India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. The constitution gives the country’s 28 states and nine union territories a high degree of autonomy and primary responsibility for law and order. Electors chose President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to serve a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister for the second time following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general election. Observers considered the parliamentary elections, which included more than 600 million voters, to be free and fair, but there were reports of isolated instances of violence.
The states and union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are within state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; restrictions on internet freedom; overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; refoulement of refugees; serious government corruption; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation or gender identity; and forced and compulsory labor, including child labor and bonded labor.
Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and underresourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions.
Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist terrorism-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, kidnapping, and recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and terrorists.
Military courts are primarily responsible for investigating killings by security forces and paramilitary forces.
Reports of prisoners or detainees who were killed or died in police and judicial custody continued. In March the National Campaign Against Torture reported the deaths of 111 persons in police custody in 2020. The report stated 82 of the deaths were due to alleged torture or foul play. Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat reported the highest number of custodial deaths at 11 each, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 10 deaths. A separate Prison Statistics of India (PSI) report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) documented 1,887 inmate deaths in judicial custody in 2020. The report attributed most prison deaths to natural causes and stated the highest number of custodial deaths occurred in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
In September the National Human Rights Commission required Assam’s director general of police to compile a report in connection with a complaint alleging that police committed extrajudicial killings of more than 20 petty criminals.
On June 18, a Dalit woman collapsed and died while in police custody for suspected theft. The Telangana High Court ordered an investigation into allegations the victim was beaten to death. The Telangana government fired three police officers for their involvement in the custodial death and provided compensation to family members.
On July 22, Ravi Jadav and Sunil Pawar, two members of a tribal community accused of involvement in a bicycle theft case, were found hanging inside a police station in the Navsari District of Gujarat. Three police officials were arrested in connection with the custodial deaths, and on September 18, Navsari police provided compensation to family members of the victims.
In September 2020 the Central Bureau of Investigation filed charges against nine police officials in connection with the custodial deaths of Ponraj and Beniks Jeyaraj in Tamil Nadu. The two men were arrested in June 2020 for violating COVID-19 regulations; police allegedly beat them while in custody, and they subsequently died. The Tamil Nadu government arrested and held without bail 10 police officials alleged to be involved in the deaths, but one official has since died from COVID-19. The trial of the remaining nine was underway.
Killings by government and nongovernment forces were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas of the country (see section 1.g.). The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported the deaths of 23 civilians throughout the country as a result of terrorism as of November 27.
In July police arrested five persons in connection with the 2018 killing of Rising Kashmir editor in chief Shujaat Bukhari and his two police bodyguards. A police investigation alleged that terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba targeted Bukhari in retaliation for his support of a government-backed peace effort.
Terrorists committed numerous killings. Maoist terrorists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and infrastructure facilities, including roads, railways, and communication towers.
Terrorists killed 10 political party leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 9, terrorists fatally shot Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gulam Rasool Dar and his wife in Anantnag District. Apni Party leader Ghulam Hassan Lone was killed by terrorists on August 19 in Kulgam District.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred during the year. Police also used special security laws to postpone judicial reviews of arrests. Pretrial detention was arbitrary and lengthy, sometimes exceeding the duration of the sentence given to those convicted.
According to human rights NGOs, police used torture, mistreatment, and arbitrary detention to obtain forced or false confessions. In some cases police reportedly held suspects without registering their arrests and denied detainees sufficient food and water.
Following the 2019 abrogation of autonomous status for Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used a public safety law to detain local politicians without trial, but most were subsequently released. Media reports indicated some of those released were asked to sign bonds agreeing not to engage in political activity after release. A few prominent politicians declined to sign and were still released. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was released in October 2020, alleged that she was frequently subjected to periods of house arrest.
On February 13, New Delhi police arrested climate activist Disha Ravi in Bengaluru on sedition charges. The authorities accused Ravi of creating and sharing a document that included instructions on fomenting violence. After Ravi spent 10 days in jail, a New Delhi court granted her bail on February 23, noting a citizen’s right to dissent from the government.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
In cases other than those involving security risks, terrorism, or insurgency, police may detain an individual without charge for up to 30 days, but an arrested person must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Lengthy arbitrary detention remained a significant problem due to overburdened and underresourced court systems and a lack of legal safeguards.
