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Terminate Torture

Terminate Torture

The night of June 25th/26th 1975, is one of the most infamous nights in India, when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had a ‘state of emergency’ declared all over the country. Thousands were incarcerated, many were tortured in prison, freedom of speech and expression was banned, civil liberties were curtailed and human rights violations took centre-stage including a mass-sterilisation programme. The emergency which lasted for twenty- one months (till 21st March 1977) is regarded as one of the darkest chapters in the history of modern India.

Today forty years after that terrible period, India is currently witnessing another ‘state of emergency’. This ‘emergency’ is perhaps more dangerous: there is no official ‘proclamation’, the moves are subtle and seemingly innocuous. Efforts are made to destroy the sanctity, the spirit and the letter of the Indian Constitution. Rights and freedom guaranteed to citizens are systematically curbed or denied. Propaganda (which could put even Hitler’s Goebbels into the shadow!)

replete with lies, half-truths and false promises, is dished out by the Prime Minister and his coterie,

The media is gagged; most are coopted and those who protest against the Government in any way (as with NDTV) are denigrated and have false cases foisted on them. Intellectuals who speak out, Human Rights Defenders and social activists are subject to constant intimidation and harassment. NGOs who side with the poor and marginalized are denied the possibility of receiving foreign funds. Minorities particularly the Muslims and Christians are subject to attacks, hate speeches and demonization. Fascists have the upper hand in deciding what people can read and write; dress and see; drink and eat. Cow vigilantes have no problem in assaulting and even killing so-called ‘beef-eaters.’ The powerful, the rich and the corrupt are favoured as clear seen in the ‘demonetization’ fiasco

India has always taken great pride in an independent judiciary. Several recent appointments to the courts smack of partiality and prejudice; those who toe the line, subscribe to their ideology are favoured. Some of the recent decisions from the courts are a clear indication that the judges are compromised: they want to be on the good books of their political masters. There is an apparent break-down in the law and order mechanism; the police are clearly after the dissenters and protesters (like the farmers who are protesting all over the country). It is common knowledge that torture is used extensively and on the rise in India

It is indeed significant that on 12 December 1997, the UN General Assembly proclaimed June 26th as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, with a view ‘to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the ‘Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’(UNCAT). According to the UN “torture seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and denies the inherent dignity of the human being. The United Nations has condemned torture from the outset as one of the vilest acts perpetrated by human beings on their fellow human beings. Torture is a crime under international law. According to all relevant instruments, it is absolutely prohibited and cannot be justified under any circumstances. This prohibition forms part of customary international law, which means that it is binding on every member of the international community, regardless of whether a State has ratified international treaties in which torture is expressly prohibited. The systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity”.

One only has to hear the stories of the victims of torture to know what they have to go through !We have several examples of how Muslim youth in Gujarat were arrested during Modi’s reign as Chief Minister and subject to the most horrendous type of torture. One does not need to be too intelligent to realise that when the current BJP Supremo Amit Shah was the Home Minister of Gujarat several Muslim youth were brutally killed in what is referred to as ‘fake encounters’

Some time ago the well –known human rights organization ‘People’s Watch’ initiated a Campaign ‘Make Torture Alien to our Culture’, “to show solidarity with the thousands of victims of torture in India, many of whom have also lost their lives”. This timely Campaign which was addressed to the Prime Minister, had among other things this to say, “Democracy and freedom can no longer be considered a jewel when the survival of its citizens itself is in question

Torture most certainly prevails in India today, in most states and departments, as a routine practice and this erodes the faith in the system, little by little. According to a NHRC report, an estimated 1,203 custodial deaths take place every year. Another study by the National Project on Preventing Torture in India has estimated about 1.8 million cases of torture, ill treatment and inhuman behavior recorded annually. Instances of torture continue to rise and thousands of citizens are subjected to inhuman treatment in custody, resulting in grave infraction of their fundamental human rights and dignity.

India has undergone her 3rd UPR (Universal Periodical Review) process at the United Nations Human Rights Council on the 4th of May, 2017. As many as 41 countries recommended that India ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and enact a domestic law on torture. India has signed the UNCAT on the 19th of April 1997. However, even after 20 years, India has done very little to ratify the same. We urge the Government of India to immediately consider the following:

1. to swiftly ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and its optional protocol;

2. to ensure that domestic legislation defines torture in line with international standards;

3. to extend an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture for an official visit.

The Attorney General of India Mr. Mukhul Rohatgi at the 3rd UPR process stated that, “India remains committed to ratify the Convention against Torture. We believe in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance.”

Dear Mr. Prime Minister, we can only hope that the government will listen to its own Attorney General and truly make torture a completely alien concept to our Indian culture of  ahimsa.”

 On June 26th however, the Prime Minister will be shopping in the United States for more arms and ammunition at the cost of the ordinary Indian citizen. There is certainly a doubt if he would understand the global significance of the day and if he does to have the courage to mainstream ahimsa and terminate torture in India!


* ( Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a well-known human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and   communications. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com )