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Human Rights in India
Flag of India India
Population: 1,065,070,607 (July 2004 est.)
Capital: New Delhi
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India Human Rights Report
» intro | 1a | 1b | 1c | 1d | 1e | 1f | 1g | 2a | 2b | 2c | 2d | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b | 6c | 6d | 6e | 6f

Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person's race, sex, religion, place of birth, or social status and government authorities worked to enforce these provisions with varying degrees of success. Despite laws designed to prevent discrimination, social and cultural practices as well as other legislation had a profound discriminatory impact, and discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, and national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. The traditional caste system, as well as differences of ethnicity, religion, and language, deeply divide society. According to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, caste clashes were frequent in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu.

The spread of HIV/AIDS was estimated to have infected approximately 4.58 million persons and there was significant societal discrimination against persons, with HIV/AIDS. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 70 percent of persons suffering from HIV/AIDS faced discrimination from society. For example, according to newspaper reports, in July, Munnuswamy Pavanamma, a widow whose husband had died of AIDS, was stoned to death by her neighbors in Andhra Pradesh. At year's end, police had made no arrests in connection with this incident.


Domestic violence was common and a serious problem. In a survey by the National Family Health Survey released in 2002, 56 percent of the women said that domestic violence was justified. These sentiments led to underreporting and, combined with ineffective prosecution, made progress against domestic violence difficult. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were 49,170 cases of domestic violence reported in the country from 1998-2001.

The issue of rape received increased political and social attention during the year. The majority of rapes are never reported to the authorities. The NCRB reported that there were only 16,075 cases of rape from 1998-2001. However, the Home Ministry reported in February that, in 2001, there was a 16.5 percent increase in reported rape cases as compared to 2000.

The press consistently reported that violence against women was increasing, although local women's organizations claimed that there simply had been increased reporting. Only 10 percent of rape cases were adjudicated fully by the courts, and police typically failed to arrest rapists, thus fostering a climate of impunity. Mass rapes often formed part of the tactics of intimidation used by upper caste gangs against lower castes, and gang rapes often were committed as a punishment for alleged adultery or as a means of coercion or revenge in rural property disputes. The number of reported rape cases and the extent of prosecution varied from state to state. In Assam, 30 percent of rape cases involved girls below 18 years of age. Most of the victims were maidservants, some as young as 6 years old. For example, in October, a 17-year-old girl allegedly was gang-raped by Presidential Body Guards in New Delhi. There was no action taken by the authorities in this case at year's end.

Dowry disputes also were a serious problem. Although providing or taking dowry is illegal under the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry was practiced widely. In the typical dowry dispute, a groom's family members harassed a new wife whom they believed had not provided a sufficient dowry. This harassment sometimes ended in the woman's death, which family members often tried to portray as a suicide or accident. According to NGOs, approximately 7,000 deaths each year in the country are from dowry-related burnings. Although most dowry deaths involved lower and middle-class families, the phenomenon crossed both caste and religious lines. According to the NCRB, between 1998-2001, there were 6,851 reported dowry-related deaths in the country. In August, the Government announced that defendants under the Anti-Dowry Act would be able to be released on bail.

Women usually at a disadvantage in dowry disputes, began to speak out against dowry demands. For example, in August, Nisha Sharma filed a complaint with the police when her father was asked for more dowry minutes before she was to be married. The potential groom was detained for 14 days while formal charges were filed for violating the country's laws against dowries.

Under the Penal Code, courts must presume that the husband or the wife's in-laws were responsible for every unnatural death of a woman in the first 7 years of marriage--provided that harassment was proven. In such cases, police procedures required that an officer of deputy superintendent rank or above conduct the investigation and that a team of two or more doctors perform the postmortem procedures. According to human rights monitors, in practice police did not follow these procedures consistently.

Sati, the practice of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands, was banned, but continued to be practiced in some areas. There were no developments in the arrest of 15 persons in connection with the 2002 sati incident in Madhya Pradesh.

"Honor killings" were also a problem. Human Rights organizations estimated that up to 10 percent of all killings in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana were so-called honor killings; however, many more women are believed to be affected by this crime. In Muzaffarnagar, 13 cases of honor killings were report during the first 9 months of the year, up from 10 in 2002.

