituted Core Group on Health.

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NHRC reviews Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

The National Human Rights Commission held a meeting of its Core Group on Bonded Labour on the 20 January, 2015. The meeting was chaired by the NHRC Member, Justice Shri D. Murugesan. The aim of the meeting was to discuss various dimensions of bonded labour and explore whether there was a need to amend the existing Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 to ensure complete eradication of this menace.

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Supreme Court sets up new benches for tax, criminal cases

To address the backlog of pending cases relating to criminal and taxation matters, the Supreme Court has set up two benches to exclusively hear them on a daily basis when the court resumes work after the Holi break on 9 March, it was announced Monday. Apex court registrar MK Hanjura Monday said that there were 11,137 criminal cases and 10,843 cases relating to taxation pending before the court. The move is in pursuance to Chief Justice HL Dattu’s initiative to reduce the pendency of cases by employing the existing strength and roster of judges.

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Sex workers need better working conditions, says NCW chief Lalitha Kumaramangalam

The NCW chairperson, Lalita Kumarmangalam pitched for effective mechanism to deal with criminal aspects of sex trade like trafficking. Observing that the sex workers must be given the right to decide what they want to do with their lives, she said there was a need to provide better working conditions to them.

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Case Updates
The National Human Rights Commission has sought a report from Odisha Police Chief over firing of bullets at a village from a Police camp near the state capital Bhubaneswar. Acting on the complaint of Akhand, rights activist of Bhubaneswar based organization Civil Society Forum on Human Rights (CSFHR), the Commission has asked Director General of Police file a report within four weeks in the matter. The Government is silent over the issue. Even no probe is ordered to the incident, alleged Akhand. At least 10 bullets pierce the walls of their houses 3 January morning bullets were fired from the camp of Special Operation Group (SOG) of Odisha State Armed Police (OSAP), which is located around 1.5 kilometres away from the village.
Fact- finding Reports
Child Death Case of Santhapur High School, Gandia, Dhenkanal

Shaktiman Nayak, a class – X student of Santhapur High School and son of Sri Birabar Nayak, Santhasara, Ganadia of Dhenkanal district was beaten to death by his teachers on 13th February, Friday, for allegedly commenting against a classmate girl. The incident triggered widespread tension in the village as the victim’s relatives held the local Sarpanch and two teachers of the school responsible and lodged a complaint to the police in this connection. Following the incident a fact finding team went for the visit on 16th February to know and collect information from the parents, school mates, teachers and villagers.

The team included Pradipta Nayak, Bikram Swain, Prabodh Mund, Prasanta Panda from Child Rights Watch and Civil Society Forum on Human Rights (CSFHR). They were accompanied by some media persons from the district head quarters.

Observations of the Team:

  • The team members observed that the complaint made by a class – VIII girl against Shaktiman to the teacher Ajaya Nayak, was not grave enough to beat the victim mercilessly.
  • Both the three accused have beaten the victim mercilessly to death. The team observed that the death has occurred due to heavy blow to the left ear as revealed from the photo of the deceased. But medical post-mortem report is final.
  • Not a single officer from School & Mass Education Department or district administration visited the school to investigate the matter. They did not even pay a visit to the deceased family.
  • No arrest has been done after five days of the incident.
  • No ex-gratia has been declared for the victim’s family till now by the government.   
The team also visited district Collector’s office with victim’s parent and villagers at 1 pm to meet the Collector Smt. Rupa Rosan Sahoo and other officers.They discussed the situation with her in the presence of media and victim’s parent and villagers.

In their discussion with the Collector, the team demanded the following:
  1. Immediate arrest of the all three accused Ajaya Nayak and Sanjaya Bhoi ( school teachers) and Goura Hari Nayak (Sarpanch of Santhapur)
  2. Criminal prosecution under Section 302 of IPC etc against all the perpetrators to be started immediately.
  3.  The two teachers must be suspended from their job.
  4. Sarpanch must be suspended from his post as he violated the Representation of the People Act (India) and for beating the child in side school campus.
  5. Immediate release of Rs.10, 000.00 from the Red Cross fund to the victim’s poor family for the 11th day rituals expenditure.
  6. Rs.10, 00000.00 from the Chief Minister’s relief fund should be given to the poor parent of the deceased as compensation.
Meeting & Workshops
Press Meet on NHRC directions on untouchability and bonded labour

A Press meeting under the joint auspices of Goti Mukti Andolan and Civil Society Forum Human Rights (CSFHR) on “NHRC direction on Untouchability and bonded labour system.” was held at NIYA hall, Bhubaneswar on 13th February 2015 at 11am.

