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
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 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
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.
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