Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected these rights.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately. According to Human Rights Watch, however, sedition and criminal defamation laws were used to prosecute citizens who criticize government officials or oppose state policies. In certain cases local authorities arrested individuals under laws against hate speech for expressions of political views.
On February 12, Delhi police arrested Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and seven other students, charging them with sedition for allegedly shouting “anti-India” slogans at a February 9 protest. The arrests and subsequent administrative disciplinary measures resulted in protests on other university campuses. According to the NHRC, Kumar was “abused and physically assaulted” at court when he appeared for a bail hearing on February 17. In March the Delhi High Court released Kumar and two other students on bail, which was extended to August 26. On September 6, the Delhi High Court extended bail and enjoined the university administration from taking administrative action against Kumar until the next hearing.
On September 5, the Supreme Court stated the government could not bring charges of sedition against a person for criticizing the government or its policies. This ruling was in response to a petition filed by NGO Common Cause to curb the use of sedition provisions under the Indian Penal Code to restrict speech.
Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these laws to restrict print media, broadcast media, and publication or distribution of books.
On March 21, the Chhattisgarh police arrested journalist Prabhat Singh in Dantewada for allegedly sharing a message critical of the state police on a messaging application and charged him under the Information Technology Act. On March 26, Chhattisgarh police arrested journalist Deepak Jaiswal for inquiring about the Prabhat Singh case. A court granted Jaiswal bail on June 6, and the Chhattisgarh High Court granted Prabhat Singh bail on June 22.
The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations and restricted FM radio licenses for entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. State governments banned the import or sale of some books due to material government censors deemed inflammatory or could provoke communal or religious tensions.
Violence and Harassment: Some journalists and media persons reportedly experienced violence and harassment in response to their reporting. In February Asianet News channel anchor Sindhu Sooryakumar reportedly received more than 2,000 abusive calls and death threats after moderating a debate on Hinduism. On February 28, police arrested five persons in connection with these threats.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In August 2015 the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in Chennai refused to certify the film Muttrupulliya, which portrays Tamil life in post-war Sri Lanka, over concerns the film glorified the war. In September 2015 the filmmakers appealed the CBFC refusal before the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. In March the filmmakers won the appeal, and the CBFC lifted the ban on the film.
Libel/Slander Laws: In July the Supreme Court reviewed an appeal from a Tamil Nadu trial court filed by politician Vijaykanth, challenging the constitutionality of a law permitting prosecutors to file defamation cases on behalf of public servants. The court also ordered the state government to provide a list of criminal defamation cases brought on behalf of then chief minister Jayalalithaa by Tamil Nadu prosecutors. According to media reports, the list submitted by the Tamil Nadu government on August 17 included 213 cases filed from May 2011 through July 2016.
National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content.
On June 9, Sakshi TV was taken off the air in Andhra Pradesh until June 22, after it publicized the hunger strike of Kapu caste leader Mudragada Padmanabham. Deputy Chief Minister N. Chinarajappa stated the channel would remain off-air as long as the hunger strike continued, since covering the protest could potentially disturb law and order in the state.
In July the Jammu and Kashmir government reportedly raided local printing presses, stopped publication, and detained press staff while enforcing a news blackout during a period of unrest. In addition to restrictions on newspaper publication, internet and cellular communication was also heavily restricted.
Nongovernmental Impact: In a statement released on June 16, UN Special rapporteurs on human rights expressed the view that FCRA Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) “provisions were increasingly being used…to silence organizations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental, or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.” The statement highlighted the suspension of foreign banking licenses for NGOs including Greenpeace India, Lawyers Collective, and the Sabrang Trust.
There were some government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, and censorship of online content. There were also reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The IT Act permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directions for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information.
In 2015 the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the IT Act, which had resulted in a significant number of arrests between 2012 and 2015 for content published on social media. According to NCRB data, police made 3,137 arrests under 66A in 2015, compared with 2,423 arrests in 2014. As of January 1, 575 individuals remained incarcerated under all sections of the IT act. The Supreme Court upheld other provisions of the act authorizing the government to block certain online content. Under section 69A of the act, the government can still order content blocks without court approval.
