This Report covers the period January-December 1997 

   Thousands of political prisoners, including prisoners of  conscience, were arbitrarily detained. Torture and ill-treatment  were endemic, leading to at least 300 deaths in custody. Prison  conditions amounting to ill-treatment were common.  “Disappearances” continued. Hundreds of extrajudicial  executions were reported. At least 40 people were sentenced  to death and five executions were carried out. Armed political  groups committed grave human rights abuses, including  torture, hostage-taking and killings of civilians.  

The year ended with a caretaker government headed by Inder  Kumar Gujral, who had been appointed Prime Minister in April after  the near collapse of the ruling coalition government. Public  controversy about corruption continued, and former Prime Minister  Narasimha Rao faced trial on several related charges.  

In October the government signed the UN Convention against  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or  Punishment. 

In July the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that India  remove restrictions on the National Human Rights Commission  (NHRC) which prevent it from investigating complaints of human  rights violations by the armed forces, and abolish the requirement  that central government approve prosecutions of members of the security forces. The Committee also expressed concern at the  widespread use of preventive detention, notably under the provisions  of the National Security Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Public  Safety Act. The Committee recommended “the early enactment of  legislation for mandatory judicial inquiries into cases of disappearance and death, ill-treatment or rape in police custody”. It  also highlighted discrimination faced by women and vulnerable  groups such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward  classes and ethnic and national minorities.

At the end of 1996, the Supreme Court issued a landmark judgment  establishing requirements to be followed during arrest and detention  to prevent abuse. During 1997, several state governments announced  that they were in the process of implementing these measures.  

In November the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the  Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act _ which gives the security forces  powers to shoot to kill with virtual impunity _ after hearing petitions  filed in 1980 and 1982. 

The NHRC continued to monitor human rights abuses and raise  concerns on a broad range of human rights issues. By the end of the  year human rights commissions had been set up in three more  states _ Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. However, the  state commissions were prevented by their mandates from  investigating violations by the armed forces. In Tamil Nadu, the  designation of sessions courts as special human rights courts under  the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, came under scrutiny in  the High Court, which set parameters for human rights cases to be tried in such courts and ordered that they be given powers to award  compensation.  

Armed conflict between government forces and armed political groups  continued in various parts of the country, including Jammu and  Kashmir, the northeastern states and Andhra Pradesh. Allegations  that so-called “renegades” (armed groups cooperating with security  forces) were responsible for abuses in Jammu and Kashmir  continued. In Bihar, armed groups with links to state officials and  political parties were involved in several violent attacks on rival  political groups and their alleged supporters. Children and women  were among those killed. 

Thousands of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience,  were arbitrarily detained. Among them were human rights defenders.  Hundreds of peaceful protesters, many of them women, were  detained, harassed and ill-treated in the Ratnagiri district of  Maharashtra for protesting against the construction of a power plant  by the Dabhol Power Company _ a joint venture between three US  multinational companies. 

Preventive detention provisions in state and central legislation  continued to be used widely. For example, in Tamil Nadu alone,  around 2,000 habeas corpus petitions were reportedly filed each year  for the release of men and women detained under state legislation  allowing detention without trial for 12 months. 

In August, four human rights defenders and journalists were arrested  in Assam, after speaking out against the granting of increased  powers to the armed forces in Assam and against government  corruption. They were repeatedly charged with having links with an  armed opposition group and publishing statements issued by such groups. Three of them _ Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, Lachit Bordoloi and  Prakash Mahanta, all members of the human rights organization  Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS) _ were subsequently  charged under the National Security Act, which allows for preventive  detention without trial on loosely defined grounds of national security.

In Jammu and Kashmir, leaders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference  (APHC) _ which comprises some 30 groups opposed to the  accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India _ were increasingly  subjected to arbitrary detention and harassment. In November scores  of activists were arrested and detained under preventive detention  provisions of the ordinary criminal law while peacefully protesting  against human rights violations. Some were still in detention at the  end of the year.  

Torture, including rape, and ill-treatment were endemic throughout  the country. Victims included suspected political activists, criminal  suspects, members of vulnerable groups, and those defending  economic and social rights. In February, seven men who had been  detained by police for several days were admitted to a hospital in  Rajkot, Gujurat state, with serious eye injuries. Police officials had apparently rubbed a medicinal balm and chilli powder into their eyes.  

According to reports, the detainees had been ordered to strip and  slap one another before being thrashed with belts. Investigations into  the incident were continuing at the end of the year. 

There were increasing reports of rape by members of the armed  forces. In September, an 18-year-old girl was allegedly raped by  soldiers during a search operation in her village in Assam. Doctors  confirmed that she had been raped. No action was known to have  been taken against the alleged perpetrators. Rape by the police  continued. In October Jasbir Kaur was reportedly raped in her  husband's presence by four police officers in a police station in  Hoshiarpur, Punjab. In September a court in Tamil Nadu convicted  six police officers of raping a woman, Padmini, in June 1992. She  had been raped in front of her husband, who later died after torture  (see Amnesty International Report 1993). 