Addressing the press, Mr.Baghambar Pattanaik, Advisor, Goti Mukti Andolan fought tirelessly to bring an end to the practice, said that the practice of bartan is widely prevalent in Odisha.  The practice of extracting work from the barbers and washermen by upper caste families by paying a pittance like 15 kg of paddy for the whole year is clearly ‘bonded labour system. “it is good that the State government admitted bartan as a bonded labour system. Now it is up to administration to implement the law stringently”

Susri Sumitra Barik, secretary, Goti Mukta Andolan who was the petitioner in the case, said, through efforts of NHRC, the custom of Bartan system came to light on 15.07.2008. Therefore the Govt. of Odisha abolished the practice of offering Bartan. But no other state has done much to abolish the bartan system and such practice is prevailing in almost all the states. Government of India has also not done anything in the matter.
Krushana Kumar Das, President, Goti Mukti Andolan, said, They submitted various representations to the District administration and the Chief Minister of Odisha for effective implementation of bonded labour system(Abolition) Act, 1976. The complaint has prayed for taking necessary steps to eradicate such bonded labour system and untouchability.

Akhand from CSFHR informed the House that with regard to the abolition of Bonded labour of any form and implementation of the act in the entire country, NHRC has issued notice to the Secretary, Labor & Employment, Govt. of India, and Chief Secretary of all the states and administrators of the Union Territories to submit the report in this within eight weeks in the matter.

A press released was distributed to the media persons.
Consultation on Odisha State Commission for Women study report
A consultation on the “Odisha State Commission   for women report” (to strengthen the commission by monitoring its powers and Functions) was organized on 25th February at CSNR office from 3 pm to 6pm.The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss on the completion of the report and plan the way forward.
Saumya Uma, consultant on law, gender and Human rights has kindly agreed to help CSFHR with the completion of the report. The meeting was attended by more than 12 activists. Saumya herself was also present in the meeting. Mr. Dhirendra Panda introduced the objective of the discussion and the purpose behind the assessment report. The participants were then briefed with the latest developments with regard to the report (consultation, formation of core committee, RTI filing, development of questionnaire etc)

After this, Saumya presented the brief outline of the report and requested for suggestions and changes from the participants:

In her presentation she explained the how’s and why’s of each chapter and how she wants the data to be collected to complete each chapter.

Saumya also emphasised that while interviewing the chairperson and members (present and former) refer to the various instances /incidents where women commission was a failure/silent, or put to question by the civil society. The queries put through RTI which were not responded may be asked directly to the chairperson and members.

Suggestions like linking the Paris Principle with the functioning at each chapter and a detailed analysis of the ineffective functioning should be done. The house also discussed the various weaknesses of the commission and requested Saumya to include them in the report. The questionnaires which was redrafted by Saumya (for victims, women’s groups/ HRD complainants, Chairperson and members) was also shared with the house and feedback requested from the participants. Many suggestions came on the questionnaire and the questions were again modified.

HRDA-India:  Support to Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand
By: Henri Tiphagne, Honorary National Working Secretary, Human Rights Defenders Alert – India

The Human Rights Defenders Alerts – India [HRDA], is shocked to hear about the denial of anticipatory bail to renowned human rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand by the Gujarat High Court on February 12, 2015.

