Four dead after police open fire on protest in Jharkhand

***This update contains a graphic image that some readers may find disturbing***

Peaceful Assembly

On 1st October, at least four protestors were shot dead by security forces in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. Those shot were protesting against a land acquisition for coal mining by public sector utility NTPC (formerly, the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd). A further 40 people were injured in the clashes, as the security forces used tear gas and then live ammunition to control crowds. Local residents were protesting against plans to mine the site in Karanpura valley, in the east Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. The land is agriculturally rich and an important employer in the surrounding area, as well as being part of one of the largest coal blocks in Asia. The situation embodies a tension across the state between the needs of local communities and the interests of industry. Despite the use of excessive force by Indian security forces, protesters have vowed to continue their fight against the government acquisition. Yogendra Saw, a local protest leader said in a recent interview

'We will not bow down. We will intensify our agitation.'

Despite being offered compensation by the NTPC, local residents feel they are being given an unfair deal. Far from silencing the protests, the continued harassment and presence of security forces has only strengthened the resolve of villagers to fight for their land. 

In a separate event, the disappearance of university student Najeeb Ahmed has prompted protests across New Delhi, organised to condemn the Indian authorities' inaction on the case. Ahmed, who is a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, went missing on 15th October, following an altercation with right wing groups on the university campus. Local students have questioned the integrity of the investigation and claim that Indian authorities are 'selectively omitting' the fact he was attacked the night before. In spite of an investigation, Ahmed is yet to be found. Protestors have also condemned the excessive use of force used by Indian security forces when facilitating protests regarding the investigation. The video below displays Ahmed's mother being detained by security forces as they disrupt a protest.

Association

The clampdown on foreign-funded CSOs continues in India as the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) still requires civic groups to apply for special licenses which allow them to receive funds from abroad. In early November it was reported that 25 organisations, most of them involved in human rights and community empowerment work, were denied the renewal of their FCRA licenses because they were found by the authority to have been engaged in 'anti-national' activities. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the legislation gives Indian authorities the discretion to revoke licenses and requires organisations to reapply for a license every five years.

A further 11,000 organisations have had their operating licenses cancelled for failing to apply for their renewal. In an interview on 9th November, Arjun Phillips, a local activist working with Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), an umbrella body which represents over 500 Indian CSOs, said:

'Despite many NGOs submitting completed documents, they have been put under the closed category. Tata Memorial Trust, which is a renowned organisation and has always complied with norms, has also been put under this category.'

Other organisations that have previously faced cancellations of their license, including Greenpeace, were however granted permission and allowed to continue with their work. Due to administrative inefficiency on the part of the Ministry of Home Affairs at least 1,736 organisations still await their renewals, leaving them in legal limbo and unable to operate fully. In many cases, the onus has been placed on CSOs as authorities claim their applications are incomplete and therefore they are unable to process the licenses. Many Indian CSOs claim that the increase in bureaucratic obstacles is part of a broader campaign by Indian authorities to over-regulate the work of independent civil society in India.

In a separate development, Indian authorities also banned the organisation of controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik under anti-terror laws. On 14th November, Naik's NGO, the Islamic Research Foundation was declared an 'unlawful association' after credible evidence emerged of the preacher's radical sermons and links to organisations who support Islamic extremism. As well as already being barred from entering the UK and Canada because of hate speech, Naik's organisation is now unable to operate in India for at least five years.

Expression

In an assault on freedom of expression, Indian cinema came under fire from zealous ultra-nationalists who threatened to stall the release of a film with a Pakistani national in a lead role. While the situation was resolved amicably, producers were coerced into financially contributing to the Indian defence fund for soldiers. Many have viewed the incident as emblematic of strained relations between Pakistan and India over the conflict in Kashmir. 

Separately, tensions have continued to grow in Chhatisgarh between locals and security forces. A recent report shed light on false accusations of murder against university professors and activists. Many fear that these spurious accusations are politically motivated and come after the release of a damning report that covered the conditions of communities in Bastar