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26 January, 2012

Injustice remains an impediment to the Indian republic, says AHRC

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) congratulates India on its 63rd Republic Day. From a nation that suffered the brutal consequences of colonisation and the lasting wounds of separation, for the past 63 years, the country and its people have brilliantly shown the resilience to hold close to heart the promise they made more than six decades ago, to remain a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic. The Indian experience of democracy is of immense value in Asia, since for the most of the continent; the concept has only made cameo appearances.

Despite this, the concept of democracy and republic is incomplete, as reiterated in the Constitution, unless justice, liberty and equality are ensured to the people, without exceptions. The integrity of the nation and the dignity of its people depend on this. It is in that the country has to shed its colonial hangovers, and if required reinvent itself, as a nation where these fundamental notions implied in the term 'democratic republic' remain not just as mere words mentioned in the basic law, but realisable guarantees, for which the state should not spare any of its resources.

A recent video that was mentioned in the country's media, of the officers from the Border Security Force (BSF) brutally assaulting a suspected cross-border cattle smuggler is to the point. The nationality of the victims apart, such an incident should not have happened on the first place. That it happened shows that the country's elite border guards have no respect to the country's basic law or to their operative mandate. The video is an exception only to the extent that it was probably for the first time that such an act by the BSF stationed along the Indo-Bangladesh border has been video documented. The AHRC and its partner organization based in West Bengal, MASUM, on more than some 800 separate occasions, reported similar incidents to the authorities, urging them to take action against the BSF officers, and suggesting that the incessant practice of manifest forms of custodial violence - ranging from torture to extra-judicial execution and rape - shows the moral wilt in the force which in itself is a threat to the security of the nation. The incident is ample proof to the fact that the agency today operates in an environment of impunity. Impunity has no place in a democratic republic.

Despicable forms of impunity are enjoyed not just by the BSF. Widespread practice of torture by the state police officers casts a dark shadow upon the very notion of the republic. The country is yet to wake up to the reality that the practice of torture, in its entire manifest forms, is incompatible with what has been guaranteed in the Constitution. While a considerable number of people in the country, including some respectable officers within the Indian Police Service, reiterate that the present state of affairs within the law enforcement agencies cannot coexist with the demands of a modern democratic republic, there is hardly any debate within the country as to what should be done to bring about a change to this unacceptable status quo. Even the country's civil society has ignored to engage with the subject, but for a few exceptional human rights organizations, which is a minority, in relation to the large number of human rights groups that operate in India, enjoying the relatively free space that the country guarantees for human rights work. Fair trial guarantees and the basic presumption of innocence cannot coexist with the practice of torture.

When the law enforcement agencies become incompatible to undertake their responsibility according to the demands of a democratic state, it challenges not only the very concept of democracy, but also encourages inequality and therefore injustice. The recent incident reported from Balangir district, Orissa state of the torching of 40 Dalit houses by the members of a militant dominant caste is an alarming reminder to the fact that prejudices based on inequality still haunts the realization of the true republic. The fact that an alarmingly high percentage of children from the marginalized and minority communities living in the impoverished rural backdrops of at least five states in the country do not have, nor do they expect, any hope to be saved from the certain death due to starvation and malnutrition reiterates that injustice is the practice though justice is the guarantee. A country with its law enforcement agencies enjoying impunity cannot be of any use to check this injustice.

So is the situation of the country's judiciary. That the judiciary too, and with that the country's justice framework has failed, is today no more the 'hyperbole' of human rights organizations. The country's law minister himself has reiterated this reality. In a country where its judiciary cannot expect the prosecution to be capable of assisting the court in its quest to find the truth, or a court where the trial can take anywhere between two to ten years to conclude, or worse, where the judiciary itself can guarantee that only seventy percent of its judges are honest, justice has no life. There cannot be percentages awarded to justice. There can only be either justice or injustice.

The annual remembrance of the day in which the country and its people declared for themselves a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic should not remain a day on which parades are held and speeches made. It must be also a day of introspection. Of what it implies by the sovereignty of the people, and by it, to what extent is India truly a democratic republic.

So far injustice has remained an impediment to the complete realization of the republic. Failing to address it is as bad as undermining the republic.

For information and comments contact:
Bijo Francis
Telephone: +852 - 26986339,

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