Blotted Democracy in India or Just no Democracy at All?

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Recently, the Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Ensaaf, an Indian human rights organization, published a report addressing the impunity given to the Indian government for its human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency from 1984-1995. Tens of thousands of people died and thousands more were the victims of arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances. To hide the evidence of their brutal actions, Indian security forces secretly cremated its victims. In just one district of Punjab, more than 6,000 cremations were uncovered by two human rights activists. The Indian government itself confessed to having illegally cremated more than 2,097 individuals in Amritsar alone. No one has been indicted to date. The HRW points out that the Indian government looks to the Punjab counterinsurgency operations as a model to follow elsewhere in India.

There has been a frightening amount of impunity granted to the state and its security forces: the anti Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in which the state was complicit in the killing of more than 2,000 people; the situation in Kashmir, the site of the largest troop deployment during peacetime in the world, where an estimated 40,000-60,000 have been killed and thousands are missing; and the atrocities in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, including rape, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings which have all been documented.

The irony is that every time a violation like this occurs, it is referred to as a “blot on Indian democracy.” Yet these situations don’t appear to be deviations from an otherwise functioning democracy, but rather, something far more symptomatic of a state which has not only evaded, but disregarded, accountability, justice, and equality for all citizens.

—Neha Inamdar

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