CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

India

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Last updated on 29.11.2018 at 11:23

India-Overview

Although India’s many civil society organisations have until recently enjoyed an enabling operating environment, civic space is being increasingly constrained because of government interference with the freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly.

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Women's rights come to the fore in India

Women's rights come to the fore in India

On 25th September 2018, Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta alleged that she was sexually harassed by director-actor, Nana Patekar on a film set in 2008. Speaking on television, the actor recollected her struggle after the incident. The Tanushree Dutta interview, single-handedly sparked a #MeToo movement in India. Thousands of women took to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment, assault, violence and sexual violence.

Association

#MeToo Reaches India

On 25th September 2018, Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta alleged that she was sexually harassed by director-actor, Nana Patekar on a film set in 2008. Speaking on television, the actor recollected her struggle after the incident. The Tanushree Dutta interview, single-handedly sparked a #MeToo movement in India. Thousands of women took to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment, assault, violence and sexual violence. 

The ensuing movement sparked a discussion about harassment and gender equality in India. As more and more women shared their stories, the scandal engulfed politicians, media workers and actors. The movement has also shone a spotlight on minority women's rights in India. Women's rights groups claim that the majority of stories reaching the mainstream are from non-Dalit women. While the #MeToo movement has broken the culture of silence among women, some activists claim the movement could be enhanced by including Dalit women's experiences. In particular, activists highlighted that Dalit women suffer the intersectional impact of caste and gender in Indian society. 

Killing of Right To Information (RTI) Activist

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, the murder of RTI activists in India has been a cause for grave concern. In early September 2018, another RTI activist was brutally murdered in Himachal Pradesh. Kedar Singh Jindan was killed at a remote location in Sirmaur district, after being assaulted and killed by being repeatedly run over by a car. Jindan, a local activist working to promote the rights of marginalised communities, gained prominence after uncovering a corruption scandal involving a local politician. The scandal saw the fraudulent mis-allocation of funds designed to help families below the poverty line. His death marks the 73rd RTI activist to be murdered in India since 2005.

Although police initially dismissed the case as a road traffic accident, a murder enquiry was subsequently opened into Jindan's murder. Three people were later arrested in connection with his death. In addition, Jindan's family have called for the nationally focussed Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to initiate an investigation into his murder.

Peaceful Assembly

Educational Unrest Continues

As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, India has witnessed a clampdown on student activism in 2018. On 20th September 2018, tensions ran high at Manipur University after a series of raids on students. Officials claim the raid was conducted after an accusation of assault by Prof. K Yugindro, the pro-vice chancellor of the University. Yugindro alleged that he was manhandled by students at the university campus. Professor Yugindro's appointment to pro-vice chancellor by vice-chancellor Professor Adya Prasad Pandey had stirred controversy. Professor Pandey is currently suspended from service pending an inquiry into charges against him for derelictions of duty. The ensuing raids saw 89 students and six teachers arrested. The mass arrests spurred protests leading to clashes between students and Indian police. At least 10 students sustained injuries after the police fired tear gas and threw missiles at the protesting students.

Police Assault Disability Rights Activists 

The Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued a notice on 5th October 2018 to the Assam Director General of Police to open an inquiry into the  physical assault of persons with disabilities at Dispur Last Gate, Assam by police. Participants had gathered to call for better representation of disability rights in local government. The protest was organised by the Pratibandhi Suraksha Sangstha Assam (PSSA) and was broken up after police used water cannons and baton charges to disperse protesters. Several protesters were injured in the confrontation. In a statement, CIVICUS Monitor partners HRDA India noted that the confrontation started after police refused to let participants leave the vicinity. They said

"They did not allow them to leave the place and without any reason and started assaulting the protesters who had different physical disability of various degrees. They used water cannons and also started indiscriminate ‘lathi charge’ on the peaceful protestors. The police personnel were so aggressive and rude that without considering the physical condition of the people with disability, they used excessive unreasonable force to beat the innocent disabled persons who can hardly move themselves normally."

HRDA India urged authorities in Assam to initiate an independent investigation into the incident. Footage of the confrontation can be seen in the video below. 

Health Concerns Drive Protests in Mumbai

On 28th October 2018, hundreds of relocated families in Mahul, Mumbai staged protesting by camping at a spot in Vidya Vihar, Ghatkopar. The mobilisation was held to demand better living conditions in the area which hosts oil refineries and a chemical fertiliser plant. Around 5,500 families, comprising 30,000 people from various slums along the Tansa pipeline, were moved to Mahul after a court-ordered demolition in 2017. Various state agencies have deemed Mahul unfit for human habitation. In the past year-and-a-half, more than 100 residents of Mahul have died due to the conditions of toxic air pollution, water contamination, and unsanitary state of the housing units. The locals say they have sent over 2,000 letters to Maharashtra Chief Minister, urging for their immediate relocation, but are yet to receive a reply. During the protest, five people were pre-emptively arrested but later released. 

