Tag Archive for Human Rights India

The bogey of ‘Muslim Terrorist’: A note on the Aleru encounter

Aleru-encounter

By branding the Aleru encounter victims as terrorists, the police, the media, the judiciary and even the public seem to be participants in covering up the brutal deaths of five Muslim undertrials who were not even facing terror charges

By Vasudha Nagaraj

On 7th April, the country, witnessed two brutal encounters in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In Seshachalam, in Andhra Pradesh, 20 daily wage labourers belonging to Dalit and tribal communities were killed. In Aleru, in Telangana, five Muslim under-trials, were killed while they were on their way to the court.

In both states, the police predictably claimed firing in self-defence. However, the newspaper pictures of the Muslim under-trials shackled to their seats and the labourers lying among old red sanders logs bespoke a tragedy – clearly pointing to the police taking law into their hands.

The timing of these encounters in two new states, born just ten months ago, is tragic. While the Andhra Pradesh government came up with the idea of development, growth and universal prosperity, the Telangana state was formed on the foundations of a democratic struggle, thereby bound to rule of law and justice for all, especially for those marginalized as women, Muslims, Dalits and tribals.

In the Aleru encounter, the five undertrials – Viqar Ahmed, Syed Amjad, Mohd. Zakir, Dr. Mohd Haneef and Izhar Khan – were being brought in a police van to attend the court proceedings. The very next day the newspapers carried pictures of the five shackled under trials who appeared slumped dead in their seats. The police sought to explain that Viqar Ahmed after a toilet-break, while boarding the van, snatched the rifle from the escort policeman and then tried to overpower the others. In an act of self defense and considering the past history of Viqar Ahmed, the police opened fire and killed all the five prisoners.

The post mortem reports show that each of the five bodies was riddled with more than twenty bullet wounds and that all the wounds were on the chest and the shoulders. None of the policemen even suffered a scratch of an injury

The FIR registered in the offence states that Viqar Ahmed snatched the rifle and tried to kill, while the other four screamed. Even assuming one accepts the police version, the question remains as to how the other four prisoners could have intimidated the 17 armed escort policemen. It is not the case of the police that the other four prisoners also snatched guns and took aim. They merely screamed. And for that they were shot down.

Soon after this incident, Viqar Ahmed’s father recounted about how his son had repeatedly complained to the Session’s Judge that his life was under threat from the policemen. Civil liberties groups and several political organizations have termed the encounter as a retaliation to an earlier incident in which four policemen were killed in the same district. The number of bullet wounds on each body is evidence of the vindictive and disproportionate exercise of force by the police against hapless prisoners.

The Muslim community has expressed outrage that this is a targeted killing whose purport is to create an atmosphere of terror and insecurity among its people. Large scale mobilizations have marked the funerals of the slain people.

The funeral of Dr Haneef Mohammed was attended largely by the Hindu community. It seems he was a medical doctor who was available to the community day and night. In one protest meeting after the other, leaders of the Muslim community have expressed deep anguish about how the new state of Telangana has betrayed their hope, for a better future and for protection of their youth. Except for constituting a Special Investigation Team, the Telangana government has maintained a stony silence on the encounters.

The media and the judiciary
One cannot help notice the biased coverage that has been given to the Aleru encounter in the media. The bias becomes clear when compared to the coverage given to the Seshachalam encounter. In a calculated move, the police version has been given more credence by justifying their actions in killing so called hardened criminals. There has also been a lot of irresponsible coverage in the media about how the slain prisoners were ‘hard core terrorists’ and so on. Though accused of being Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists, the slain prisoners were not facing any terror charges, but they were nevertheless branded as terrorists to justify police violence.

NHRC response
What is more tragic is the response of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Soon after the encounter deaths, on 23rd April, 2015, the NHRC conducted a camp hearing to enquire about the Aleru and Seshachalam encounters.

In the Seshachalam encounter, the members of the NHRC interrogated the police officials, expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation conducted so far and even went to the extent of deputing its own team for investigation.

However, when it came to the Aleru encounter, the NHRC did not express the same commitment or zeal in questioning the police officials. They were quick to accept the police statement that there was a judicial enquiry and that a Special Investigation Team was constituted to investigate the deaths. The stage of investigation or the other relevant details were not elicited.

The NHRC did not even object, which it should have, when the police referred to the slain prisoners as fundamentalists

The civil liberties activists and lawyers who participated in the hearing were given just a perfunctory hearing. And finally, the NHRC, except for some nominal reliefs, declined to intervene in the issue on the ground that investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) was underway.

Even in the High Court, the fate of the Aleru encounter has been marked by delay and inadequate attention. While the investigation in the Seshachalam encounter is being supervised by the Chief Justice himself, the Aleru encounter has been left to regular course of investigation, albeit by the SIT. The Andhra Pradesh government has registered a case of S 302 in the Seshachalam encounter while a similar demand in the Aleru encounter has been set-aside. The bodies in the Seshachalam encounter were subjected to a re-postmortem whereas the request for exhumation and re-postmortem of the bodies in the Aleru encounter have been rejected.

One is almost envious of the progress, news coverage and empathy in the case of the Seshachalam encounter. It is true that the response to the Seshachalam encounter has been considerably influenced by the Tamilnadu government’s intervention and equally the timely action taken by the civil liberties groups of Tamilnadu. But, this does not completely explain the lukewarm response to the Aleru encounter. We have been told that the Aleru encounter is “different”.

What underscores the Aleru encounter is the branding. Even as the AP state and the media tried to brand the woodcutters of Seshachalam as hardened smugglers, it could not sustain the story or much less erase the stain of an extra judicial killing. But, in the case of the Aleru encounter, one can clearly see how the bogey of the “Muslim terrorist” has been successfully deployed to validate the actions of the police in the name of securing law and order. The media, the judiciary and even public opinion seem to be participants in justifying such a discourse on impunity.