Several traditional practices that were harmful to women continued during the year. In March, 100 women in Tamil Nadu were walked on by a Hindu priest with nails in his shoes in a ritual intended to cure them of physical and mental illnesses; the state's human rights commission issued a request to investigate the incident. There were no developments in the 2002 cases of a tribal woman in Madhya Pradesh forced to bathe in urine and the woman in Indore forced to engage in the practice of "agnipariksha."

In remote villages, witchcraft accusations and punishments still occurred.

Societal violence against women was a serious problem. In January, the National Commission for Women reported that it was dissatisfied with the Gujarat government's handling of rape cases stemming from the 2002 riots, noting that there were no convictions during the year.

Dalit ("untouchable") women have been stripped naked by mobs and paraded around in public to humiliate Dalits who offended other castes. For example, in June, a Dalit girl allegedly was abducted and gang-raped by three youths in Noida. No further information was available at year's end. In 2002, a Dalit woman allegedly was paraded naked in Chhattisgarh. Police arrested two men in connection with the 2002 abduction and gang rape of a Dalit women in Haryana state.

Numerous laws exist to protect women's rights, including the Equal Remuneration Act, the Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act, the Sati (Widow Burning) Prevention Act, and the Dowry Prohibition Act. However, the Government often was unable to enforce these laws, especially in rural areas in which traditions were deeply rooted. According to press reports, the rate of acquittal in dowry death cases was high, and due to court backlogs, it took an average of six to seven years to conclude such cases.

Prostitution was common. According to UNICEF, the country contained half of the one million children worldwide who enter the sex trade each year. Many indigenous tribal women were forced into sexual exploitation (see Section 6.c.). In recent years, prostitutes began to demand legal rights, licenses, and reemployment training, especially in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Calcutta. In 2002, the Government signed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Prevention and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution. The country is a significant source, transit point, and destination for many thousands of trafficked women (see Section 6.f.).

Sexual harassment was common, with a vast majority of cases unreported to authorities. Sexual harassment of women in the workplace became a subject of NHRC consideration during the year. The NHRC instituted a committee to investigate harassment of women in the legal profession and asked universities to establish complaint committees immediately. The commission suggested the creation of a telephone hot line for complaints, initially starting in New Delhi, and gave advice to the media on reporting incidents of harassment against women.

During the year, women joined the National Security Guard for the first time as a result of an internal change in policy which had previously prohibited women from this organization.

The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace, but enforcement was inadequate. In both rural and urban areas, women were paid less than men for the same job. Women experienced economic discrimination in access to employment and credit, which acted as an impediment to women owning a business. The promotion of women to managerial positions within businesses often was slower than that of males. State governments supported micro credit programs for women that began to have an impact in many rural districts.

The Government continued to review legislation on marriage; it passed the Indian Divorce (Amendment) Act during 2001; the act widely had been criticized as biased against women. The Act placed limitations on interfaith marriages and specified penalties, such as 10 years' imprisonment, for clergymen who contravened its provisions.

In Kashmir, the Lashkar-e-Jabbar militant group required all Muslim women to wear a burqa (a garment that totally covered the face and body) when in public or risk retribution. A significant number of women in the Kashmir Valley appeared to be complying with the order, frightened by the threat of being attacked with acid, beheaded, or killed. Lashkar-e-Jabbar also further ordered Hindus and Sikhs in the valley to wear identifying marks and told transport companies to reserve 50 percent of their seats for women in an effort to separate men and women in public spaces. At year's end, the Home Ministry reported that no women police officers had to quit their jobs as a result of the 2002 militant threat that ordered all women police officers in Rajouri District of Jammu and Kashmir to quit their jobs by January 2003.

Under many tribal land systems, notably in Bihar, tribal women do not have the right to own land. Other laws relating to the ownership of assets and land accorded women little control over land use, retention, or sale. However, several exceptions existed, such as in Ladakh and Meghalaya, where women could have several husbands and control the family inheritance.

In December, the Jammu and Kashmir State Legislative Assembly passed legislation that reserved 33 percent of its seats for women.

The Government addressed women's concerns primarily through the National Commission for Women, but NGOs were also influential.


