India, the world’s most populous democracy, still faces significant human rights challenges despite pledging to address some of the most prevalent abuses. Although the country boasts a vibrant civil society, free press, and independent judiciary, ongoing abusive practices, corruption, and a lack of accountability for perpetrators foster human rights violations.
Government initiatives, such as police reform and improved access to healthcare and education, have stalled due to inadequate implementation. Many marginalized groups, including women, children, Dalits (formerly known as untouchables), tribal communities, religious minorities, people with disabilities, and sexual and gender minorities, continue to experience discrimination due to the government’s failure to train public officials to address discriminatory behavior.
Impunity remains a significant issue, especially for human rights violations committed by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, and central and eastern India facing a Maoist insurgency. Resource extraction and infrastructure projects often have detrimental environmental and economic effects, and may violate the rights of affected communities.
The central government has tightened restrictions on internet content, citing public order threats. In 2012, it used a colonial-era sedition law to suppress peaceful dissent on issues ranging from the government’s handling of the Maoist insurgency and corruption to protests against a nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. Religious minorities’ protection received a boost from the convictions of several suspects involved in the 2002 Gujarat riots, leading to over 75 convictions in 2012, including Maya Kodnani, a former minister and leader of Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu organization.
Impunity for security force members implicated in serious human rights violations continues to exist, primarily due to India’s laws and policies. The Indian defense establishment opposed attempts to revoke or amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in 2012, which grants soldiers effective immunity to commit serious human rights abuses.
The Maoist insurgency extends to nine states in central and eastern India, finding support in regions with weak governance, infrastructure, and essential public services like healthcare and education. Maoist insurgents known as Naxalites continue to target government schools and hospitals, while paramilitary forces still occupy and use schools as bases despite a Supreme Court order to vacate all schools by May 2011. In September, government officials in Chhattisgarh announced that they would withdraw forces from 36 schools and hostels due to their impact on children’s education.
As of this writing, Maoist-related violence in 2012 led to 257 deaths, including 98 civilians. In June, security forces killed 19 villagers in Chhattisgarh state in a night operation, prompting widespread condemnation. Civil society activists in Maoist areas remain increasingly vulnerable to attacks from both Maoists and state security forces, with many activists arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and charged with politically motivated offenses, including murder, conspiracy, and sedition. The Maoists have threatened or attacked activists they believe are linked to the government.