The central monitoring system (CMS), which began pilot operations in 2013, continued to allow governmental agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The CMS is a mass electronic surveillance data-mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center. The CMS gives security agencies and income tax officials centralized access to the telecommunication network and the ability to hear and record mobile, landline, and satellite telephone calls and Voice over Internet Protocol, to read private e-mails and mobile texts, and to track geographical locations of individuals in real time. Authorities can also use it to monitor posts shared on social media and track users’ search histories on Google, without oversight by courts or parliament. This monitoring facility was available to nine security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the Home Affairs Ministry. In May 2015 former communications minister Milind Deora expressed concern that without comprehensive privacy laws, the system was not sufficiently accountable and could impinge on freedom of speech.
Freedom House, a civil liberty organization, released a report in October 2015 rating the country “partly free” with respect to internet user rights, including accessibility, limits on content, and violations of individual’s rights. The NGO reported the government decreased the number of incidents concerning connectivity, restricted access, and documented incidents of physical attacks on internet users for content posted online. According to the report, key internet controls that existed between May 2014 and May 2015 included blocking of political, social, and religious content. The report cited the CMS as a potential internet freedom concern.
Government regulations on internet content prohibit many types of material including “harmful” and “insulting” content. Authorities may hold search engines liable for displaying prohibited content. Authorities require cyber cafes to install surveillance cameras and provide the government with records of user browsing activity.
On January 6, media reported 24-year-old Anwar Sadiq of Malappuram in Kerala was charged with sedition for social media comments he allegedly made about a military officer killed during a counterterror operation at Pathankot Air Force Base.
On March 25, two students from a town in Puttur, Karnataka, were arrested and later released for posting “Pakistan Ki Jai” (Hail Pakistan) on a phone messaging application during the India-Pakistan World T20 cricket match, according to media reports.
The government requested user data from internet companies. According to Facebook’s January 2016 transparency report for the second half of 2015, the government made 5,561 requests. Facebook complied with 51 percent of those requests. Google also highlighted in its most recent transparency report an increase in government requests to share user data.
According to industry experts, approximately 35 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
In rare cases the government applied restrictions to the travel and activities of visiting experts and scholars; however, in most cases the government supported and issued visas for international academic conferences and exchanges.
The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected those rights.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully, except in Jammu and Kashmir, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces sometimes reportedly detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the criminal procedure code to ban public assemblies or impose a curfew.
Security forces, including local police, often disrupted demonstrations and used excessive force when attempting to disperse protesters.
On March 22, following the suicide of Dalit doctoral student Rohith Vemula, police responded to protests by teachers and students against the University of Hyderabad administration. Students and human rights NGOs alleged the police used disproportionate force. Two teachers and 36 students were detained.
There were restrictions on the organization of international conferences. Authorities required NGOs to secure approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs before organizing international conferences. Authorities routinely granted permission, although in some cases the approval process was lengthy. Some human rights groups claimed this practice provided the government with tacit control over the work of NGOs and constituted a restriction on freedom of assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected that right, the government’s increased regulation of NGO activities that receive foreign funding has caused concern. In certain cases, for example, the government required “prior approval” of some NGOs foreign funds, and in other instances declined to renew NGOs’ FCRA registration.
NGOs expressed continued concern regarding the government’s enforcement of FCRA, provisions of which bar some foreign-funded NGOs from engaging in activities the government believed were not in the “national or public interest,” curtailing the work of some civil society organizations. Some NGOs expressed concern over politically motivated enforcement of the act to intimidate organizations that address social issues or criticize the government or its policies, arguing that the law’s use of broad and vague terms such as “public interest” and “national interest” have left it open to abuse. Some multi-national and domestic companies also stated that in some instances the act made it difficult to comply with government-mandated corporate social responsibility obligations due to lengthy and complicated registration processes.
According to media reports, in early November the Ministry of Home Affairs rejected FCRA registration renewals of 25 NGOs, including Lawyer’s Collective and Compassion International’s two primary partners. In addition, some NGOs were placed on a “prior permissions” list, which requires government preapproval of any transfer of funds from abroad. Several NGOs stated these actions threaten their ability to continue to operate in the country.