The Gujarat High Court in this particular case of an allegation of misuse of funds further commented that ‘The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs’. “How can one seek materialistic pleasure and happiness at the expense of the poor and needy persons. How can one even use five paise which is meant for the poor and the needy. The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs…The donations are made with lot of trust and hope that ultimately the money would reach the poor and the needy. However, here is a case where, in the name of the poor, needy and unfortunate riot-affected victims, lakhs of rupees was received and embezzled,” said the court, adding that it was “shocking and disturbing”. The HRDA strongly condemns the comments of the Judge of the Gujarat High Court as they are completely uncalled for, based without any substantive evidence and seriously impinge on the right of all NGOs and civil society groups. These comments are even before the investigation in the FIR is complete totally damaging to a human rights defender of international repute. The Supreme Court of India stayed the arrest of the activists and agreed to hear the anticipatory bail plea the next day on February 19, 2015. HRDA appreciates this speedy intervention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

This particular case in question is with regard to a trust that was formed in 2007 to build a memorial for the victims in Gulberg Society during the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The Court has also failed to appreciate that ‘Memoralization’ is a human rights engagement that no one but Teesta and her colleagues had attempted to keep the memory of the Gujarat carnage alive in the minds of our Indian society so that the sanctity of our secular fabric is protected from further such attempts. Due to an increase in the land prices, the trust couldn’t afford the said plan and with the due consent of the grant donors utilized the funds for legal aid for the riot victims and petitions challenging the role of the State. An embezzlement case was filed in January 2014 and the Gujarat High Court was moved for an anticipatory bail. For more than a year, the anticipatory bail matter has been pending in court. It is also important to take note of the fact that the Supreme Court has found itself been repeatedly asked to intervene in cases related to the Gujarat Riots. HRDA is alarmed by the speed in which a petition for anticipatory bail has been handled by the Gujarat High Court – for more than one year!!

This particular matter however is not directly related to the Gujarat Riots, both Teesta and Javed for now over 11 years have been working for justice for the victims and survivors of Gujarat Riots. Their role has been instrumental in obtaining life sentences for former Gujarat State Minister Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal Leader Babu Bajrangi and more than a hundred others. This particular denial of anticipatory bail also comes in the light of several senior police officers accused in a series of cases relating to Gujarat Riots being granted bail by the courts and reinstated back in senior positions in the state police.
This is not the first time that Human Rights Defenders working for justice and truth with regard to Gujarat Riots have been targeted. Teesta herself has been targeted in several other false criminal cases for which she had to seek anticipatory bail from the Supreme Court. It is clearly a part of repeated attempts to discredit human rights defenders and attacks on them.

HRDA strongly condemns the ongoing attacks on human rights defenders in the state of Gujarat and this particular case of attack on Teesta, her husband Javed and their colleagues by the State. These repeated attempts by the state of Gujarat to push the activists on defensive line have constantly failed over 11 years. The response of the State is in contrary to the assurances of states in the UN Declaration of HRDs and in fact it emphasizes all the work that Teesta, Javed and their colleagues have been carrying on patiently and silently. HRDA also humbly requests the judiciary to be sensitive to the NGOs and civil society groups and refrain from passing generic statements having serious implication for people and their reputations, constantly working for human rights and development.

HRDA demands that the NHRC which is to organize a national workshop for Human Rights Defenders in New Delhi on the 19th February and to which it has also invited Teesta Setalvad to participate, will in effect ensure that it [the NHRC] intervenes before the Supreme Court of India in the anticipatory bail petition under Sec 12(b) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, because this is a matter which impinges on the human rights of human rights defenders. It is at times like this that an institutional protector of HRDs, like the NHRC has to take ‘extra-ordinary’ measures for extra-ordinary human rights defenders like Teesta.

HRDA reminds the higher Courts of this country that HRDs across the globe are now armed with a mandate from the U N Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 which mandates them to: individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels. [Art 1]. HRDs also have the right to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. [Art 9[3][C]. It is this engagement that Teesta and her colleagues have been engaging in Gujarat since 2002.   (Human Rights Defenders Alert – India is a national network for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in the country. It is a platform to extend solidarity and assistance to Human Rights Defenders in trouble / at risk.)

Indian Democracy and the Current Political Dispensation
(Text of the Dr Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Lecture at Idcol Auditorium, Bhubaneswar)
By Dr. Ram Puniyani

I begin this lecture paying tribute to my very dear friend, Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, with whom I had the rare privilege of working with for close to two decades. Dr. Engineer was a unique scholar-activist, totally committed to the dream and vision of a humane society that honours the values of diversity and where human rights for all are the defining point.

