With the term of the sole member of the Bihar Human Rights Commission (BHRC) having ended this week, the three-member Commission is now without a single member. BHRC has been without a chairman and one of the two members since 2016. But the Nitish Kumar Government did not fill them up.
The previous chairman Bilal Nazki had left to take over as chairman of the J & K Human Rights Commission in December 2016. The term of another member, Neelmani, had come to an end in November and the the term of the remaining member, Justice Mandhata Singh came to an end this week.
President of the Bihar unit of People’s Union for Civil Liberties ( PUCL) Daisy Narayan said that with a solitary member officiating in the Commission for the past two years, it was becoming difficult for the civil society and civil rights bodies to engage with the Government. And now with nobody in the Commission, there is no mechanism any longer for taking up human rights violations by the state.
Pointing out that between eight and nine thousand complaints and grievances submitted on an average every year to the Commission, she exclaims that it remains a mystery why the state government allowed the body to become defunct; and why the Patna High Court did not take any notice of the vacancies that remained unfilled for two years.
“There has been a definite decline in the law and order situation in the state. Violence against women and their sexual abuse and exploitation increased even in care homes run by the state,” she points out.
Stating that women in the state are unsafe, the PUCL president alleged that the state government seemed to be paying only lip service to women and the girl child, by distributing bicycles, by making education for girls free up to post-graduation level and the ‘ Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao’ campaign against child marriage etc. The emphasis clearly has been on publicity and propaganda, she alleged.
The recurrent massacres witnessed some 15-20 years ago in Bihar have ceased. Does that mean that human rights scenario has improved in the state? “Not necessarily,” she says, pointing out that many massacre accused were acquitted by courts in recent years.
Bihar also claims a fall in Naxal activities, with the number of Left-wing extremist (LWE) affected districts having officially gone down to 16 in 2018 from 23 districts in 2017. It also claims minimum LWE violence and civilians’ killings by Maoists in the last 13 years in 2018, as per state police headquarters data. But Narayan is not impressed.
“The poor are recklessly arrested or killed by forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations. The arrested and the killed is touted as success stories. What the forces don’t realise is that they are killing their own people. Many of those arrested or killed are innocent people who have nothing to do with Naxals or violence.”
She finds it regrettable that the human rights movement is considered anti-government. “Since human rights violations are done mostly by the State, a healthy dialogue between the rights defenders and the government becomes almost impossible.”
PUCL in Bihar had prepared a report on the extensive devastation in the unprecedented Kosi river flood of 2008. “The state legislature debated the report, but the ruling party was so annoyed that it called PUCL a pocket organisation,” she recalls.
“In recent years, the right to life, right to security, right to development and the right to speak out have come to the fore. Right to education, right to health, right to livelihood, right to live safely etc. are now focus areas. Malnutrition and health issues are major ones now,” she said.
In recent years slums and hutments are uprooted, even in winter, without giving the poor and weaker sections an alternative. Sometimes, eviction – in some cases allowed by courts – may be OK, but the government is not very serious in terms of giving alternative amenities to them for survival. Immense suffering of the poor is very disturbing.
‘The question is do they have a right to live in the heart of cities or not,’ she wonders aloud.