Intolerance growing in India under Modi rule: Amnesty International

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Amnesty International has said that under Narendra Modi administration caste-based discrimination, religion based violence, extra judicial killings and attacks on freedom of expression by extremist Hindu groups grew alarmingly in 2015.

Condemning growing intolerance in the country, Amnesty International said Modi government in India failed to “prevent many incidents of religious violence” and sometimes “contributed to tensions through polarising speeches by ruling lawmakers .”
“Scores of artists, writers and scientists returned national honours in protest against what they said was a climate of growing intolerance,” said the annual report, adding that abuses by armed groups continued to threaten civilians.

“Authorities clamped down on civil society organisations critical of official policies, and increased restrictions on foreign funding. Religious tensions intensified, and gender and caste-based discrimination and violence remained pervasive. Censorship and attacks on freedom of expression by hardline Hindu groups grew,” it added.

Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty India, said: “In 2015, India saw several backslides on human rights. The government intensified restrictions on civil society organisations…”

“What is heartening is that there has been opposition to the erosion of rights. The widespread outrage around incidents of religious intolerance, a Supreme Court ruling striking down an oppressive law on free speech online, the many public protests against ill-conceived reforms to land acquisition laws – these offer hope that 2016 can be a better year for human rights in India.”

Amnesty rebuked Indian authorities for “failing to prevent many incidents of religious violence, and sometimes contributing to tensions through polarising speeches and pervasive caste-based discrimination and violence”.

“There was some progress when the lower house of Parliament passed an amendment to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, recognising new offences and requiring that special courts be established to try them, and stipulating that victims and witnesses receive protection,” it said.

In reference to violence against women, it said: “Although nearly 322,000 crimes against women, including over 37,000 cases of rape, were reported in 2014, stigma and discrimination by police officials and authorities in India continued to deter women from reporting sexual violence, and most states still lacked standard operating procedures for the police to address violence against women.”

It also highlighted “restrictive foreign funding laws” being used to repress NGOs critical of the government.
Both the New York Times and Le Monde newspapers ran editorials lambasting Modi’s government. The Times editorial board said the ongoing confrontation between Hindu nationalists and free-speech advocates “raises serious concerns about Modi’s governance and may further stall any progress in Parliament on economic reforms.”

A group of 133 university professors from around the world including linguist Noam Chomsky, Nobel-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and economist James Galbraith  said the recent arrest of a student leader on sedition charges “is further evidence of the present government’s deeply authoritarian nature, intolerant of any dissent, setting aside India’s longstanding commitment to toleration and plurality of opinion.”

It said: “Impunity for violations by security forces persisted. Legislation providing virtual immunity from prosecution such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) remained in force in Jammu and Kashmir state and parts of northeast India.

The Amnesty report said that prolonged pre-trial detention and overcrowding in jails remained widespread and around 282,000 prisoners – 68% of the total prison population – were pre-trial.

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