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Silencing Human Rights body is murder of democracy

Caste based social structure of India, as proposed by the Manu Smriti since medieval times is believed to be the foundation stone and principal organ to induce human rights violations and infringement. In more than 200 years of occupation, the British Empire intensified the caste system in its political, as well as, administrative configuration. They crushed the dissenting voices and there were no scope of justification for the victims. However, even after 73 years of freedom from the Britishers, the discriminatory administrative structure left behind by the Britishers is still prevalent in India, not only in urban societies but more so in rural societies as well, where people are craving for justice of human rights violations. India, which carries the epithet of being the world’s largest democracy lives with a different kind of caste apartheid. The democratically elected rulers exercise their power by using the police force to crush the dissenting voices. Even democratic and peaceful protests are not tolerated; the dissidents are put in jails for long periods without assigning any reason. The latest example is of former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief who was kept in different jails for the last 14 months after the nullification of Article 370 in J&K, was released last week without assigning any fault of hers. The dissenting persons are confined in jails under various contentious acts and many a time the clause of being anti-national is imposed and people languish in jails for a long period without any fault.
If the administration is run undemocratically by using brute force, it is responsibility of the Non- Government Organisations (NGOs) to come forward and protect the victims. Here comes the role of Human Rights Organisations (HROs). In India, there are several such organisations which are active. An international eminent organisation, Amnesty International, which works in many countries across the world, was also active in India till recent, when it was forced to wind up.

Amnesty International has stopped its work in India after it was targeted for some irregularities in receiving funds from abroad without the permission of the government. A First Information Report (FIR) was registered and its offices in Mumbai and Bangalore were raided, and documents are taken into possession.  Amnesty International had applied for permission to seek funds from abroad, but it was not granted permission by the Congress Government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh and the present BJP Government of Narendra Modi did not respond to their application for procuring funds from foreign donors. Amnesty International opened its office first in Bihar. Currently, it was operating from two cosmopolitan cities-Delhi and Bangalore and with its annual budget which is said to be to the tune of over Rs 50 crores.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), following an FIR by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), filed on November 5, 2019, on charges of an alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), had initiated a separate probe last year. The ED has now converted the preliminary inquiry into an ECIR (the equivalent of an FIR) alleging money laundering charges and froze all of AI India’s bank accounts. The ED has invoked the Prevention of Money Laundering Act this time. In a press statement, AI’s India office has said, “On 10 September 2020, Amnesty International India came to know that all its bank accounts were completely frozen by the Enforcement Directorate bringing most of the work of the human rights organization to a grinding halt.”

In July 2019, the ED had served a show-cause notice for alleged contravention of funding to the tune of Rs 51.72 crore. Although the  Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2020 ( FCRA) law, whose provisions were invoked by the CBI in its case, is not listed in the schedule of predicate offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act of 2002 (PMLA), Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code was invoked. And since section 120-B of the IPC is invoked as an alleged offence in the CBI FIR, it enables the ED to initiate a money-laundering investigation.
The moot point is why the crackdown was made on Amnesty international at this juncture, when it was working for the last several years in India and had also researched and prepared reports on various human rights violations cases and issues of curbing dissenting voices by putting the opponents’ in jails.

There is a long history of tracking down the Amnesty International (AI) for its activities exposing human rights violations and infringements. Following an event held in Bangalore on 13 August 2016 on human rights violations; the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad filed a first information report (FIR) against Amnesty India for being anti-national. Amnesty India denied that the organization or its staff had been involved in any anti-national activities.

On 15 November 2019, the Central Bureau of Investigation raided the offices of Amnesty International India in Bangalore and New Delhi during an investigation into an alleged breach of foreign funding laws. In a statement issued by CBI, they said “It was alleged that the provision of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 and the Indian Penal Code were contravened”.

Amnesty International India collaborates with Railway Protection Force, Western Railways in Mumbai to ensure female passengers’ right to safety. It also runs a campaign to reduce the number of under-trials in jails in India. Some of Amnesty India’s campaigns include not just the crackdown in Jammu and Kashmir or the police handling of the February riots in Delhi, Amnesty also raised its voice against abuses by the security forces, the anti-terror and sedition laws often used to suppress dissent, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Sikh massacre of 1984 and, of course, for freedom of speech and also as well as opposing the use of the death penalty in India. The Amnesty also had opposed the executions of Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani convicted in Mumbai Taj Hotel attack, Afzal Guru of Kashmir in parliament attack and Yakub Memon. The organisation in recent years have been working on some crucial projects—business and human rights, individuals at risk, gender-based violence, human rights education, and access to justice in Jammu and Kashmir.

Their most recent contribution was two exhaustive reports on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the riots in North-east Delhi. On August 5, 2020, marking the first anniversary of the dilution of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, the organisation released an update on the situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir. And within days, on August 28, 2020, six-months after the riots in Delhi, AI India released an investigative brief on the complicity of Delhi police in the violence, which claimed the lives of at least 53 people, mostly from the minority Muslim community. The release of the two publications, the organisation says, “Has provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate Amnesty International India through its investigative agencies.”

On August 5, 2020, the Amnesty International recommended to National Human rights commission and National Commission for Women to set up offices in Jammu and Kashmir stating that the people there had no system of redressal of the violation of their rights after the closure of the state commission a year ago. Marking the anniversary of the nullification of Article 370 on 5th August 2019, the Amnesty International also asked the government to release all the political leaders and journalists, and other activists under detention for the last one year. It also asked for the restoration of 4G internet services in the state to provide people freedom of expression.

It blamed ‘reprisal’ from the government for winding up its operations, adding, “This is latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations.” The decision, which will see close to 150 employees lose their jobs came after the recent move by the Enforcement Directorate to freeze the organisation’s bank accounts.

Julie Verhaar, the acting secretary-general of Amnesty International, in a press statement, has said, “This is an egregious and shameful act by the Indian Government, which forces us to cease the crucial human rights work of Amnesty International India for now. However, this does not mark the end of our firm commitment to, and engagement in, the struggle for human rights in India. We will be working resolutely to determine how Amnesty International can continue to play our part within the human rights movement in India for years to come.” Verhaar added, “The Amnesty movement is very proud of the vital work carried out by our outstanding colleagues in India regardless of the risks they faced, including their unequivocal calls for accountability for the actions of the authorities during the Delhi riots and in Jammu and Kashmir and their work on gender-based violence.” Sadly, Verhaar says, this “enormously important work standing up for victims” has been met with the “heavy-handed tactics that Indian civil society has become increasingly familiar with –the art of the government’s drive to silence critical voices and stoke a climate of fear”.

 “Amnesty’s departure would mean a voice that reminds us how frequently we fall short of our values will be silenced. It was often an irritating voice, but always a necessary one”, says Karan Thapar, an eminent Indian journalist.