Arraignment of detainees must occur within 24 hours unless authorities hold the suspect under a preventive detention law. The law allows police to summon individuals for questioning, but it does not grant police prearrest investigative detention authority. There were incidents in which authorities allegedly detained suspects beyond legal limits. By law authorities must allow family member access to detainees, but this law was not always observed.
Due to delays in completing repatriation procedures, foreign nationals often remained incarcerated beyond the expiration of their sentences, including those charged under the immigration act for irregular entry or stay. The PSI 2020 noted a category of 765 “other” prisoners pending release; experts analyzing the previous editions of the PSI report stated this category most likely represented those who had completed sentences but had not yet been released. This included approximately 270 Rohingya arrested for illegal entry, of whom 147 had reportedly completed their sentences.
The law requires every arrested person to be produced before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. Other than in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Security Act allows police to detain persons considered security risks without charge or trial for as long as one year. The law allows family members and lawyers to visit national security detainees and requires authorities to inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within five days, or 10 to 15 days in exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless, rights activists noted instances where these provisions were not followed in Odisha, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the central government may designate a state or union territory as a “disturbed area,” authorizing security forces in the state to use deadly force to “maintain law and order” and to arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest. The law also provides security forces immunity from civilian prosecution for acts committed in regions under the AFSPA.
The designation as a disturbed area under the AFSPA remained in effect in Nagaland, parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Assam, and a version of the law was in effect in Jammu and Kashmir. The AFSPA was renewed through January, and again in June in Nagaland, which has been under the AFSPA for nearly six decades. It was also extended in Assam, Manipur, and in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh. On December 27, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the creation of a committee to review the continuation of the AFSPA in Nagaland.
Human rights organizations asserted the law is in violation of Article 21 of the constitution and continued to call for its repeal, citing numerous alleged human rights violations.
The Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members. The press reported that the number of PSA detentions rose to 331 from 134 in 2020.
Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir allowed detainees access to a lawyer during interrogation, but human rights groups documented that police routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention.
Authorities must promptly inform persons detained on criminal charges of the charges against them and of their right to legal counsel. By law a magistrate may authorize the detention of an accused person for a period of no more than 90 days prior to filing charges. Under standard criminal procedure, authorities must release the accused on bail after 90 days if charges are not filed.
NCRB data from January 2020 showed that most individuals awaiting trial spent more than three months in jail before they could secure bail, and more than 63 percent spent between three months and five years before being released on bail. According to the India Justice Report 2020, one in four court cases have been pending for more than five years.
The law also permits authorities to hold a detainee in judicial custody without charge for up to 180 days (including the 30 days in police custody). The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which gives authorities the ability to detain persons for up to 180 days without charge in cases related to insurgency or terrorism, makes no bail provisions for foreign nationals, and it allows courts to deny bail in the case of detained citizens. The UAPA presumes the accused to be guilty if the prosecution can produce evidence of the possession of firearms or explosives or the presence of fingerprints at a crime scene, regardless of whether authorities demonstrate criminal intent. State governments also reportedly held persons without bail for extended periods before filing formal charges under the UAPA. The NCRB Crime in India 2020 report released in September revealed that 796 new UAPA cases were registered in 2020.
In 2019 parliament passed an amendment to the UAPA that allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists and provides new authorities to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to seize properties acquired from proceeds of terrorism.
States and union territories with terrorist activity, including Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir, also saw an increase in the application of the UAPA. Media reported that since 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had booked more than 2,300 persons in approximately 1,200 cases under the UAPA. Of those, 46 percent remained in jail as of August, according to government figures.
On November 23, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested by the NIA for “terror funding” and “conspiracy”; both his home and office were raided. His arrest was immediately criticized by domestic and international civil society. UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor and other UN experts called for his immediate release in a joint statement on December 22.