The Government has not demonstrated a commitment to children's rights and welfare. The Government does not provide compulsory, free, and universal primary education, and only approximately 59 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 attend school. However, in 2002, the lower house of Parliament passed a constitutional amendment giving all children ages 6 to 14 the right to free and compulsory education provided by the State. The amended law also placed an obligation on parents and guardians to provide educational opportunities to these children. Of a primary school-age population of approximately 203 million, approximately 120 million children attended school. However, according to UNICEF, 76.2 percent of all children aged 11 to 13 years were attending school. No significant sectors or groups actively were excluded from education, but children of wealthier families were more likely to attend school. A significant gender gap existed in school attendance, particularly at the secondary level.

Child welfare organizations estimated that there were 500,000 street children nationwide living in abject poverty. A coalition of approximately 50 NGOs conducted a detailed survey in the Calcutta municipal area and identified 145,000 children who were not attending school, although not all of them were street children.

Medical care is free to all citizens; however, availability and quality were problems, particularly in rural areas.

Child abuse is prohibited specifically by law. There were societal patterns of abuse of children; however, the Government has not released comprehensive statistics regarding child abuse.

Abuse of children in both public and private educational institutions was a problem. Schoolteachers often beat children. In June, police arrested the mathematics teacher who allegedly beat a student in Velammal Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Kannappan. In December, a student in Madhyra Pradesh was allegedly blinded by a teacher for not doing his homework. There were no developments in the investigation of the August 2001 death of three children after the Assam government asked them to participate in a march.

The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act prohibits child marriage, a traditional practice in the northern part of the country. The Act raised the age requirement for marriage for girls to 18 from 15 years, but the Government did not enforce the Act. According to one report, 50 percent of girls in Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh were married by age 16. However, the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) statistics showed a slight decrease in the number of child marriages during 2001. Each year in April, during the Hindu festival of Askhay Tritiya, thousands of child marriages were performed in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Although state governments conducted awareness campaigns during the year, enforcement was weak, and the practice was accepted in certain communities.

Runaway children, especially in larger cities, were at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. They often worked 18-to 20-hour days, frequently in hazardous conditions (see Section 6.c.), and suffered sexual and mental abuse. Discrimination against children with HIV/AIDS was a problem. For example, in March, two children with HIV/AIDS were refused entry into a state school in Kerala. The children eventually were allowed to enter another state-run school in Kollam.

Trafficking in children for the purpose of forced prostitution was a problem (see Sections 6.c. and 6.f.).

The buying and selling of children for adoption occurred. For example, in February, the Salem district collector ordered an inquiry into the reported sale of baby girls in Kolathur. At year’s end, police had made no arrests in connection with this incident.

The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment set up a 24-hour "child help line" phone-in service for children in distress in 14 cities. Run by NGOs with government funding, the child help line assisted street children, orphans, destitute children, runaway children, and children suffering abuse and exploitation.

The traditional preference for male children continued. The law prohibits the use of amniocentesis and sonogram tests for sex determination; however, despite an order from the Supreme Court during the year, the Government did not effectively enforce the law. The tests were misused widely for sex determination, and termination of a disproportionate number of pregnancies with female fetuses occurred. During the year, the Government passed a bill in Parliament which fined any persons $1,000 (50,000 Rs) if they perform a sex selection procedure. In the 12 years since the State of Maharashtra passed a law banning the use of such tests for sex determination, the state government filed charges against only one doctor, who was acquitted. Human rights groups estimated that at least 10,000 cases of female infanticide occurred yearly. Parts of Tamil Nadu still had high rates of female infanticide. In addition, parents often gave priority in health care and nutrition to male infants. Women's rights groups pointed out that the burden of providing girls with an adequate dowry was one factor that made daughters less desirable.

In Tamil Nadu, three persons were sentenced to life imprisonment for killing a newborn girl. Tamil Nadu implemented a "cradle scheme" in 1992 in which persons could leave unwanted infants outside the Social Welfare Department.

Persons with Disabilities

Although the Persons with Disabilities Act provides equal rights to all persons with disabilities, advocacy organizations admitted that its practical effects so far have been minimal in part due to a clause that makes the implementation of programs dependent on the "economic capacity" of the Government.

