By R Raj Rao

AMNESTY International India is part of an Amnesty International global human rights movement. It is one of the world’s most significant human rights organizations that holds governments accountable for human rights violations. It has also been a recipient of the Nobel Prize.

Last month Amnesty International shut shop in India and laid off all its Indian employees. It was the fifth time that they were compelled to do so by the Government of India. They were accused of violating Indian laws and illegally receiving foreign funds for advocacy work. Their bank accounts were also frozen.

“Human rights cannot be an excuse to defy the law,” Amnesty International was categorically told. The Government of India believes that the reports released by Amnesty International are “exaggerated and far from the truth.”

Similar things have happened to Amnesty International in Russia and Turkey, neither of which are democracies. In Russia, the flimsy excuse given to the watchdog while deporting them from the country was that their lease had expired!

Liberal intellectuals all over India see the government’s hounding of Amnesty International as a witch hunt. As Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV 24×7 said, “The government treats Amnesty International like a terrorist outfit.” According to Vrinda Grover, Amnesty International was asked to leave India because they were asking inconvenient questions about the abuse of power by the government.

Mr. Aakar Patel, Amnesty International’s India head, believes that removing them from India is an act of revenge on the government’s part for their critical coverage of the situation in Jammu & Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. He also attributes the hostility to their reportage of the Delhi riots in February this year. These investigations have ensured that Amnesty International has been continuously harassed by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate for the past one year.

In August this year, Amnesty International released a ‘Situation Update’ regarding life in Jammu & Kashmir a year after the abrogation of Article 370 and the downgrading of the state into two union territories. They gathered data from 37 sub-districts and twelve jails across Jammu & Kashmir. Their findings revealed that as many as 1249 people were detained by the authorities without a trial and without any specific charges levelled against them. This, in spite of the fact that there is a provision known as habeas corpus in the Constitution, which holds that no one can be arrested without a fair trial by a magistrate. Unsurprisingly, of the 1249 people detained, over 90 per cent are from the Kashmir valley. A detailed list of political leaders and journalists who have been arrested may be found in Amnesty International’s Situation Update.

Amnesty International calls the abrogation of Article 370 “alienation of the people of the state” as the people were not consulted about the abrogation as they should have been. The abrogation, it pointed out, was characterized by a clamping down on press freedom, a curbing of free speech, and a silencing of the opposition. There were also severe restrictions imposed on 4G internet access, affecting sectors like health and education.

According to Amnesty International, after the 24th March lockdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, many overcrowded prisons in Jammu & Kashmir became Covid-19 hotspots, as rules regarding social distancing, the wearing of masks, and hand hygiene were openly flouted.

As for the Delhi riots of February 2020, Amnesty International has said that the police committed serious human rights violations by beating up protestors, torturing detainees, and what is worse, sometimes joining hands with Hindu rioters to attack Muslims.

Though the police deny the charges and are yet to come out with a detailed response to Amnesty International’s report, it must be borne in mind that similar conclusions about the Delhi Police’s biased involvement in the riots were made by BBC. Amnesty International, however, does not believe that in spite of video evidence that shows that the police sided with Hindus and gave them stones to hurl on Muslims, the latter would take action against their own men. The atrocities committed by the police during a riot are swept under the carpet more often than not.

What redress does Amnesty International have? It plans to approach the Karnataka High Court against the government’s decision to send them packing. But it is anybody’s guess whether the judiciary will come out with a judgement in their favour. A decision may be granted in their favour, though, if one thinks of how courts have refused to prosecute and convict several people who have been wrongly charged with sedition under Section 124 A of the Constitution by the Government of India. If that happens, our faith that India is a democracy and not an autocracy like Russia or Turkey will be restored. If not, we have no option but to sulk and live in fear. Tomorrow, there may be a midnight knock on our door.

  • The author is an internationally known Indian English novelist, poet and critic. He was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. He has also been a Visiting Professor at universities in Canada and Germany

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