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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 44, New Delhi, October 16, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Oct 16, 2021

Friday 15 October 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, October 16, 2021

Prime Minister Modi makes practically every public speech by him sound like an election campaign speech where he sees the need to blame his critics for pointing out wrongs. Why does such a powerful leader with mass appeal, see the need to constantly point fingers at his ‘insignificant’ critics? Few expect him to act like a statesman who is above politicking and who would set high standards for all. So as usual, when he addressed the 28th National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) foundation day event he complained of the country’s image being damaged by ‘selective’ outrage on human rights by ‘some people’ [read his critics]. It takes some cheek to be defending a lopsided record of his own administration that is allergic to human rights. We have in the past seven years or so seen the Modi Govt officials and his party men accused of being involved in the abuse of powers …. there have been state crackdowns, ‘sponsored’ violence, dis-information, and data manipulation, hate speeches by his party leaders, by Ministers in his government (a Minister in his government celebrating men accused of mob lynching, another one egging the crowd to chant “shoot the traitors of the nation”), communal and selective targeting, mob lynching’s by vigilante groups close to the ruling party or right-wing Hindutva circuits who enjoy protection, arrests of critics on cooked up charges, harassment of opponents in the form of Income-tax raids . . . in September 2020, Amnesty International India was forced to shut shop after the government froze its bank accounts. Three former Chief Ministers of the former state of Jammu Kashmir were held on administrative detention for over a year from 2019 to 2020 and the Modi Government got away with it. India’s ranking on Press Freedoms and The Economist’s Global Democracy Index have come down in the Modi years

India’s prisons are disproportionately packed with prisoners from among its labouring poor and its minorities with unequal means of legal defense. We have seen heavy-handed policing in the BJP ruled state of Uttar Pradesh where Police figures show that between 2017 - 2020, 124 alleged criminals were shot dead. We saw how in March 2020, thousands of migrant workers travelling back home were forced by the UP police to crawl on the road as punishment for breaching the Covid-19 lockdown guidelines. Police & para-militaries enjoy official immunity and also huge public support in many parts of India for ‘Police encounters’ in open breach of law. Sections of society openly believe and participate in caste, honour crimes, and lynchings. We have seen across India growing instances of violence in society, from Haryana, Rajasthan to Gujarat to Jharkhand to Karnataka to Chattisgarh state, places of worship being attacked, inter-religious couples or friendships coming under violent attack and few are instances of people being taken to task for taking the law in their hands.

Recently we saw the spectacle of police shooting dead people while acting against encroachments on farmland in Assam. In the past few weeks, we have witnessed the incident at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh where a car belonging to the Minister of State for Home affairs mowed down people on the road. In the interests of a fair investigation, any high state official would have been asked to step down from his or her public office till their name was cleared. But it seems that under the Modi government even if you are tarred, you can hold your head high and blame the victim in the same breath.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking the 48th session of the Human Rights Council raised the ‘misuse’ of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act by the Indian authorities, pointing especially to Jammu and Kashmir, and Indian apparatchiks of the foreign ministry responded in a pavlovian manner saying this is "unwarranted"; And the icing on the cake came from Justice Arun Mishra, the Chair of the NHRC in person who considers the UN as an international force that levels false allegations.

Asking the Modi Government or his entire administration to take up the question of promoting human rights in an even-handed manner is a bad bet, like asking the Zebra to change its stripes.

October 16, 2021 – HK

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