According to NGOs, there were more than 60 million persons with disabilities in the country. According to Javed Abidi of the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), the census taken during 2001 failed to include categories of disability, thus making an accurate estimate of the needs of persons with disabilities impossible. Neither law nor regulations required accessibility for persons with disabilities. With the adoption of the Persons with Disability Act, a nascent disabled rights movement slowly was raising public awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities. Government buildings, educational establishments, and public spaces in New Delhi have almost no provisions for wheelchair access.

The Disabled Division of the Ministry of Welfare had a budget of more than $46.3 million (2.13 billion Rs) for the 2003-2004 fiscal year for a number of organizations and committees at the national, regional, and local levels. The Ministry delivered rehabilitation services to the rural population through 16 district centers. A national rehabilitation plan committed the Government to put a rehabilitation center in each of more than 400 districts, but services still were concentrated in urban areas. Moreover, the impact of government programs was limited. Significant funding was provided to a few government organizations such as the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India, the National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation, and the Rehabilitation Council of India.

In June, the National Center for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People launched an exclusive news service on disability in the country.

The Persons with Disability Act established a Disabilities Commissioner who over saw implementation of the Act and its provisions protecting persons with disabilities.

According to the Persons with Disability Act, 3 percent of positions in government offices and state-owned enterprises must be reserved for persons with visual, hearing, or orthopedic disabilities; however, government survey's indicated that employment for persons with disabilities exceeded 3 percent of positions in the public sector.

The Government provided special railway fares, education allowances, scholarships, customs exemptions, budgetary funds from the Ministry of Rural Development, and rehabilitation training to assist the disabled; however, implementation of these entitlements was not comprehensive. Parents of children with developmental disabilities lobbied the government for a special security fund; however, no action was taken on this request at year's end.

Mental health care was a problem. Hospitals were overcrowded and served primarily as a "dumping ground" for the mentally handicapped. Patients generally were ill-fed, denied adequate medical attention, and kept in poorly ventilated halls with poor sanitary conditions. In July, the NHRC announced that insufficient attention was paid to issues of the mentally handicapped and called for better enforcement of the nations laws. At year's end, no action was taken in the 2001 NHRC recommendation to remove all persons with metal illness from jails.

Indigenous People

The Innerline Regulations enacted by the British in 1873 still provide the basis for safeguarding tribal rights in most of the northeastern border states. These regulations prohibit any person, including citizens from other states, from going beyond an inner boundary without a valid permit. No rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products may be removed from the protected areas without prior authorization. No outsiders were allowed to own land in the tribal areas without approval from tribal authorities.

The 1991 census indicated that 8 percent of citizens belonged to scheduled tribes. According to the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal People (ICITP), 80 percent of the tribal population live below the poverty level. According to the ICITP, more than 40,000 tribal women, mainly from Orissa and Bihar, were forced into situations of economic and sexual exploitation (see Sections 6.c. and 6.f.). The 1955 Protection of Civil Rights Act prescribes special courts to hear complaints of atrocities committed against tribal people.

Despite constitutional safeguards, the rights of indigenous groups in the eastern parts of the country often were ignored. NGOs reported that in 2001, 4,121 cases of crimes against scheduled tribes were reported to the NHRC throughout the country. Indigenous peoples suffered discrimination and harassment, were deprived wrongly of their land, and were subjected to torture and to arbitrary arrest. There was encroachment on tribal land in almost every eastern state, including by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and by businesses that illegally removed forest and mineral products. Moreover, persons from other backgrounds often usurped places reserved for members of tribes and lower castes in national educational institutions. Mob lynching, arson, and police atrocities against tribal people occurred in many states (see Section 1.c.).

Numerous tribal movements demanded the protection of land and property rights. The Jharkhand Movement in Bihar and Orissa and the Bodo Movement in Assam reflected deep economic and social grievances among indigenous peoples. As a result of complaints, largely tribal-populated states were created in 2000 from the Jharkand area of Bihar and the Chhattisgrah region of Madhya Pradesh. There was also some local autonomy for tribal people in the northeast.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country's caste system has strong historic ties to Hinduism. It delineates clear social strata, assigning highly structured religious, cultural, and social roles to each caste and subcaste. Members of each caste--and frequently each subcaste-are expected to fulfill a specific set of duties (known as dharma) in order to secure elevation to a higher caste through rebirth. Dalits (formerly called untouchables) were viewed by many Hindus as separate from or "below" the caste system; nonetheless, they too were expected to follow their dharma if they hope to achieve caste in a future life. Despite longstanding efforts to eliminate the discriminatory aspects of caste, the practice has remained widespread.