In this regard, he may have been among the first persons who realized the dangers of divisive communal politics. It was he who set the trend seeking the causal factors behind communal violence, doing his own meticulous investigation after such riots. He contributed massively to reforms that took place in the Bohra community, on the issues of secularism and finally, in the interpretation of Islam. We need to learn a lot from him in order to strive for a society that values peace, amity and compassion.

Where are we standing today? What are the major threats to Indian democracy, today, even more menacing with the coming of the Modi Government?
The factors contributing to his victory have been several. The unstinted support given to him by India’s corporate; the fanatical zeal of the RSS and its lakhs of volunteers; the role of a corporate controlled media; the false projection of the ‘Gujarat model of development’; and the polarization of society along religious lines.

The promise of Achhe Din – Good Times – has vanished into thin air. Despite the steep fall in the prices of crude oil in the world, the overall ‘cost of living’ continues to going up. The promise that all the black money stacked abroad will be brought back within six months or so and that we would be surprised to see 15 lakh deposited in our accounts, has been forgotten. The pattern of (good?) governance is only visible in the centralization of power around one person, Modi. Gradually the cabinet system of governance is giving way to one man’s autocratic ways, with secretaries of Government departments reporting directly to the PM.

On the domestic front obstacles are being created with the funding of NGOs, Greenpeace being the major victim. The welfare schemes begun by the previous Government have come under the chopping block. The corporate world that richly funded Modi’s campaign, smiles all the way to their coffers, given the ‘no holds barred’ permissions for reckless industrialization that bypass all  environmental, social and economic controls. There has been a great amount of pomp and show on display, and around this much hype created around the persona of the new prime minister.

The losers in all of this have been the weaker sections of society. The ‘labour reforms’ brought in by this government will do away with whatever little protective clauses are there for them. The land acquisition by industrialists is being made easy at the cost of those who own the lands. The other social welfare schemes needed for the poor, the right to food and health are under the threat of being done away with too.

The intimidation of religious minorities has been stepped up. One central minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti was emboldened enough to call all non-Hindus as haramzade, illegitimate. Another saffron robed BJP leader went on to glorify Nathuram Godse for his ‘patriotism’ while also advising Hindu women to produce more children. Godse, the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi has now been glorified by Hindutva elements, emboldened as they have been by the current government. Christmas Day was declared as ‘Good Governance Day’ in a move to undermine this festival. Demands are made that the Gita, the Hindu holy book be made the ‘national book’ of India. Attacks on churches and mosques have been taking place at regular intervals. The statements that we are Hindus and this is a Hindu Rashtra have become more and more assertive.

Through all this Narendra Modi maintains a studious silence, being as all this is, an integral part of the agenda of the BJP and its parent organization, the RSS. Their basic goal is to take the country towards the narrow concept of Hindu nationalism, a sectarian nationalism not different from either Muslim extremism or Christian fundamentalism.

In this context, it helps to recall that the streams of ‘religious nationalism’ in India came up as a reaction to the rise of Indian nationalism, when the feudal lords and kings came together to form the United India Patriotic Association (UIPA) in 1888, later joined by elites from the middle class and the upper castes.  From the UIPA, on one side emerged the Muslim League and on the other, the Hindu Mahasabha, both positing a religious nationalism.
 Taking up the goal of a Hindu nation formulated by the Hindu Mahasabha’s Savarkar, the RSS was formed in 1925 and began indoctrinating in the ideology that India was a ‘Hindu’ nation, where Christians and Muslims were foreigners.  This was in sharp contrast to the inclusive notions of nationalism articulated by other leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to Bhagat Singh to Dr. Ambedkar.

What must be remembered is that the communal organizations kept themselves aloof from the freedom movement and chose instead to spread hatred, bringing communal violence to the fore. Such violence only increased in intensity and we collectively suffered a massive tragedy in the form of partitioning the country that saw suffering of severe proportion on sides, mass migration and unprecedented violence.

