Ongoing clashes between armed Maoists and state security forces escalated in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. More than 350 people were killed in bomb attacks in those states and in ethnically motivated attacks in Assam and other states. Protests by Adivasis (Indigenous communities) and other marginalized communities against moves to acquire their lands and natural resources without proper consultation or consent resulted in the suspension of key corporate-led projects. Human rights defenders in these cases were attacked by state or private agents, with politically motivated charges, including sedition, being brought against some. More than 100 people, mostly youth protesters, were killed in the Kashmir valley during protests between June and September. Torture and other ill-treatment, extrajudicial executions, deaths in custody and administrative detentions remained rife. Institutional mechanisms meant to protect human rights and human rights defenders remained weak and judicial processes failed to ensure justice for many victims of past violations and abuses. At least 105 people were sentenced to death but, for the sixth successive year, no executions took place.
India’s rapid economic growth was limited to key urban and suburban areas; large parts of rural India continued to experience grinding poverty, aggravated by an agricultural crisis and declining food availability for those living in poverty. According to official estimates, about 30 to 50 per cent of the population were living in poverty. Of these, people living in rural areas were guaranteed at least 100 days of work per year, but the authorities continued to pay them below the national minimum wage.
US President Barack Obama’s November visit to India underscored the country’s growing international and regional status. However, India routinely put economic and strategic interests above human rights considerations. The Indian authorities did not speak out against gross human rights violations committed by the authorities in neighbouring Myanmar, and remained silent on demands for the Sri Lankan government to be held accountable for human rights violations committed at the end of that country’s war in 2009.
Relations between India and Pakistan remained fragile following Pakistan’s ongoing failure to adequately address the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Relations were also undermined by a rise in pro-independence protests in Indian-administered Kashmir.Top of page
In Chhattisgarh, clashes escalated between armed Maoists and state forces supported by the Salwa Judum militia, widely believed to be state-sponsored. In November, during a hearing at the Supreme Court on petitions filed against impunity, the state authorities claimed that this militia was no longer active. However, human rights organizations said it had been reconstituted as a local “peace force”.
Similar clashes and bomb attacks took place in Adivasi areas of Jharkhand and West Bengal. Both sides routinely targeted civilians, mainly Adivasis, who reported killings and abductions. Around 30,000 Adivasis continued to be internally displaced in Chhattisgarh alone, of whom 10,000 lived in camps and 20,000 were dispersed in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
Both the authorities and companies failed to ensure adequate consultation with and protection of the rights of local marginalized communities affected by mining, irrigation and other corporate projects. In several states, Adivasi and other marginalized local communities staged protests – some of them successful – against the authorities’ failure to respect their claims, guaranteed by the Constitution and recent legislation, over lands which were threatened by corporate ventures.
The police used excessive force to quell protests by local communities against forced evictions and the acquisition of their lands for corporate projects. The police failed to protect protesters when private militias, reportedly allied with ruling political parties, violently suppressed protests. The authorities did not carry out impartial and timely inquiries into most of these incidents.
Continuing protests forced the authorities to reconsider existing land acquisition laws. In September, the Federal authorities proposed new legislation for the extractive sector with benefit-sharing arrangements for local communities along with new frameworks for free, prior and informed consent for Adivasis and consultation for other marginalized communities. New legislation containing improvements in land acquisition procedures and rehabilitation and resettlement policies was pending before parliament.Top of page
People defending the land rights of Adivasis and other marginalized communities, in some cases by using recent legislation to obtain information to protect their rights, continued to face serious threats and violent attacks from private militias.
Campaigners against human rights violations faced harassment, intimidation and arrests on false and politically motivated charges.
Impunity for abuses and violations remained widespread; despite ongoing protests in the north-east, the authorities remained unwilling to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, which facilitates impunity. Perpetrators of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations in Punjab between 1984 and 1994, and Assam between 1998 and 2001, continued to evade justice. Members of Dalit communities in several states faced attacks and discrimination. The authorities failed to use existing special laws enacted to prosecute perpetrators of such violence.
In September, the Supreme Court directed the trial of Congress Party leader Sajjan Kumar to proceed. The case against another former Congress Party leader, Jagdish Tytler, was closed in April by a Delhi court. Both men were accused of inciting their supporters to commit the Delhi massacre, in which thousands of Sikhs were killed, following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.
Cases against some of those responsible for the 2002 attacks against Muslim minorities in Gujarat, in which about 2,000 people were killed, made little progress. Proceedings were marred by the authorities’ openly hostile attitude towards witnesses, the investigating agencies’ refusal to examine crucial evidence including official telephone records, and the destruction of evidence linking key political leaders to the violence.
Impunity for past violations in Kashmir, including the disappearance of thousands of people since 1989 during the armed conflict in Kashmir, continued. Official inquiries into some of the violations made slow or little progress.
The authorities made widespread use of administrative detentions, detaining 322 people between January and September. Following the protests, on the basis of recommendations by a government-appointed team of interlocutors who visited the valley, the authorities released two separatist leaders, Shabir Shah and Mohammad Nayeem Khan.
Recent data disclosed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on people killed in clashes with the police between 1993 and 2008, showed that of the 2,560 deaths reported, 1,224 occurred in “faked encounters” implying they were extrajudicial executions. By the end of the year, the NHRC had awarded compensation to the relatives of 16 victims. Convictions of those responsible for extrajudicial executions were exceptionally rare and proceedings in such cases remained slow.
More than 100 people were detained without charge, for periods ranging from one week to a month in connection with bomb attacks in several states, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment of suspects led to protests by both Muslim and Hindu organizations. Security legislation, tightened after the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, was used to detain suspects. Despite ongoing protests, the authorities refused to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958, which grants security forces in specified areas or states the power to shoot to kill in circumstances where they are not necessarily at imminent risk.Top of page
In December, India voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions. At least 105 people, including Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving Pakistani man accused of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, were sentenced to death. However, for the sixth successive year, no executions took place and the death sentences of 13 people were commuted to life imprisonment. Amendments to the law extended the death penalty to hijackers. Under new legislation, 16 states published death row figures, but at least five others refused to do so.Top of page