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EDITORIAL: In his introductory remarks to his organisation’s World Report 2022, Executive Direct of the US-based Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, asserts that autocracy seems ascendant and democracy on the decline, but that pro-democracy forces are challenging this tendency. Substantiating that view, the report names 12 countries, including Bangladesh, on its list of autocracies. If the criterion used for the purposes is not just the form of government but practices and trends then India should belong to the same category since political systems in both countries are modelled along the Westminster democracy. Considering what the report has to say on the human rights situation in India, it deserved to be placed among worst offenders.

As noted by the rights watchdog. Indian authorities intensified their crackdown on critics of the government, including journalists and activists, while attacks against religious minorities were carried out with impunity under the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. In the first nine months of 2021, allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings persisted with the National Human Rights Commission registering as many as 143 deaths in police custody and 104 alleged extrajudicial killings. Meanwhile, the government adopted laws and policies that discriminated against religious minorities, especially Muslims. This coupled with vilification of Muslims by some BJP leaders and police failure to act against the party supporters who commit mob violence, emboldened Hindu nationalist groups to attack Muslims and government critics with impunity. In fact, the government has dropped even a pretence of being tolerant of criticism as demonstrated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he publically described people participating in various peaceful protests as “parasites”. As regards the situation in the illegally Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir, HRW said after the death of Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the authorities “once again, imposed restrictions on [people’s] movement and near-total communication blackout”. The report also mentions that in July four UN human rights experts had raised concerns about “the repressive measures and broader pattern of systematic infringements of fundamental rights used against the local population, as well as of intimidations, searches and confiscations committed by the national security agents”. The picture that emerges from these details surely is not what the ‘world’s largest democracy’ should look like but that of an intolerant Hindutva autocracy determined to destroy the country’s secular identity and cultural pluralism.

There is much in the report for Pakistan to be concerned about. Many heads would nod at its finding that the government intensified its efforts to control the media and curtail dissent. It goes on to add that the authorities harassed, and at times detained, journalists and other members of civil society for criticising government officials and policies. This should give Prime Minister Imran Khan a pause for thought who, while speaking not long ago at the launch of Digital Media Development Programme, had claimed that “there has never been a government in Pakistan’s history [like his] that left the media completely unrestrained”.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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