It helps to keep in mind that the colonial British policy of ‘divide and rule’ was ably assisted by communal organizations on both sides of the fence. It was an RSS-indoctrinated pracharak, a preacher, Nathuram Godse who murdered Mahatma Gandhi – the first major attack of Hindu nationalism on a broader Indian nationalism.

While the RSS on the one hand ignored the freedom movement, on the other hand it its swayamsevaks in the narrow ideology of Hindu nationalism, and it was these volunteers, in turn, who infiltrated the police, bureaucracy and other components of state machinery. They also spawned subordinate organizations – the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and Bajrang Dal; women relatives of RSS supporters formed the Rashtra Sevika Samiti under the guidance of RSS.

And right through this, the RSS harped on issues of ‘identity’ – like the one related to ‘cow protection’; intimidating religious minorities with the ‘Indianization of Muslims’ campaign,  hinting Muslims were not Indian.

By the time the 80s broke, the Hindutva battalion’s word of mouth propaganda, aided by sections of the media and the re-writing of history in our school books, led to ‘social common sense’ with Muslims presented in negative light. This presence was enhanced along even narrower lines when they shamelessly demolished the Babri Masjid, rolling the Rath Yatra of Advani and leaving violence in its wake.

This only ensured the violence would intensify. The so-called ‘identity’ was now projected as the only. This deepened the polarization along religious lines, leading to the massive violence in Mumbai, Surat, and Bhopal in 1992-93, culminating in the now infamous Gujarat violence in 2002.

It was not only Muslims being targeted. From the late 80s, the other minority community, Christians, were also brought into the vortex of communal violence, projected as indulging in ‘conversions’. This divisive violence in Adivasi areas led to the brutal killing of Pastor Graham Staines along with his two innocent sons in 1999, and later to the horrific killings in Kandhamal in 2008.

All this is nothing more than what was articulated by the major RSS ideologue, M.S. Golwalkar, who claimed that India was a Hindu Rashtra from times immemorial, that religious minorities should live at the mercy of majority or be totally denied their rights as citizens.

The year 2015 marks is the second time that BJP is in the seat of power. When it ruled in 1998, with a coalition NDA, the BJP as a party did not have simple majority, so its agenda was low key. It was not quite though. It communalized the school text books, ‘saffronized’ education, and gave importance to faith based subjects like Astrology and Paurohitya, the training of Hindu priests. It also tested the waters to change the Constitution and formed the ‘Constitution Review Committee’.

With the BJP now having a simple majority, their agenda unfolds in an uninhibited manner. They have wrought changes in all national bodies, people with their communal mindset now occupying positions of importance. One Prof. K. Sudarshan Rao, head of the Indian Council of Historical Research, while a nonentity among professional historians, holds that the caste system was beneficial and presents the complex mythology of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the two great epics, as lived history. Sanskrit is being promoted despite the fact that it was never a language of masses.

 While the promotion of a scientific temper is the guiding principle of our Constitution, this government now promotes an orthodox, obscurantist ideology as being central to the arena of science. We are now told that ancient India had all the technology in aviation science and plastic surgery – all intended to show primacy over current developments in science and technology. India has contributed much by way of the works of Charat, Sushrut and Aryabhata but to claim ancient Indian science more advanced is merely to assert ‘we are the best’, a path in tune with the retrograde direction of the Hindutva brigade.

A democracy has to ensure that the values of liberty, equality and fraternity are paramount. With the Modi Government’s Hindutva agenda, they have now attempted to tamper with the Constitution by removing the words ‘Secularism’ and ‘Socialism’. The total bypassing of the concerns of the minorities and those is a grave danger to the very values which were at the core of India’s freedom movement. We are now at that crucial juncture of history where the very existence of the Indian Constitution is at stake.

We need to wake up in right earnest and face this threat. What is required is a multi pronged movement based on the rights and concerns of Dalits, women, workers, Adivasis and minorities in particular. We need to form alliances and platforms to coordinate our campaigns for the defence of our democratic rights. All those standing for democracy and secularism need to come together in solidarity. We have to hold hands and march together to protect our democracy. We need to work towards isolation of communal forces by pushing for alliance of non communal political formations. Sectarian politics, Hindu Nationalism, is akin to that of fascist and fundamentalist regimes, having some features of one and some features of the other.