The practice of untouchability, which affected those who, along with tribal people, occupied the lowest social strata, was outlawed in theory by the Constitution and the 1955 Civil Rights Act, but it remained an important aspect of life. Untouchability refers to the social restrictions imposed on persons because of their birth into certain Hindu castes. Dalits were considered unclean by higher caste Hindus and thus traditionally were relegated to separate villages or neighborhoods and to low paying and often undesirable occupations (such as scavenging, street sweeping, and removing human waste and dead animals). Many rural Dalits worked as agricultural laborers for caste landowners. By custom Dalits may be required to perform tasks for upper caste Hindus without remuneration. The majority of bonded laborers were Dalits (see Section 6.c.). Dalits are among the poorest of citizens, generally do not own land, and often are illiterate. They face significant discrimination despite the laws that exist to protect them, and often are prohibited from using the same wells and from attending the same temples as caste Hindus, and from marrying persons from castes. In addition, they face segregation in housing, in land ownership, on roads, and on buses. Dalits tend to be malnourished, lack access to health care, work in poor conditions (see Section 6.e.), and face continuing and severe social ostracism. In contrast, the highest caste, the Brahmin, with 3.5 percent of the population, holds 78 percent of the judicial positions and approximately 50 percent of parliamentary seats. NGOs reported that crimes committed by higher caste Hindus against Dalits often were unpunished, either because the authorities did not prosecute vigorously such cases or because the crimes were unreported by the victims, who feared retaliation. For example, on August 10 one Dalit was beaten and killed by four upper caste persons in Anand after reports he was sitting in a temple verandah. During the year, the NHRC completed its inquiry into the 2002 killing of five Dalits in Haryana and approximately $11,000 (500,000 Rs) was paid in compensation to the families by the government.

A survey conducted during 2001 by the Protection of Civil Rights wing of the Tamil Nadu Adidravidar (indigenous peoples) Department identified 191 villages in Tamil Nadu where caste-based oppression and violence, and the practice of untouchability, were prevalent. Several human rights groups alleged that that in many villages, "scheduled" castes were not allowed to enter the streets or participate in local festivals, own property in upper caste areas, share burial grounds, or draw water from public wells in upper-case neighborhoods. The erection of statues of Dalit heroes or of the flags of Dalit parties in public places often became the cause of inter-caste tension. In several village teashops, Dalits were served beverages in separate cups (the so-called two-tumbler system).

There were no further developments in the 2002 case in which the Melavalavu Panchayat president and his associates were killed.

The Constitution gives the President the authority to identify historically disadvantaged castes, Dalits, and tribal people (members of indigenous groups historically outside the caste system). These "scheduled" castes, Dalits, and tribes were entitled to affirmative action and hiring quotas in employment, benefits from special development funds, and special training programs. The impact of reservations and quotas on society and on the groups they were designed to benefit was a subject of active debate. According to the 2001 census, scheduled castes, including Dalits, made up 16 percent, and scheduled tribes were 8 percent of the country's 2001 population of 1.027 billion. Christians historically rejected the concept of caste; however, because many Christians descended from low caste Hindu families, many continued to suffer the same social and economic limitations, particularly in rural areas. Low caste Hindus who convert to Christianity lose their eligibility for affirmative action programs. Those who become Buddhists or Sikhs do not. In some states, government jobs were reserved for Muslims of low caste descent.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act lists offenses against disadvantaged persons and provides for stiff penalties for offenders. However, this act had only a modest effect in curbing abuse. Human rights NGOs alleged that caste violence was on the increase.

Intercaste violence claimed hundreds of lives; it was especially pronounced in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh.

Social pressures to enforce rigid caste lines in all social settings led to episodes of vigilante retribution. While much more rare in urban settings, examples of intolerance occurred regularly in rural parts of the country.

Complicated social and ethnic divisions in society created severe localized discrimination. For example, the Pardhis, a small former itinerant community in Maharashtra, faced discrimination at the hands of the police and the rest of rural society in the area in which they live. Members were summoned for investigation whenever any armed robbery occurred in a city or town and reportedly were subjected to torture.

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