At least 300 people were reported to have died in custody; at least  94 of them in police custody in Jammu and Kashmir between  January and March. In August, 14-year-old Ramesh and his  12-year-old brother were taken to the police station in Chennai, Tamil  Nadu, on suspicion of stealing a bicycle. When their father pleaded with police to release them, he and his sons were severely beaten.  Ramesh's younger brother was subsequently released but Ramesh's  body, with his head severed, was found later on a nearby railway  track. An investigation was continuing into the incident. 

Many prisoners and detainees continued to be held in conditions  amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Severe  overcrowding, lack of medical facilities, poor sanitation and  ill-treatment by prison staff were reported. However, NHRC recommendations calling for reform of prison legislation were not  implemented (see Amnesty International Report 1997).  “Disappearances” continued to be reported and the fate of hundreds  of people who “disappeared” in previous years remained unknown. In  September the Supreme Court ordered compensation for the mothers  of two young men who “disappeared” along with one other in Manipur  17 years earlier. Thokchom Lokendra Singh, Kangujam Loken Singh  and Kangujam Iboyaima Singh were arrested by army personnel in September 1980. Their fate remained unknown and no action was  taken to bring those responsible for their “disappearance” to justice.  

The Jammu and Kashmir Home Minister told the state assembly in  April that since 1990, 454 people had “disappeared” in the state. Hilal  Ahmed Khan, a student detained without charge in Jammu and  Kashmir by security forces in August, was handed over to police who  released him. Security forces immediately rearrested him and took  him to Bagat Kanipora camp, but later denied holding him. His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.  

In April an investigation ordered by the Jammu and Kashmir High  Court into the abduction and killing of Jalil Andrabi, a lawyer and  human rights activist (see Amnesty International Report 1997),  identified a major in the Territorial Army as responsible. By the end of  the year police had failed to arrest him.  

Investigations continued into the alleged extrajudicial execution of  hundreds of young men who “disappeared” in police custody in  Punjab between 1980 and 1994, and the illegal cremation of their  bodies. The Supreme Court directed the NHRC to examine “related  issues”, including compensation for the victims' families. However, at  the end of the year, the NHRC's role was challenged in the Supreme  Court by the central government, thereby delaying progress in  investigations. The fate of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a human rights  activist who “disappeared” in 1995 after filing a petition in the  Supreme Court about the cremations, remained unknown (see  Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997). 

Extrajudicial executions continued to be reported from Jammu and  Kashmir, states of the northeast, Andhra Pradesh and other parts of  the country. At least 159 people suspected of being armed political  activists were reportedly killed in Andhra Pradesh during the year,  and at least 70 people were killed in so-called “encounter” killings between the Bombay police and armed criminal suspects between  January and October. 

In March the NHRC requested all state governments to ensure that  all deaths as a result of “encounters” with police be investigated by  an independent agency. The request resulted from NHRC  investigations in 1995 into a few of the hundreds of alleged  extrajudicial executions by police in Andhra Pradesh in recent years. 

Chandrashekhar, a student activist, and Shyamnarain Yadav, a  political activist, were shot dead in March while addressing a meeting  in Siwan, Bihar. Reports indicated that the killers were linked to the  victims' political rivals and to government officials. An investigation  into the killings by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was continuing at the end of the year. 

In April the singer and poet Gaddar, who had been active in protests  against police killings of suspected naxalites (members of an armed  left-wing group), was shot and seriously wounded outside his house.  The police denied any involvement in the shooting. However, human  rights activists alleged that an organization called the “Green Tigers”,  which claimed responsibility for the attack on Gaddar and subsequent attacks on members of the Andhra Pradesh Civil  Liberties Committee (APCLC), was used as a cover by Andhra  Pradesh police for illegal activities. In July, 10 members of a dalit  community (disadvantaged group determined by caste hierarchies)  were killed and 14 injured when the police in Mumbai opened fire on a  
 protest against the desecration of  thestatueofadalitleader.Ajudicialinquiry was continuing by the end of  the year. 

At least 40 people were sentenced to death and five executions were  carried out. Two dalit men sentenced to death in 1995 in Andhra  Pradesh continued to await a decision on mercy petitions presented  to the President in September 1996. 

Armed political groups committed grave human rights abuses,  including torture, hostage-taking and killings of civilians. In July  Sanjay Ghosh, a social and environmental activist, was seized by the  United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) on the island of Majuli in  central Assam, accused of being an agent of the intelligence
services. His fate and whereabouts were unknown at the end of the  year. 
Amnesty International published a number of reports, including:  India: Jammu and Kashmir _ remembering Jalil Andrabi, in March;  India: Official sanction for killings in Manipur, in April; India: The  “Enron project” in Maharashtra _ protests suppressed in the name of  development, in July; and India: Appeal to armed opposition groups
 in Jammu and Kashmir to abide by humanitarian law, in August. 
In July Amnesty International submitted a detailed analysis of the  implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political  Rights in India to the UN Human Rights Committee. 

In May, August and September Amnesty International delegates  visited India and met government officials and representatives of the  NHRC. At the time of the annual meetings of the World Bank and  International Monetary Fund in Hong Kong in September, Amnesty  International highlighted cases from India which demonstrated the  use of repressive measures to facilitate projects funded by  international financial institutions.



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