Complaints, non-compliance, pro-govt stance: Inside the rise and ruin of India’s human rights regime

Before coming to power, the BJP had stressed on the importance of independent appointees. But in 2016, NHRC saw its first political appointee.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep& Basant Kumar
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Last week, when the Supreme Court told the National Human Rights Commission that it can’t supersede the state election commission in West Bengal, it wasn’t the first time the NHRC had faced criticism for an ostensible bias.

The commission had decided to deploy observers in West Bengal in anticipation of poll-related violence merely on the basis of media reports. But it’s yet to take a step of similar scale in violence-hit Manipur, where it has sought the government’s response to a clutch of complaints before arriving at any “final decision”.

As per media reports, the NHRC swung into action in Manipur only after a viral video in July showed two Kuki-Zo women being paraded naked by a mob. However, as per a response to an RTI filed by Newslaundry, the NHRC had received 11 complaints by May 9 pertaining to mob violence and arson in Churachandpur, Bishnupur, Imphal, Tengnoupal and Kangpokpi districts.  

It initially sought the Manipur government’s response by June 12, but it took another month to notice flaws in FIRs and compensation. On July 12, it then asked the Biren Singh government to file a detailed report by August 19. 

But as a viral video of a sexual assault in Manipur triggered outrage, the NHRC eventually told the Biren Singh government to expedite the reports on the complaints – seeking a response within two weeks as against the four-week window.

This was in contrast to the events of the past few months. 

Days after the NHRC had received 11 complaints from Manipur, the panel had held its full commission meeting at its Delhi headquarters on May 23, with the Manipur conflict conspicuous by absence. 

What the meeting instead discussed were issues such as “forced” conversions and quota benefits for “illegal immigrants” to a museum of human rights.

Radhakanta Tripathy, who had filed a complaint on Manipur violence as early as on May 8, told Newslaundry that NHRC’s response to the complaints on Manipur was not as per his “expectations”. He also maintained that he had raised the issue in a meeting of the NHRC core group where he participated as special invitee. “I demanded a team should be sent there for investigation.”

A source at NHRC claimed the chairperson, Justice (retired) Arun Mishra, had been regularly sent news clips since the outbreak of violence in the northeastern state. 

Could the NHRC have done more? 

That’s a question which has repeatedly come up over the years – be it in the aftermath of hate crimes, bulldozer “justice” in BJP-governed states, crackdown on human rights defenders, excesses by security forces, and the gradual unravelling of the human rights regime in India. 

Even global rights bodies have taken note. 

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