India experienced several backslides on human rights in 2015, according to an annual report released by human rights group Amnesty International.

“The government intensified restrictions on civil society organisations, even as attacks on freedom of expression grew, and impunity for abuses by soldiers, police and businesses were ignored by both state and central governments,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

Censorship and attacks on freedom of expression by Hindutva groups grew, according to the report. It specifically referred to the trend that emerged later in the year of artists, writers and scientists returning national honours to protest against what they called a climate growing intolerance. The specific triggers were the murder of a Muslim man in the Uttar Pradesh town of Dadri for storing and eating beef, as well as the murder of Kannada writer MM Kalburgi allegedly by right-wing activists.

The report also expressed concern about increasing attacks on women. It noted that the LGBT community continues to face discrimination in India.

Rights record

On child rights, the report took a dim view of amendments in December to juvenile justice laws, which allowed children aged 16 to 18 to be treated as adults in cases of serious crimes. Amnesty International said this move was in violation of India’s international legal obligations.

"The criminal justice system remained flawed, violating fair trial rights and failing to ensure justice for abuses," the report said.

The report also said that human rights defenders, journalists and protesters continued to face arbitrary arrests and detentions, identifying this as part of a global trend. It said that as of January, around 3,200 people in India were being held under administrative detention on executive orders without any charge or trial.

However, the report also acknowledged a silver lining to the overall picture. “What is heartening is that there has been an opposition to the erosion of rights,” said Patel. He cited the outrage that followed incidents of religious intolerance and public protests against reforms to land acquisition laws. “These offer hope that 2016 can be a better year for human rights in India.”

It also cited the Supreme Court’s decision in March to strike down the Information Technology Act, which had been used for politically motivated arrests and harassment of ordinary citizens posting critical comments online, as a crucial victory for freedom of expression in India.

Misguided reactions

From the global perspective, Amnesty International’s report, based on investigation of human rights in 160 countries, sought to highlight the worsening refugee crisis in Europe as the civil war in Syria rages on. “The past year severely tested the international system’s capacity to respond to crises and mass forced displacements of people, and found it woefully inadequate” the report said.

Amnesty International said the global assault on freedoms worldwide has partly been down to the reaction of many governments to evolving security threats.

“The misguided reaction of many governments to national security threats has been the crushing of civil society, the right to privacy and the right to free speech; and outright attempts to make human rights dirty words, packaging them in opposition to national security, law and order and ‘national values’,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.