Editorial : Rights abuses in India - Saturday, February 05, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

AS a rule, torture and democracy do not go together. In practice, however, there is hardly any democracy, especially among the larger democracies, where security agencies do not routinely use third-degree methods to obtain confessions.Those subjected to abuses and rights violations are common criminals as well as political activists and ‘normal’ citizens suspected of crimes they might not have committed. India, the democracy next door, denies that its law-enforcement agencies use torture, but it would be in New Delhi’s own interest if it were to take note of the latest Human Rights Watch report which not only condemns the widespread use of torture but also warns of its consequences for the state.

Unlike previous reports, which focused on regions like Indian-held Kashmir, the insurgency-scarred northeast and the Naxalite belt, Wednesday’s HRW report covers the whole of India and paints a gloomy picture of the rights situation in the country, saying torture is practised at every stage of the judicial process, and Indian courts and rights activists have become indifferent to atrocities. There was heightened suspicion among the law-enforcement agencies, the report noted, that the Muslim community at large supported militant activity, and this had often led to torture, including electric shocks, harassment and the profiling of Muslims living in what is officially a secular state.

The international rights body based its findings on interviews with family members, lawyers, suspects, police officials and political activists and said whenever there was a blast, the majority of those arrested arbitrarily were Muslim and accused of belonging to the Indian Mujahideen militant group. Even though Hindu suspects too were abused, the HRW report dwelt on the case of nine Muslim suspects who had remained in detention for four years and were tortured after the second Malegaon blast, although later investigations led the trail to Hindu extremists. The use of torture, the report says, causes resentment in the Muslim community and deprives the security agencies of legitimate information that could advance the cause of anti-terrorism. Often detainees’ families were harassed and mistreated in order to get forced confessions. Indian authorities should particularly note the confession of Swami Aseemanand, a Hindu extremist, who admitted to bombing the Samjhota Express, and of Srikant Purohit, a serving Indian colonel, who was later found involved in several acts of terrorism. As in post-9/11 America, this profiling of Muslims could have dangerous consequences for India. Muslims constitute 13 per cent of its 1.2 billion people, and the kind of mindset the police and security agencies have developed could well frighten and alienate the country’s biggest minority.

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