Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December - the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. December 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Declaration. The human rights movement has made great strides in the past seven decades, but cases of sexual abuses, domestic violence, child exploitation and attack on minority communities still occur on regular basis all over the world.
How have things changed in India? Have things become better for people especially women and marginalised sections of society in the current scenario? Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to social activist and human rights campaigner Shabnam Hashmi to know about India's report card on human right violations.
The founder of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy) said that human rights are being violated in a subtle manner to terrorise women, minorities and weaker sections of the society. Hatred has been institutionalised, said Hashmi. The hate filled rhetoric from the ruling party leaders has eroded human rights all over the country.
Shabnam Hashmi began her social activism campaigning about adult literacy in 1981. Since 1989 she has spent most of her time in combating communal and fundamentalist forces in India. She has worked in Gujarat, Kashmir, Bihar and Mewat area of Haryana.
IC: What are your comments on conditions of human rights in India which recently got elected to the influential Human Rights Council with the highest number of votes by the General Assembly with a pledge to combat intolerance?
Shabnam Hashmi: The human rights violations are unprecedented. Such violations are being done in a very systematic manner. There is an all- round attack on the rule of law, vibrant democracy and the Constitution. The Supreme Court too is the target of attack. Non-state actors are being let loose on the streets with total impunity.
IC: How would you describe India story on human rights on the occasion of 70 years of HR declaration on Dec 10?
India's story on human rights is pathetic. We have gone back several decades in Kashmir because of poor policies of the central government.
IC: In an encounter, UP police recently shot dead Muzzfarnagar youth who had no criminal record. The police in its defence said that Irshad Ahmad along with four others, were transporting bulls in a truck and fired at police when challenged. The incident raised eyebrows because family of the deceased said that it was a ‘fake encounter'. The National Human Rights Commission has asked UP Chief Secretary for a report in four weeks on ‘encounter'. Your comments.
Hundreds of fake encounters have taken place in UP especially after Yogi Adityanath took over as Chief Minister. It's a trigger happy government which is using ‘fake' encounters to eliminate those who are not with them and create fear-psychosis in the people.
IC: Do you think that Judiciary can ensure justice to the people of the country and not executive or legislature in the prevailing conditions. This question is in context of the Supreme Court pulling up Karnataka government for its shoddy probe into the killing of anti-superstition activist, Professor M M Kalburgi. The apex court said that the state government has "done nothing” in the last three years to catch his killers.
No, I don't think that Judiciary alone can do it. It would be incorrect to say that every person in the administration is insensitive. If there is a ‘political will', then people can get justice.
IC: The arrest of five activists in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon incident was widely condemned. It brought a focus on BJP led government at centre and its actions. Do you think that activism has suffered a major blow now?
Yes. Both activists and journalists are under attack. The attack on activists started with Priya Pillai and Teesta Setalvad. Licences of hundreds of NGOs were cancelled. Organisations working on human rights which did not toe PM Modi's line, were targeted.
IC: Do you think that #Metoo movement has roots in women's empowerment movement in the world and in India too?
The #metoo movement is restricted to a section of society. Such kind of movement does encourage women who have never spoken in their lives to raise voice against harassment or exploitation. Much more needs to be done for women especially poor, dalit and tribals.
IC: What is your assessment about women's rights in the current situation in India?
Under the present regime, domestic violence act has been diluted. The sex determination act has been made more lenient. It is being done in a subtle manner. There is a pattern to terrorise women, minorities, majority community and weaker sections of the society through incidents like mob lynching, attack in the name of anti-national or attempt to gag free speech and gang-rape. All is being done to remain in power.
IC: On Sabarimala issue, there were protests since the Sept 28 verdict of the Supreme Court allowed women of all ages to enter the temple that hitherto banned girls and women aged 10-150. The state government has tried its best but people were not are not willing to allow women activists to entre. How should one implement the SC ruling? Your suggestions.
The law and order machinery can implement the SC order. Sensitization of people is required to deal with such issue. It is not going to happen in one day.
IC: There is a fear psychosis among dalits, religious minorities and tribal groups which is a cause of serious concern. Often, the police have filed complaint against victims in cases of mob attacks by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP. How can people’s faith in the law of the land be restored?
Unfortunately, hatred has been institutionalised. Police and administration are discriminating against dalits, minorities and other weaker sections of society. The conditions were far better under the previous regime and thing are bad under the present regime. Unless there is a secular-democratic government which does secular politics and runs programmes to fight prejudices and hatred, things won't change in the country.
IC: We have NHRC at centre and state HRC in several states. Do you think that institutions like NHRC have enough powers to handle grievances relating to human rights?
There is a need to further strengthen NHRC now. There is a need to ensure that NHRC gets retired judges of high standard to head NHRC. Also NHRC needs officers who don't have prejudices or biased views.
(Published on 03rd December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 49)