India is home to a thriving democracy and to recent stunning economic growth. Unfortunately, this has not prevented multiple serious human rights abuses from remaining a fact of life in many parts of the country. Political and separatist violence and the government's heavy-handed response have threatened the well-being and human rights of millions. Economic development has often threatened the livelihoods, land, and lives of the poor who are in its way. Hundreds of millions live in severe poverty, and women, religious minorities, dalits, adivasis and LGBT Indians can face harsh discrimination and shocking violence.
In Jammu & Kashmir, some northeastern states, and wide rural swaths of central India infiltrated by Maoists, civilians are caught between armed insurgents and Indian security forces, suffering violence and human rights abuses by both sides. The state government in J&K has consistently held Kashmiris for months and even years without charge and subjected prisoners to torture, disappearance, and death. In Chhattisgarh, the state has threatened and imprisoned human rights defenders on trumped-up charges of sedition and treason, while state-supported militias operate with impunity. Terrorist attacks by Hindu and Muslim extremists are not uncommon in northern and western India. The 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat continues to go unpunished, as do the mass killings of Sikhs in 1984 and the killing of Muslims across India in 1992-1993. In Orissa and other resource-rich parts of the country massive industrial projects, such as mines, dams and economic development zones, force thousands off their land with inadequate compensation. In Bhopal, site of the world's worst industrial disaster over 26 years ago, thousands of survivors and their children suffer debilitating medical problems while those responsible for the leak walk free.
Along with these headline-grabbing issues are other equally grave human rights concerns that threaten Indians' economic, cultural and social rights. Hundreds of millions of Indians live in extreme poverty and these marginalized people suffer most from a poor healthcare system, often non-existent education, economic exploitation, sexual violence, an overwhelmed judicial system, and police brutality and impunity. Extrajudicial killings by the police are common as is torture in police custody. India retains the use of the death penalty.
Women and girls face persistent discrimination and the threat of rape and other acts of violence, particularly in the north, and often at the hands of family members through dowry deaths, honor killings, and female foeticide. Members of lower castes, as well as adivasis (indigenous people), remain the victims of violence and humiliation despite their growing political and economic empowerment. Many Muslims and Christians face routine violence and harassment on account of their faith. Similarly, LGBT Indians find it very difficult to live openly in Indian society despite significant recent legal rulings in their favor.
Finally, a changing climate and a rapidly growing population will mean that soon millions of Indian lives will be threatened by rising oceans, melting glaciers, unpredictable monsoons, devastating droughts, polluted water sources, growing urban slums, and the resulting societal upheaval.
After being jailed for leading a seven-year campaign against the forcible land acquisition for a $12b steel plant, Abhay Sahoo was released on bail in early April. He had been arrested in November 2011 on false charges intended to silence his determined opposition to the forced eviction of thousands of farmers in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. His criticism of forcible evictions to acquire land for the POSCO steel plant had landed him in jail for 10 months in 2008-9 as well. While charges against him have not yet been dropped and Amnesty International continues to monitor his case, his release is a positive step and a reason to celebrate. Many thanks to everyone who acted on his behalf. Be sure to call for the release of Narayan Reddy, another anti-POSCO protest leader who remains in jail on false charges.