Paper Tigers

That the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Association with the State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs) is discussing Dengue is fine. After all Dengue is becoming as lethal as was Malaria many years back, till a large-scale nation-wide campaign was launched to eradicate it. Then Dengue seems to have no proper diagnosis or cure, or for that matter, a specific line of treatment. Denying proper medicare tantamounts to violation of human rights because it denies right to health. Also, NHRC, of late, has taken cognisance of media reports on the stray dog menace and they are advising municipalities as to how to tackle the ‘stray dog crisis’ because in their understanding ‘human rights should weigh above animal rights’. What NHRCs and SHRCs can do in such areas otherwise not specified for their activities, is anybody’s guess. They periodically organise seminars and workshops to deliberate on national problems, as they did in September 2015, to discuss ways and means to deal with humanitarian crisis. There are 25 SHRCs, so far. But these institutions are unique in the sense that they are symbols of functioning democracy without any mandatory power to implement their decisions, basically aimed at reversing wrongs committed in respect of human rights. These bodies were constituted under the Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act, 1993. In many cases of genuine violation of human rights by government agencies, they just wander in wilderness because the persons in power do hardly implement their recommendations if they go against vested interests. They are at best toothless paper tigers and NHRC itself recognises their limitations and helplessness and yet a lot of public money is spent to maintain them.

The hard reality is that SHRCs are not provided with adequate infrastructure, financial and human resources to face the ever growing challenge in areas of rampant violation of human rights. The recommendations of Justice G P Mathur Committee, to make these bodies more effective and functional and cover union territories that have been kept outside the ambit of PHR Act 1993, for reasons best known to the Centre have not been implemented till date. The reason is simple : the Centre wants to project these bodies as democratic showpieces, without allowing them to strengthen democracy and making the civic society more conscious about human rights. Unless the Centre considers seriously the Mathur Committees’s suggestions seeking amendments in Section 30 & 31 of the PHR Act, 1993, in respect of establishment and jurisdiction of the Human Rights Courts, these institutions will remain mere talking shops to bolster the image of the ‘largest democracy of the world’ abroad. What is more NHRC because of Section 19 of the PHR Act 1993, is totally powerless in relation to complaints of violation of human rights by armed forces, where Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in force, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir and North East. No doubt NHRC and its state affiliates have been focusing on gross violation of human rights for the last 22 years but it is increasingly becoming a white elephant providing little relief and justice to the victims of human rights violations. Also, it is common knowledge that the victims are mostly from the marginalised sections of the society, who have no access to law and costly justice. Law enforcing agencies and judiciary in most cases are too biased to take their sides.

The Commission’s activities mainly centre around rehabilitation and relief and that too in a limited way. Then they routinely issue notices to the state government secretaries and police commissioners seeking reports on lathi-charge and assault by police on women protesters.

Sometimes reports come, sometimes do not. But these reports, invariably delayed by weeks, if not months, make little difference in the field because the police authorities will always defend their erring cops—maybe, it is a case of class solidarity. The way peaceful demonstrators who may assemble to demand food security, protection against agrarian distress or to protest against complete break-down of law and order across the country are being pacified by the police by using brute force mocks at the Commission’s exercise to address the problem of human rights violations.

Workers are not paid their legitimate dues after retirement and statutory benefits are denied to their next of kith and kin in case of accidental death. It takes years for poor labourers to realise their dues. The Commission routinely recommends relief in such cases but as they cannot implement their recommendations on their own labourers don’t really get much needed relief they are entitled to.

Non-registration of FIRs on complaints by opposition politicians and people belonging to marginalised communities, has reached alarming proportion in almost every state. Knowing full well that human rights commission can at best request them to accept FIRs, police stations throughout the country, particularly in backward and sensitive regions like Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, simply ignore the directives issued by NHRC and SHRCs. Of late policemen frequently enter campuses to terrorise students ignoring all laws. Not very long ago students of Jadavpur University had to face police brutality for organising peaceful protests. Right now students of Jawharlal Nehru University are agitating against police high-handedness over the Afzal Guru event. The Afzal Guru incident took increasingly political colour as the university’s own high-level inquiry committee decided that eight students including two top members of the students’ union—its president Kanhaiya Kumar and general secretary Rama Naga—had prima facie engaged in ‘‘objectionable sloganeering’’ on the campus on February 9. Policemen entered the JNU campus in plainclothes and arrested Kanhaiya Kumar and his colleagues violating all laws. ‘The high-level inquiry conducted by a three-member committee submitted its interim report on February 12 and recommended debarring eight students from academic activities’.

The Afzal Guru event is an excuse. It’s also yet another case of intolerance. The real issue, however, lies elsewhere. JNU has been a citadel of left politics from its inception. The saffron brigade wants to capture the union and saffronise the campus, silencing all voices of dissent. They are doing it now with the help of police. And NHRC has very little to do in this type of violation of human rights. Kanhaiya Kumar and his colleagues are facing sedition and criminal conspiracy charges—Section 120A and Section 120B just for raising their opinions against capital punishment which was all about Afzal event in short.

The rate of suo motu cognisance of cases of human rights violations mainly based on media reports, is too insignificant to deliver justice. During September 2015 NHRC reportedly took suo motu cognisance in just 20 cases of ‘‘alleged’’ violation of human rights across the country and finally they were able to provide monetary relief in 17 cases, recommending compensation to the tune of Rs 20.35 lakh only, for the victims or their next of kin, where it found that public servants had either violated human rights or been negligent in protecting them.

The law of the land, and the social order of property and power which requires it, makes it difficult for the powerless and voiceless, to get justice. Toothless paper tigers cannot reverse the ground reality.

Vol. 48, No. 33, Feb 21 - 27, 2016