“No one has the freedom to destroy institutions through their contemptuous act,” Justice Arun Mishra said on the 28th anniversary event of NHRC.
The 28th anniversary function of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Tuesday saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi in virtual attendance. Justice Arun Mishra, former supreme court judge and now chairperson of the NHRC, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah were also present for the event.
The Human Freedom Index released in 2020, a worldwide ranking of civil, economic and personal freedom, placed India at the 111th spot out of 162 countries. India ranked 94 on the index in 2019. To be honest, in the last few years, India has shown remarkable decline on the front of human rights.
On the stage, along with Arun Mishra, sat HM Amit Shah. For some people, Amit Shah is the last person they want to see on the stage of a body that is supposed to protect human rights. He was attending the event at a time when his junior minister in home ministry has not resigned on moral grounds even after his son was arrested for mowing down four farmers and a journalist with his car, unprovoked.
Looking at how we have deteriorated in either democracy index or human freedom index as cited above, on NHRC’s foundation day, we should be introspecting how the body could function effectively and our ranking improves, rather than celebrating the event.
Arun Mishra, the former supreme court judge and now NHRC chairperson, has on occasions showed his vocal support for PM Modi .
Delivering his vote of thanks at the inaugural session of the International Judicial Conference 2020 ‘Judiciary and the Changing World’, when he was a judge in Supreme Court and was one of the five senior most judges, Justice Mishra heaped praises on Mr. Modi and said he is an “internationally acclaimed visionary”.
“India is a responsible and most friendly member of the international community under the stewardship of internationally acclaimed visionary Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi… We thank the versatile genius who thinks globally and acts locally, Shri Narendra Modi, for his inspiring speech, which will act as a catalayst in initiating the deliberations and setting the agenda for the conference,” Justice Mishra said.
Nine months after he retired from the Supreme Court, Justice Arun Mishra was appointed chairperson of the NHRC, a body that’s expected to act as a watchdog in cases of violation of human rights, even by the state.
Justice Mishra blames ‘international forces’
Arun Mishra, speaking at the 28th anniversary of NHRC on Tuesday, said India is one of the strongest democratic forces today, but there is a new tendency to accuse it of human rights violations at the behest of international forces.
“India is one of the strongest democratic forces today and that credit goes to the citizens and leadership….It is now a norm to accuse India of human rights violation at the behest of international forces,” Mr Mishra said.
He also heaped praises on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
“I feel proud to welcome very popular and diligent, Respected PM Modi here during the event.Today India has surfaced as a world power and has got its new identity, the credit of this goes to Citizens, the Country’s leadership, and constitutional mechanism.”
“I feel happy to welcome Home Minister Amit Shah. Due to your efforts, a new era of ‘peace and law and order’ has now begun in Jammu & Kashmir and in the North-Eastern part of the Country,” Mr Mishra said.
This, at a time, when killings of civilians have once again sparked the fear of militancy in J&K. Horrid visuals came from Assam recently, in which a man was desecrating the body of a protestor killed in police firing during an eviction drive in Sipajhar area of Darrang district. NHRC has issued a notice to J&K government, which is practically run by Amit Shah and home ministry. It has, however, not issued any notice in Assam killing.
Mr Mishra further said Indians enjoy religious freedom not available in many other countries, and citizens here have the freedom to construct temples, churches and mosques.
“Such freedom is not available in many other countries. (But) we cannot glorify terrorism and terrorists. No one has the freedom to destroy institutions through their contemptuous act.”
On the front of religious freedom, let’s be honest that India has been a secular country in its core even before the value was enshrined in the constitution later. However, in the last few years, there have been rise in communal tensions in India. In its report released last month, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which functions under the Union Home Ministry, stated that communal or religious rioting in 2020 nearly doubled from 2019 even as the country witnessed “very limited” outdoor activities due to COVID-19 pandemic during the past year. And NCRB is not even a foreign agency. It’s government’s own. So the “religious freedom” part from Mr Mishra’s speech is disputed.
When Mr Mishra says “such freedom is not available in many other countries”, which are the other countries he’s refering to? Is he refering to Afghanistan, Pakistan or China? In fact, why are we even striving to compete with other countries? Can we not just strive to be better than what we, as a country, were in the past?
As far as the part of destroying the institutions is concerned, why did the NHRC not take suo-motu cognizance of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, where 8 people were killed and a union minister’s son was involved. Did those mowed down by the cars or beaten to death thereafter not have human rights? NHRC should sure rebuke Mamata Banerjee for the post-poll rights in West Bengal, but it should also be seen acting when those in power elsewhere are involved in violation of human rights.
Mr Mishra went on to add: “The social activism institutions & Human Rights Defenders should strongly condemn terrorism & political violence. (Their) apathy towards this gives rise to fundamentalism. History will never forget us for this. Time has come to raise a voice against violence.”
It’s imperative that when we talk about social activism and human rights defenders, we should not forget to talk about those kept in jail in Bhima Koregaon case without a trial. One of them, father Stan Swamy, died in the jail. If activists fighting for the human rights are jailed in conspiracy cases and under terror charges without a trial, that does not speak highly of the situation of ‘civil society’ in India.
PM Modi’s “selective approach” allegations
PM Modi, speaking at the event, said some people were harming the country’s image in the name of human rights protection with their selective approach.
“Of late, some people have started interpreting human rights from their own angle as per their selfish interests. Tendency to see infringement in one situation and not in a similar situation has damaged human rights to a great extent… the biggest infringement of human rights takes place when they are seen from the prism of politics and political profit and loss. This selective behaviour is harmful to our democracy. With their selective approach, there are some people who harm the country’s image in the name of human rights protection. We need to be cautious of them,” PM Modi said.
How can there be different angles to human rights protection? How could there be ‘selective approach’ in protecting human rights? When people are asking for justice for farmers mowed down by minister’s car, it is also equally important that three BJP workers who were killed in the violence after the incident should also get justice. Nobody has denied their right to justice. When a part of society is protected from human rights violations and laws are followed, it naturally reflects on others who would seek to rely on the government to protect them in similar situations. There could not be a ‘selective approach’ in protecting human rights.
PM Modi, also spoke about duties. He said it is important to understand that human rights is not associated with rights only, but is a subject of our duties too.
Underscoring that rights and duties are two tracks on which the journey of human development and human dignity takes place, he stressed that duties are equally important as rights and should not be discussed separately as they complement each other.
Failure of institutions
Majority of population, excluding a small percentage which are involved in crime and illegal activities, play their duties as citizens. However, do all of them get the human rights promised to them by the Constitution? Democratic institutions, from police to courts, have time and again failed Indians when it comes to even basic human right like dignity in death. A rape victim in Hathras is cremated in the dark of the night, a Jesuit Priest dies in custody without a trial, hundreds die on streets in farmers protest over span of one year, thousands die during the Covid-19 second wave scrambling for oxygen to breathe. Where is the dignity in death?
NHRC is no different. NHRC should make the government accountable for the country’s continuous decline on human rights index. NHRC should seek answers on all types of violations of rights, including those committed by the government. Instead of that, the chairperson of the body showers praises on those who should be held accountable, and blames “international forces” for the criticism our country faces for violation of rights.
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