In April the UN special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association published a legal analysis asserting that the FCRA did not conform to international law, principles, and standards. In June the UN special rapporteurs on human rights defenders, on freedom of expression, and on freedom of association called on the government to repeal the FCRA.
According to media reports, the government took action to suspend foreign banking licenses or freeze accounts for NGOs on the basis that they received foreign funding without the proper clearances or illegally combined foreign and domestic funding streams, although some human rights organizations reported these types of actions were sometimes used to target specific NGOs.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. In August 2015 the implementation of a land boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh enfranchised more than 50,000 previously stateless residents, providing access to education and health services.
The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to some IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government generally allowed UNHCR to assist only those asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries. The country hosted a large refugee population, including 110,000 Tibetan refugees, notably the Dalai Lama.
In-country Movement: The central government relaxed restrictions on travel by foreigners to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding foreign nationals from Pakistan, China, and Burma. The Ministry of Home Affairs and state governments required citizens to obtain special permits upon arrival when traveling to certain restricted areas.
Security forces often searched and questioned travelers at vehicle checkpoints in areas of the Kashmir Valley and before public events in New Delhi, or after major terrorist attacks.
Foreign Travel: The government may legally deny a passport to any applicant for engaging in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”
Citizens from Jammu and Kashmir faced extended delays, sometimes up to two years, for issuance or renewal of passports. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed in the state, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
Authorities located IDP settlements throughout the country, including those containing groups displaced by internal armed conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir, the Maoist belt, the northeastern states (see section 1.g.), and Gujarat. According to International Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) statistics from December 31, 2015, longstanding regional conflicts had displaced at least 612,000 persons. Estimating the exact number of those displaced by conflict or violence was difficult, because no central government agency was responsible for monitoring the movements of displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies had limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP camps, an unknown number of displaced persons resided outside camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see additional reporting on IDPs in section 1.g.).
Paramilitary operations against Maoists displaced members of the Gutti Koya tribe in the Dandakaranya forests in Chhattisgarh, who migrated to the neighboring Khammam and Warangal districts in Telangana. Following bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to form the new state of Telangana in 2014, the state governments transferred parts of Khammam District with Gutti Koya settlements to Andhra Pradesh.
The IDMC estimated the number of IDPs in Chhattisgarh at 50,000, in Telangana at 13,820, and in Andhra Pradesh at 6,240. The Chhattisgarh government reportedly did not acknowledge IDPs in Andhra Pradesh camps as Chhattisgarh residents, and the Andhra Pradesh government reportedly provided them little support. Repatriation of IDPs was difficult due to development projects on Adivasi forestland and rural-urban migration trends.
National policy or legislation did not address the issue of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. Responsibility for the welfare of IDPs was generally the purview of state governments and local authorities, allowing for gaps in services and poor accountability. The central government provided limited assistance to IDPs. IDPs had access to NGOs and human rights organizations, but neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
The 1946 Foreigners Act does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees as any other foreigners. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Refugees without documentation were vulnerable to forced repatriation and reportedly to abuse. The government generally provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where refugees would face threats to their safety or freedom due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Access to Asylum: Absent a legal framework, the government sometimes granted asylum on a situational basis on humanitarian grounds in accordance with international law. This approach resulted in varying standards of protection for different refugee and asylum seeker groups. The government recognized refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka and honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries.
UNHCR did not maintain an official presence in the country, but the government permitted UNHCR staff access to refugees in urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. UNHCR registered asylum seekers and conducted refugee status determination for refugees from noncontiguous countries and Burma. Authorities did not permit UNHCR direct access to Sri Lankan refugee camps, Tibetan settlements, or asylum seekers in Mizoram; but it permitted asylum seekers from Mizoram to travel to New Delhi to meet UNHCR officials. UNHCR did not have access to asylum seekers in Mizoram. The government generally permitted NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements but generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram. UNHCR estimated registration of 6,870 Rohingya and 6,855 Chin from Burma in New Delhi and estimated tens of thousands of additional asylum seekers remained unregistered.
According to Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) activists in Mizoram, some Chins living in Mizoram returned to Burma after the installation of the new government in that country. Faced with falling numbers, CHRO and its affiliates reduced their scale of operations in Mizoram.