In such a dispensation, the democratic space stands to lose. Symptoms of this are visible in the banning of some books and introduction of others, like penned by RSS ideologue Dinanath Batra.

It is therefore more important than ever before that the space in the social, print and TV media be reclaimed. We must resolve to work seriously to promote diversity, pluralism and those liberal values which go with our human and democratic values. (Dr. Ram Puniyani is a Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai. He is concerned with issues related to social problems, particularly the ones related to preservation of democratic and secular ethos in our life. Puniyani has been spreading the message of peace and amity through lectures, publications, workshops and meetings and by travelling extensively to different parts of the country disseminating messages of secularism, pluralism and communal harmony. His lectures focus on the need for national integration and communal harmony.)

Issues of HRDs and suggested measures to NHRC
By Akhand, CSFHR

‘National Workshop on Human Rights Defenders'  organized by the National Human Rights Commission concluded in New Delhi on 19 February. The workshop emphasized on the need to develop an effective and conducive environment by the Government, recognizing the efforts of Human Rights Defenders in protection and promotion of Human Rights.

Apart from taking stock of the implementation of several recommendations given by the Commission to the Governments following its 'National Seminar on Human Rights Defenders' in 2009, the Workshop came out with several other suggestions to strengthen the mechanism wherein the Human Rights Defenders are given protection and their work is valued.

The NHRC invited me to the workshop as a speaker and it was a great opportunity for me to present a set of recommendations in the workshop. Prior to that, a small consultation with many Human Rights Defenders was held at CSNR office to discuss the major recommendations from Odisha to be put before the commission.

Some of the recommendations presented by me before the NHRC:

Human Rights Defenders: In recent days, many  RTI( Right to Information) activists have been harassed and even murdered for seeking information to promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authority in India. In Odisha, Identity proof for RTI applicant is made mandatory while seeking information whereas the same is not required in any other state.  As a result, many RTI applicants’ identity is leaked out and they are being targeted, abused, attacked and even killed. NHRC may ask the state Government to withdraw such a provision. It will be good if the Information Commission set up focal point/special cell for dealing with case of RTI activist in risks.

It is a positive development that the Central Government has legislated the Whistle blowers Protection Act, which will definitely help RTI activists, HRDs and others. Now, it is necessary that governments to come out with corresponding Rules, operational guidelines and mechanisms and ensure implementation of the same.  NHRC may recommend the Union/State Governments to take necessary actions in this regard.

Journalists are also being targeted by the police authority. False and fabricated cases have been registered against the Journalist who exposed corruption in the system and nexus between mafias and police. One recent case from Odisha is arrest of rural reporter Sushant Padhan. He was arrested on 22 January in a fabricated case and when he got released on bail on 12th February, Police arrested him again from the Jail Campus. Now again he got bail on 16th February.

NHRC must immediately take steps to ask the state/UT to make it public as to what measures they have taken in compliance with the request of Secretary General, NHRC ‘to take appropriate steps to ensure conducive working environment for the HRDs within their jurisdiction’. Due measures should be taken so that immediate security can be provided to HRDs in case of security threats. The United National Declaration on HRDs is rectified by the Indian Government. There is a need to have an Act and necessary mechanisms at place in our given context on the basis of this declaration. UPR recommendation on HRD should be worked out immediately for the interest of HRDs.

Repressive laws: Right to form association and peaceful assembly is grossly violated. Under FCRA 2010, organizing peaceful demonstrations (rally) or protest etc. are taken as ‘political natured’ activities.  The organizations working with a human rights cause are under constant surveillance. NHRC may recommend to Government to repeal the provision in the act. Registration of Income tax exemption (12 A) is being intentionally denied to the Organizations on flimsy grounds. Leaking of ‘intelligence bureau’ report on ‘suspicious NGOs’ has made a number of human rights NGOs cornered and demonized in the media. All these actions of the Government severely affect the fund-raising activities of the Organizations. NHRC may take these issues seriously and act promptly to protect the rights of Organization HRDs.

Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is being misused against HRDs throughout the country. Human rights activism is being deliberately targeted. We have a numbers of such instances in Odisha. It should be reviewed and appropriately amended for the interest of HRDs working peacefully and democratically for the promotion of Human rights works in the country.

