What National Human Rights Commission can see, what it can't

Social media was filled with anti-minority hate speeches given by Karni Sena Chief Surajpal Ammu where he said, “Cannot we even murder them (Muslims)?” but they seem to have not reached the NHRC

Surajpal Ammu
Surajpal Ammu
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Sanjukta Basu

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has submitted its report on Bengal poll violence in a remarkably short span of less than a month’s time. On June 19, 2021 the Calcutta high court directed NHRC to constitute a committee to examine all cases of alleged human rights violations during post-poll violence in West Bengal. The Committee submitted the report on July 13, 2021.

Taking a scathing view of the Trinamool Congress government’s ways of handling the violence the report said, “The situation in the state is a manifestation of 'Law of Ruler', instead of Rule of Law.” The report recommended that the investigation in the alleged human rights violations should be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and that the trial should take place outside the State of West Bengal.

The report also pointed out that the number of arrests made in connection to the large scale violence are very few. Cases have not been investigated on priority and, in many cases, sections invoked are not commensurate to the gravity of offences that occurred, the report observed.

Questions however have been raised on NHRC’s credibility on the issue considering that two of the seven members of the committee have a background in the BJP. Atif Rasheed had been associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). The other member is Rajulben Desai who had been associated with Gujarat BJP’s Mahila Morcha.

This, in addition to the fact that retired Supreme Court Judge Arun Mishra, who had raised eyebrows for singing praises for the Prime Minister thus making him appear as a partisan person, was appointed as the NHRC Chief barely weeks before the Committee was constituted, as if on cue for an opportune moment. Not to forget that the NHRC Chief post was vacant since December 2020.

NHRC’s conspicuous silence on several other grave issues also poses questions on its credibility. The state of Uttar Pradesh saw rampant panchayat poll related violence in at least 17 districts, including in Lucknow, Kanpur, Etawah and Unnao in the second week of July. Social media was flooded with purported videos of party workers clashing with each other. A women candidate of Samajawadi Party was seen thrashed and molested with her saree being pulled during the filing of nominations for the block pramukh polls in Lakhimpur Kheri.

However, NHRC did not even issue a statement over the UP violence.

NHRC’s silence over the blatant abuse of power and “Law or the Ruler” brought to light by no other than Delhi High Court during the hearings related to the February 2020 Delhi riots cases.

The Madras High Court recently pulled up NHRC for closing its probe into the 2018 police firing on anti-Sterlite protesters in which 13 civilians were killed without holding anyone responsible. The High Court has issued notice to NHRC asking them to submit the “undisclosed” report to the Court.

A woman candidate being assaulted in UP's Lakhimpur Kheri during Zila Panchayat polls
A woman candidate being assaulted in UP's Lakhimpur Kheri during Zila Panchayat polls

In one case NHRC closes a report without holding anybody responsible even after three years and does not even disclose it and in another (that of West Bengal) they submit report within a month making sweeping damning statements against the West Bengal government without giving them an opportunity to be heard. Why this selective enthusiasm, is a question NHRC must answer.

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NHRC’s own data available on the website shows that West Bengal is not even amongst the top areas of concerns so far as human rights violations are concerned. Out of the total number of cases registered during 2020 comprising all states and union territories 38 percent of the cases were from Uttar Pradesh alone, 10 percent were from Tamil Nadu, 7.8% from Delhi, 4.3% from Odisha, 5% from Bihar and 34% from rest of the country.

According to the web dashboard From April 2020 to June 2021 a total of 95,519 cases of human rights violations were registered, 100,472 cases were disposed, 13,358 cases are under process, monetary relief awarded in 472 cases, and Suo moto cognizance were taken in 44 cases.

Details of these cases are not available on the website except three suo motu cases, one each related to West Bengal violence, oxygen related death in UP and ONGC accident on the sea.

Almost all of the 20-25 press statement issued by NHRC since the time Justice Arun Mishra assumed office were related to West Bengal poll violence, except one each case of police torture of an elderly man, and Assam attacks against doctor.

Police beating up Jamia students, Dec 2019
Police beating up Jamia students, Dec 2019

From January to June 2021, NHRC had taken various actions on a range of issues such as custodial death, rapes and police torture, migrant workers, domestic workers, elderly citizens, Indian seafarers stranded in Chinese waters, manual scavengers, children, orphans, bonded labourers and so on.

But the Commission has been silent on violence which shook the public conscience in recent time such as nationwide Oxygen crisis, floating dead bodies in the river Ganga, and anti-Muslim violence and hate speeches including a dozen cases of mob lynching.

Even though the nation was shocked to see a Mahapanchayat held in Haryana by right wing forces, attended by over 50,000 people amidst COVID restrictions and section 144, with the sole purpose of supporting the accused in the case of mob lynching of a Muslim youth, Asif, NHRC did not take cognizance of the issue.

Social media was filled with anti-minority hate speeches given by Karni Sena Chief Surajpal Ammu where he said, “Cannot we even murder them (Muslims)?” but they seem to have not reached the NHRC.

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