After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government assisted UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily.
The benefits provided to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees by the state government of Tamil Nadu were applicable only within Tamil Nadu.
Refugees outside Delhi faced added expense and time to register their asylum claims.
Refugee Abuse: The government did not target refugees for harassment, and police and courts appropriately protected refugees. Refugees, however, reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, frauds, and labor exploitation.
Problems of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and early and forced marriage continued. Gender-based violence and sexual abuse was common in camps for Sri Lankans. Many urban refugees worked in the informal sector or in occupations such as street vending, where they suffered from police extortion, nonpayment of wages, and exploitation.
Employment: The government granted work authorization to many UNHCR-registered refugees, and others found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers.
Access to Basic Services: Although the country generally allowed recognized refugees and asylum seekers access to housing, primary and secondary education, health care, and the courts, access varied by state and by population. Refugees were able to access public services. In most cases where refugees were denied access, it was due to a lack of knowledge on refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR was able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access. In 2012 the government began allowing UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers to apply for long-term visas that would provide work authorization and access to higher education. For undocumented asylum seekers, UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was under consideration for UNHCR mandate refugee status.
The 80,000 to 100,000 Burmese Chin asylum seekers in Mizoram generally reported adequate access to housing, education, and health services. Because most Chin asylum seekers lacked legal status and were unable to work legally, they were often unable to meet basic needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, discrimination, and harassment.
During the year several NGOs working with Rohingya refugees in Haryana complained of difficulties in enrolling Rohingya children without state-issued identification cards in government schools. Local school officials claimed all refugee children were welcome with a state-issued identity certificate.
The government did not fully fulfill a 2012 Ministry of Home Affairs directive to issue long-term visas to Rohingya. These visas would allow refugees to access formal employment in addition to education, health services, and bank accounts.
Government services such as mother-child health programs were available. Refugees were able to request protection from the police and courts as needed.
Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during sensitive political times such as elections, and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.
The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.
By law parents confer citizenship, and birth in the country does not automatically result in citizenship. Any person born in the country on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, obtained Indian citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was an Indian citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered those born in the country on or after December 3, 2004, citizens only if at least one parent was a citizen and the other was not illegally present in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered persons born outside the country on or after December 10, 1992, citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth, but authorities did not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at an Indian consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities could also confer citizenship through registration under specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years. Tibetans reportedly sometimes faced difficulty acquiring citizenship despite meeting the legal requirements.
According to UNHCR and NGOs, the country had a large population of stateless persons, but there were no reliable estimates of the number. Stateless populations included Chakmas and Hajongs, who entered the country decades ago from present-day Bangladesh, and groups affected by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
Kolkata-based Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group estimated the presence of approximately 45,000 unregistered Rohingyas in addition to those registered with UNHCR.
Approximately 70,000 stateless Bangladeshi Chakma persons lived in Arunachal Pradesh. On September 20, the Supreme Court ordered the central government and the Arunachal Pradesh state government to consider citizenship for Chakma and Hajong refugees who have lived in the state for almost 50 years. In the early 1960s, Buddhist Chakmas and Hajongs fled persecution from former East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and approximately 15,000 settled in the Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh.
In May the Mizoram State government, which had previously refused to accept the repatriation of Bru refugees, submitted a plan to the Ministry of Home Affairs to repatriate more than 20,000 Brus, including 11,500 minors. Bru IDPs were lodged in six relief camps in North Tripura District. The ministry approved the Mizoram plan in July.
Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received Indian birth certificates. While Indian birth certificates alone do not entitle refugees to Indian citizenship, refugees may present Indian birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to commence registration as Sri Lankan citizens. Approximately 16,000 of 27,000 Sri Lankan refugee children born in the refugee camps have presented birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission in Chennai.
UNHCR and refugee advocacy groups estimated that between 25,000 and 28,000 of the approximately 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu were “hill country” Tamils. While Sri Lankan law allows “hill country” refugees to present affidavits to secure Sri Lankan citizenship, UNHCR believed that until the Sri Lankan government processes their paperwork, authorities may consider such refugees potentially stateless.