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26 January, 2011

India has a long way to go, says AHRC

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission on India’s Republic Day:

The integrity of a republic and the determination of its people depend upon the legitimacy of their government. Since declaring the Union of India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic that assures its citizens justice, equality, and liberty and to be a nation that endeavours to promote among them all fraternity, 61 years ago, the country today has still a long way to go to realize the dreams of its founding fathers. The Indian Constitution, a social document, as referred to by Granville Austin, drafted to further "the aim of social revolution or attempt to foster this revolution by establishing conditions necessary for its achievement" depends much upon a government that has a democratic executive which is stable, responsible and impartial.

The defining characters of the country's executive has deteriorated to such levels over the past 61 years that it is not even a shadow of what it ought to be. Instead of undertaking honest endeavours to correct this and to contribute to the nation building exercise, today, despite of its symbolic value, the integrity of the republic, according to the determination of a large section of its people, has been reduced to the hoisting of the national flag in states like Jammu and Kashmir that struggles to return to normalcy from the externally sponsored and internally motivated civil war.

After declaring the country as a republic 61 years ago and 63 years since gaining independence from colonial rule, India today is still an underperforming state for more than 60 percent of its population. Despite maintaining a steady and decent growth rate for the past five years, the country is home for an alarmingly high number of persons, estimated to be 75 percent of its population, who live below the poverty line. This is a condition worse than in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Corruption, the omnipresent cancer that has eaten the country from within, has reduced the executive and the administration to a condition comparable with that of a termite ridden tree that waits for a strong wind to complete its downfall. Irrespective of their ideologies the political parties that exercise power in India have only competed between themselves to preserve the corrupt bureaucracy that always yearned to remain the mainstay of the politicians and rich. Despite the weekly reportage of corruption, where politicians and bureaucrats have been exposed of swindling millions worth tax payers' money there is no healthy debate yet in the country of the urgent requirement for a credible corruption prevention agency. One among the many that already exist, the Central Bureau of Investigation, yesterday was pulled up by the Kerala High Court and cautioned that the Court would have to take action against the Bureau should it continue intervening in the investigation of a politically sensitive murder case to save some of the high-ranking, as well as corrupt politicians. The Bureau is a typical Indian example of how these agencies are created and accustomed to doing anything else other than their statutory mandate, which is to detect, investigate and prevent corruption. The allegations of corruption against the present Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, is yet one more example of the stark reality of the extent to which corruption has eaten into the justice system of the country. The continuing reluctance of the Union Government to initiate an investigation into the scam, that it its wild course has tainted further none other than the Supreme Court of India, the highest seat of justice in the country, shows the extent to which this cancer has nullified the notion of justice in the country.

Corruption however is not a problem in itself. It is the result of much more deep-rooted issues within the administration of a state. In that, corruption flourishes only to the extent to which an environment for corruption prevails. This environment includes not only the administrative mainframe, but also the general perception of the public about the character of their state. For the ordinary citizen, there are some key institutions that represent the symbols of the state. Of them one of the most important element is the police, as the police is not only a uniformed state presence, but is also the symbol of its authority. A reform to the existing framework of administration is thus not possible in India without addressing the entrenched problems relating to policing in the country. Foremost in the list is the practice of the use of brutal force with impunity. So far the national debate to bring about changes to this unacceptable status quo has halted at the stage of the Parliamentary Select Committee proposing drastic revisions to the proposed law against torture. The Committee has suggested overarching revisions to the proposed law, which in its present form is none other than an eye wash legislation to justify India's proposal to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The proposed law against torture, the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010 in its current form will be just one more legislation to justify the usual claim of the Government of India before the international community that the country has adequate legislation to guarantee the rule of law. What is ignored by international jurists and kept hidden by the country's government is that despite having laws, justice and redress remains a distant dream for most in the country.

This denial of justice is visible in the extrajudicial executions and encounter killings reported from states like Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir; in the despicable neglect of the state and central government of the tribal and otherwise ethnically minority communities that led to the disastrous and dangerous growth of armed extremist groups like the Naxalites and the other armed militia groups; in the cases of torture reported from the length and breadth of the country; in starvation deaths, forced evictions and bonded labour.

Every case of unresolved human rights violation that is reported from India is an assertion that the country needs much more than the pseudo chivalry of the hoisting of a flag in a state that has an alarming and disproportionate army presence. Every case of rights violations in the country is yet another cry for help of a hapless citizen who is denied his or her fundamental right to be treated equally and humanely that the constitution they believe in guarantees.

January 26 will be meaningful only if the guarantees in the constitution that proclaimed India a republic 61 years ago are also realized. Until then the Republic Day will remain an occasion for the annual remembrance of that great nation India once resolved to become and Indians thus far have failed to realize.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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