Women's Rights at Temple Spur Mass Arrests

In a separate development, women's rights have also spurred protest in India. On 12th November 2018, the Kerala government informed the Kerala High Court that it was the duty of the government to protect the fundamental rights of women devotees to offer prayers at the Sabarimala Temple located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala. In September 2018, the Supreme Court overturned a rule of the Sabarimala temple that banned the entry of women of “menstruating age”. The temple authorities justified this practice by arguing that menstruating women are unclean and should be barred from entering the temple.

The historic Supreme Court verdict observed that “the right to practice religion is available to both men and women.” As a result, the temple doors were opened to women, however, no women were able to enter due to protests outside. Protesters gathered to reject the Supreme Court's decision and opposed the re-admission of women to the temple. So far, only two women have managed to reach the main temple, both of them were protected from protesters by over a 100 policemen. In an illustration of the scale of the protests, police have arrested over 2000 people for participating in the Sabarimala temple protests. Political tension over the issue continued throughout November

Expression

On 9th October 2018, the governor’s office and the state police were left embarrassed after a Chennai court refused to grant the police custody of R.R.Gopal, the editor of the Tamil bi-weekly magazine, Nakeeran. After the court rejected the police's attempt to charge the journalist, he was released. Gopal was arrested at Chennai airport en route to Pune after a complaint from the governor’s office. He was arrested after exposing a scandal involving an academic at the Madurai Kamaraj University. As covered by The Week, the outlet elaborated on the events leading up to his arrest: 

"Gopal was arrested for publishing a cover story that the magazine carried in its April issue and yet another article in September which had allegations linking the governor’s office to an investigation into the 'sex-for-marks' scam in Madurai Kamaraj University. The case pertains to an assistant professor, Nirmala Devi, who was arrested for allegedly luring students into sex work.”

The legislation used to arrest Gopal has caused controversy. Several editors, publishers and representatives of broadcast, print and digital media condemned the unusual use of Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code to prosecute an editor. “The section deals with assault on the president of India or the governor of any state with an intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful powers invested in them.” The President of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) strongly condemned the arrest of Nakeeran Gopal and appealed to the President of India to intervene in the matter.

Association

The Trusts Acts and Societies Act regulate the registration and operation of civil society organisations while specific procedures, including registration renewal, vary from state to state.

The Trusts Acts and Societies Act regulate the registration and operation of civil society organisations while specific procedures, including registration renewal, vary from state to state. Organisations are required to register under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) before receiving any foreign funds. The government has used the legislation to harass NGOs and activists. For example, in June 2016, the government banned the Sabrang Trust from receiving funds under the FCRA. Organisations that promote human rights, government accountability, environmental rights, and equitable development policies are coming under particular pressure. For example, Greenpeace India has been especially targeted as the government prevented one of its staff member from travelling to the UK in January 2015 and froze the organisation’s bank accounts. Furthermore, the government is currently investigating two of its Indian subsidiaries for tax evasion. Most recently, in mid-2016, the government decided to extend the application of corruption legislation – introduced initially to curb public-sector corruption – to civil society organisations. CSOs worry that having to comply with this law will result in an increase in state surveillance and interference with the legitimate activities of civil society.

Peaceful Assembly

The Indian Constitution guarantees the right to assemble peaceably and without arms, and imposes restrictions on “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order”.

The Indian Constitution guarantees the right to assemble peaceably and without arms, and imposes restrictions on “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order”. Legislative restrictions, such as section 144 of the criminal procedure, give power to the authorities to impose a curfew and are often abused to limit peaceful assemblies. In practice, excessive use of force has been used against protestors as exemplified by the recent protests in Jammu and Kashmir. Following the killing of a prominent rebel leaders in July 2016, massive protests took place and led to deadly clashes between protesters and security forces. Security forces fired bullets and pellets to prevent and disperse protestors, killing more than 30 people and injuring hundreds. Mobile and internet services have also been suspended.

Expression

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, however, the sedition law, criminal defamation laws, and hate speech laws are used to harass and prosecute those who criticise the government.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, however, the sedition law, criminal defamation laws, and hate speech laws are used to harass and prosecute those who criticise the government. For example, in 2015, authorities arrested folk singer S. Kovan under the sedition law for two songs that criticised the state government. Journalists in India are working in an increasingly hostile environment, facing detention, threats, assaults and even deaths. During the recent wave of protests in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities raided newspaper offices, preventing them from publishing for three days, and blocked cable television, internet and mobile services. Although India enacted the Right to Information Act in 2005, proper implementation is still lacking as many information requests are blocked due to the law’s broad restrictions.