In September 2020 former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid was arrested under the UAPA for making a speech during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA). He remained in jail and claimed prosecutors were delaying the start of his trial. In a related case, the Delhi High Court ordered the release of student leaders Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal, and Devangana Kalita in June. The three had been charged under the UAPA for allegedly conspiring to incite the 2020 Delhi riots.
Multiple courts have denied bail to the majority of 15 activists incarcerated on conspiracy charges related to the Elgaar Parishad Bhima Koregaon protests that resulted in several deaths. The accused claimed the charges were politically motivated. On February 21, the Bombay High Court granted conditional bail on medical grounds for six months to Varvara Rao, an 81-year-old human rights activist, following his hospitalization for COVID-19 in June 2020. The NIA petitioned for Rao’s return to prison following several bail extensions despite his health’s improvement; in December the Bombay High Court ordered the matter be discussed during a further hearing early in 2022.
On July 5, 84-year-old human rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy died in a private hospital after contracting COVID-19 in prison. A NIA Special Court had rejected multiple bail pleas submitted on medical grounds, including Swamy’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, other age-related illnesses, and multiple falling incidents in prison, in the months following Father Swamy’s arrest in October 2020. Activist Sudha Bharadwaj was released on bail in December.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but in some cases, police reportedly continued to arrest persons arbitrarily. There were reports of police detaining individuals for custodial interrogation without identifying themselves or providing arrest warrants.
On March 9, paramilitary personnel and local police of the Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh detained human rights activist Hidme Markam without a warrant during an event to recognize International Women’s Day and Adivasi rights. She remained in jail after charges were filed under the UAPA.
On June 15, police in Jammu and Kashmir detained political activist Sajad Sofi after he criticized government officers who were posted in Jammu and Kashmir from other parts of the country. Sofi was released four days later.
Pretrial Detention: NCRB data reported 371,848 prisoners were awaiting trial at the end of 2020, totaling 76 percent of the country’s prison population. Media reported the high numbers of pretrial detainees contributed to prison overcrowding.
The Telangana Prisons Department stated that since 2019 a total of 429 persons facing trial remained in prisons despite securing bail. The report noted the accused belonged to low-income families that did not have sufficient money to pay for bail. Telangana officials said COVID-19 had hampered the activities of the NGOs that visit prisons and pay bail money.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: Corruption was present at multiple levels of government. In June the country’s anticorruption ombudsman reported it had received 110 corruption complaints, including four against members of parliament, during the year.
NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, and government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, or place of birth. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower-caste groups to provide better quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.
The term Dalit, derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes. According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Caste members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons). The NCRB reported 50,291 crimes against Scheduled Castes in 2020 – an increase of 9.4 percent from 2019. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.
Discrimination based on caste remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. In August Haridwar police arrested two suspects for using caste-based slurs against Indian hockey player Vandana Katariya. The suspects were charged with insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace and violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act.
The law protects Dalits, but there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions (such as temples), and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without pay.
NGOs reported Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste, required to present caste certification prior to admission, barred from morning prayers, asked to sit in the back of the class, or forced to clean school toilets while being denied access to the same facilities. There were also reports some teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.
In September an Uttar Pradesh school principal was suspended and a police report filed for using caste-based slurs and discriminating against Dalit children.
On February 2, the minister for social justice and empowerment told parliament that Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of deaths of persons who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, work often performed by Dalits, between 2016 to December 2020. While Uttar Pradesh recorded 52 deaths, Tamil Nadu registered 43 deaths. Most manual-scavenging accidents occurred due to asphyxiation and exposure to poisonous gases when workers were inside the sewer systems and septic tanks. NGOs estimated the number of deaths was underreported.
On September 8, the Madras High Court directed the heads of corporations and municipalities in Tamil Nadu to submit a written report that no manual-scavenging work would be permitted in their jurisdiction. The court had previously indicated the heads of corporations and municipalities would be held personally liable for any manual-scavenging activity or mishap occurring in their jurisdiction. The court also recommended the state government obtain appropriate machinery and improve sewer lines to eliminate manual scavenging in the state.