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.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture, but there were reports that police forces employed such practices.
Police beatings of prisoners resulted in custodial deaths (see section 1.a.).
The law does not permit authorities to admit coerced confessions into evidence, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged authorities used torture to coerce confessions. Authorities allegedly also used torture to extort money or as summary punishment.
There were reports of abuse in prisons at the hands of guards and inmates, as well as reports that police raped female and male detainees.
On May 23, Karnataka police suspended Subinspector Arjun Honkera after Punith K.L, a Dalit man, filed a complaint against Honkera for forcing him to lick the urine of another inmate while he was in police custody. The complainant also alleged police beat him for hours. The Criminal Investigation Department of the Karnataka police arrested Honkera on September 2.
The government authorized the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate rape cases involving police officers. By law the NHRC may also request information regarding cases involving the army and paramilitary forces, but it has no mandate to investigate those cases. NGOs claimed NHRC statistics undercounted the number of rapes committed in police custody. Some rape victims were unwilling to report crimes due to social stigma and fear of retribution if the perpetrator was a police officer or official. There were reports police officials refused to register rape cases.
Victims of crime were sometimes subjected to intimidation, threats, and attacks.
There were reports of security forces acting with impunity, but members were also held accountable for illegal actions. In December 2020 the army indicted an officer and two others for extrajudicial killings in Jammu and Kashmir; a court trial was underway. Jammu and Kashmir police also filed local charges against the accused.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were frequently life threatening, most notably due to inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and extreme overcrowding.
Physical Conditions: Prisons were often severely overcrowded, and food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental conditions frequently were inadequate. Potable water was not universally available. Prisons and detention centers remained underfunded and understaffed and lacked sufficient infrastructure. Prisoners were sometimes physically mistreated.
According to the PSI 2020 report released in December, there were 1,306 prisons in the country with a total authorized capacity of 414,033 persons. The actual incarcerated population was 488,511. Persons awaiting trial accounted for approximately 76 percent of the prison population. The law requires detention of juveniles in rehabilitative facilities, but at times authorities detained juveniles in adult prisons, especially in rural areas. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. The PSI 2020 report acknowledged overcrowding as “one of the biggest problems faced by prison inmates.”
According to the India Justice Report 2020, in Uttar Pradesh each correctional officer is responsible for more than 25,000 inmates. In 21 states and union territories, the occupancy rate for prisons was more than 100 percent. The most crowded prisons were Delhi (at 175 percent of capacity), Uttar Pradesh (at 168 percent), and Uttarakhand (at 159 percent).
In May the Odisha Directorate of Prisons set up an exclusive ward in Bhubaneswar to house up to 10 transgender persons. The ward had beds, separate washroom blocks, a hall, and a reading room. State officials announced that similar exclusive wards for transgender persons will be opened in all other prisons in a phased manner. A representative of the transgender community welcomed the move, pointing out that there were previous reports of sexual harassment of transgender inmates held in the regular wards.
On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered state law enforcement agencies to reduce arrests and decongest prisons. The Supreme Court issued a similar ruling in March 2020, which ordered states and union territories to release certain prisoners on parole or interim bail. The state governments of Goa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra independently ordered their prison systems to parole or furlough inmates to reduce prison overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to register complaints with state and national human rights commissions, but the authority of the commissions extended only to making recommendations. Government officials reportedly often failed to comply with a Supreme Court order instructing the central government and local authorities to conduct regular checks on police stations to monitor custodial violence.
Authorities permitted visitors limited access to prisoners, but some family members claimed authorities denied access to relatives, particularly in areas experiencing high levels of violence, including Jammu and Kashmir.
Independent Monitoring: The NHRC received and investigated prisoner complaints of human rights violations throughout the year. Civil society representatives believed few prisoners filed complaints due to fear of retribution from prison guards or officials.