Vasudha Nagaraj is a practising lawyer based in Hyderabad.

100 days of Narendra Modi: A counter report

Narendra-Modi-policies

By Team FI

Ghadar Alliance, a coalition of diasporic Indian groups in the United States, has released a critical review of first 100-days of Narendra Modi Government. Although many media houses have issued 100 day reports on the Modi government, none have been as thorough and pro-people in their analysis. The well laid out 55- page report covers significant issues like development, economic policy, culture, freedom of expression, human rights and gender issues, media and minorities.

The report “while being critical of Modi’s sectarian politics, assesses the economy from a realist perspective informed by current life indicators such as: over 40 percent of India’s population live below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, four children die every minute from preventable illnesses, 78,000 mothers die in childbirth yearly, and one of five children under age five suffer acute malnutrition”. The report has, according to Ghadar, sourced its facts from publicly accessible sources.

Read the report here : 100 days of Modi

Seema Azad Case: Incarceration of Human Rights

File photo of Seema Azad

PUCL and human rights organisations protest against the silencing of civil rights activists in the country as shown in the recent conviction of activists Seema Azad and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal

By Team FI

The arrest and sentencing of civil rights activists Seema Azad and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal to life imprisonment has led the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and other human rights organisations in the country to call for a nationwide protest on 26th of June against alleged state sponsored crackdowns on human rights activists in India.

“The conviction of civil rights activist Seema Azad for terrorism, unlawful activities, sedition and waging war against the state is a glaring travesty of justice,” stated the press release by PUCL of the press conference held last week. According to the PUCL, academics, journalists, and representatives of various social organisations have already pledged their support to campaign for the immediate and unconditional release of Seema Azad and her husband.

Seema Azad, the Organising Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Uttar Pradesh and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal were arrested in Allahabad on February 6, 2010. The accusation leveled against them was that they were members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) – they were charged under Sections 121, 121A and 120B of IPC and under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for possessing objectionable literature. The couple was fined Rs 20,000 and sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment.

According to the PUCL, the arrest and conviction is a bid to silence Seema Azad’s protests on behalf of mining workers and farmers. The press release presented arguments by Justice Sachar and Senior Advocate Ravi Kiran that indicated that the judgement was based on flimsy grounds and was premeditated.

Justice Sachar argued that “the only allegation against her is that she was in the possession of literature that the prosecution argued was illegal. But between possessing literature and committing an offence is a wide chasm that cannot be bridged by the flimsy arguments brought forth by the prosecution and accepted by the judge.” Justice Sachar pointed out that it is within the powers of the state government to withdraw prosecution. He urged the new government in Uttar Pradesh to nullify the wrongdoings of the predecessor government and withdraw the false charges against activists’ lodges by that government.

Senior Advocate Ravi Kiran pointed out that the literature ostensibly seized from Seema Azad which had been sealed as evidence, was opened by the prosecution without any authorization. In normal circumstances this would make the entire evidence suspect. But the judge continued to rely on this evidence.

It was also pointed that Seema Azad was given on police remand after the completion of the statutory period of 90 days. It is in this illegal custody that the police claim to have two cell phones which are also being used as evidence against her. Given the delay and the circumstances of this custody, the possibility of wrongdoing by the prosecution cannot be ruled out.

Senior Journalist Anand Swaroop Verma who is heading a campaign in support of Seema Azad argued that the judgment was prejudiced and an attempt to silence protest against government policy. He felt that Seema was being targeted since she was a bold voice against the takeover of farmer’s lands and livelihood and exposing the reality of the witch-hunt of Muslim youth promoted by the government and its security establishment in Azamgarh.

Human Rights: India’s disappointing response to UN

child-labour

UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review urges India to ratify UN Convention against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances and repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) while India defers response till September

By Team FI

The draft report of the Universal Periodic Review of India’s human rights record, conducted by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on 24 May 2012 and adopted on 30 May 2012, has submitted 169 recommendations to the Government of India (GoI). The review prepared by 80 countries includes recommendations to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances; to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA); to adopt the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill; to enact comprehensive reforms to address sexual violence and all acts of violence against women; to improve human rights training of police officers; to strengthen efforts to combat trafficking and address the inequities based on rural-urban divide.

Government of India declined to comment on the recommendations, deferring its response till before the plenary session of the HRC in Geneva in September 2012. According to Miloon Kothari, Convener of Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), “We look forward to a constructive response from the GoI as it formulates responses to the many useful suggestions that are contained in the document adopted by the UN on May 30, 2012. These responses from the GoI should be formulated after thorough consultations with the Parliament, human rights institutions, civil society and independent institutions.”

However, as per the WGHR, India’s initial response during the UPR session  saw a “lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India” The press release of the organisation regretted that “the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General who led the government delegation, stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct.”

“By employing a defensive and largely self-righteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”  Says Kothari.

During India’s first UPR in 2008, GoI had accepted recommendations to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED) which have however remained unfulfilled. The current UPR had several of the 80 countries which participated, reiterating these recommendations. However WGHR points out that while the GoI spoke about the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB) which is pending before Parliament, it ignored the fact of the Bill’s non-compliance with the CAT’s definition of torture.

WGHR states that not only did the GoI didn’t comment on the ratification of CED but also “dodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism.”

Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

In response to the several recommendations to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India during the UPR session had stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. WGHR regretted the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, pre-natal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

WGHR was however appreciative of the GoI’s stand on the issue of homosexuality, where the government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court.

Featured Photo by Ramlath Kavil