Defunct Mechanism: Designated Human Rights Courts are not functional in the state. So, our suggestion to NHRC is kindly ask all state Government about the status and function of Human Rights Courts in their concerned states. It may, please, ask to set up special human rights court.  There is a strong feeling that the Courts are not for poor and marginalized people. While it is expected that Legal Aid Service Authorities to come in aid of these sections of people, but, unfortunately we find these bodies either at national, state or district are not functioning as it should be. The NHRC may conduct a study on the issue of justice delivery to poor and marginalized people.

Police system in the country is one of the most important mechanisms for justice delivery, protection of human rights and HRDs. But many a times, police is found to be violators of rights of the HRDs. So I do suggest setting up a special cell at least in office of Director General of Police of the every state to address the issue of HRDs. Independent probe should be ordered if any police case is filled against HRDs.  Because it is now a practice that Police can easily frame a defender in any case and send him to jail.  Present practice of filing of FIR in police station is a dark area, needs immediate intervention by the NHRC. Nobody knows what may happen in case she/he visits a police station to file a FIR.  There should be robust, transparent and an accountable system for FIR filing and it should accessible to any common man.

Rights Commissions: There are many rights institutions, where political biased appointment is there in case of posting Chairpersons, members and other officials. It violates the basic principles of Human Rights. So this system should be improved.

Many times NHRC transfers ‘cases’ to State Human Rights Commission. There is a need on the part of the NHRC to consider if the referred Body has adequate carrying capacity or not, if the ‘complaint’ will get fair treatment or not. Otherwise, it will be an injustice to the ‘complainant’.

There must be certain defined criteria/list of topics about which cases should handled by the NHRC and which can be transferred to State Commissions. As there is a focal point for HRD in NHRC and HRDs are vulnerable to local political dynamics, we do suggest not transferring case relating to risk to HRDs. There has to be strong and positive coordination among NHRC, SHRC and other human rights institutions. If necessary, the government must come out with a legal provision having clear defining relationship among various institutions entrusted with same responsibilities.

NHRC may set up a toll free number at its office to deal with HRD cases.  NHRC may broaden the jurisdiction of the focal point for HRDs so to respond to every concern expressed by the HRDs to the Commission/Focal point. As there is focal point for HRDs in apex rights Commission i.e. NHRC, all the state human rights institutions must have a focal point/HRD cell/Helpline to address their risks and cases.

The NHRC has acknowledged and accepted eleven recommendations from my presentation:
  1. NHRC to take step to ask the state/UT to make it public as to what measures they have taken in compliance with the request of Secretary General, NHRC ‘to take appropriate steps to ensure conducive working environment for the HRDs within their jurisdiction’.
  2. Due measures should be taken so that immediate security can be provided to HRDs in case of security threats.
  3. Designated Human Rights Courts are not functional in the state. So, NHRC may ask all state Government about the status and function of Human Rights Courts in their concerned states. It will  ask to set up special human rights court.
  4. NHRC may conduct a study on the issue of justice delivery to poor and marginalized people through Legal Aid Service Authorities.
  5. NHRC may recommend to Government to repeal the repressive provision in revised FCRA 2010.
  6. NHRC may suggest setting up a special cell at least in office of Director General of Police of the every state to address the issue of HRDs.
  7. As there is focal point for HRDs in apex rights Commission i.e. NHRC, all the state human rights institutions must have a focal point/HRD cell/Helpline to address their risks and cases.
  8. There must be certain defined criteria/list of topics about which cases should handled by the NHRC and which can be transferred to State Commissions. As there is a focal point for HRD in NHRC and HRDs are vulnerable to local political dynamics, NHRC may not transfer case relating to risk to HRDs.
  9. NHRC may set up a toll free number at its office to deal with HRD cases. 
  10.  Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations on HRDs should be worked out immediately for the interest of HRDs.
  11. This type of Workshop for HRD must be organized every year by the NHRC and by the SHRC in their concerned states.

It is expected that the NHRC will work and take positive steps on our suggested recommendations in future.


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