The NHRC made unannounced visits to monitor state prisons in multiple states. NHRC special rapporteurs visited state prisons on a regular basis throughout the year to verify that authorities provided medical care to all inmates. The NHRC has not publicly released reports on their findings. NHRC jurisdiction does not extend to military detention centers.
Courts sometimes ordered prisoners released on bail to receive medical treatment.
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.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the constitution does not contain an explicit right to privacy, the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that privacy is a “fundamental right.”
The law, with some exceptions, prohibits arbitrary interference. The government generally respected this provision; at times authorities infringed upon the privacy rights of citizens. The law requires police to obtain warrants to conduct searches and seizures, except for cases in which such actions would cause undue delay. Police must justify warrantless searches in writing to the nearest magistrate with jurisdiction over the offense.
Both the central and state governments legally intercepted communications. A Group of Experts on Privacy convened in 2018 by the central government noted the country lacked a comprehensive consumer data-protection framework.
The UAPA also allows use of evidence obtained from intercepted communications in terrorism cases. In Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Manipur, security officials have special authorities to search and arrest without a warrant.
There were reports that government authorities accessed, collected, or used private communication arbitrarily or unlawfully or without appropriate legal authority and developed practices that allow for the arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, including the use of technology to arbitrarily or unlawfully surveil or interfere with the privacy of individuals.
Privacy concerns were raised by The Wire, an online media outlet, that published a series of stories alleging dozens of journalists were potential targets for surveillance by Pegasus malware developed by NSO Group Technologies. The Wire cited forensic analysis conducted by Amnesty International on phone numbers that showed signs of either attempted or successful infiltration. In October the Supreme Court ordered an independent probe on these allegations.
The government denied conducting surveillance activities that violated laws or formally established procedures. Laws permit the government to intercept calls to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, for public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offense.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, but there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of terrorists and extremists perpetrating killings, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately via online platforms, television, radio, or in print media. According to the HRW World Report 2021, the government “increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies.” Harassment and detainment of journalists critical of the government in their reporting or social media messaging continued.
Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report downgraded the country’s ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free,” due in part to “a crackdown on expressions of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.” The Freedom House report stated authorities used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices. Media contacts said that some media outlets practiced self-censorship in response to the government reportedly withholding public-sector advertising from some outlets critical of the government.
On January 1, Madhya Pradesh police arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and four other persons for offending religious sentiments with jokes he allegedly planned to perform. The Supreme Court granted Faruqui bail in February, stating the allegations against him were vague.
On February 1, the government ordered Twitter to block accounts belonging to journalists covering the protests against agricultural reform laws, stating the order was to prevent a potential escalation of violence. Twitter initially complied with the government’s request, but subsequently restored access to the accounts after conducting an internal review.
On May 13, Manipur police arrested social activist Erendro Leichombam for a Facebook post critical of a BJP leader who advocated cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19. On July 19, the Supreme Court granted bail to Leichombam, who was previously kept in preventive detention under the National Security Act after being granted bail by a lower court.
On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest, for alleged hate speech against the prime minister and home minister. The priest was attending a July 18 meeting honoring deceased tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy. The court remanded Ponnaiah to judicial custody for 15 days, and the Madras High Court granted conditional bail on August 10.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media; broadcast media; digital media platforms, including streaming services; and publication or distribution of books.
There were reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials at both the local and national levels were involved in intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement.
NGOs alleged criminal prosecutions and investigations were used to intimidate journalists critical of the government.
The Reporters without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index described the country as very dangerous for journalists, with press freedom violations by police, political activists, criminal groups, and local officials. The report also identified “coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks,” encouraging threats against journalists as a major area of concern. Harassment and violence were particularly acute for female journalists. Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions.
In Jammu and Kashmir at least six journalists were assaulted, detained, or questioned by police through August according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. In 2020 the government introduced a new media regulation in Jammu and Kashmir empowering local administration to determine “fake and antinational news” and to initiate criminal charges against journalists. The Kashmir Press Club protested the policy and alleged that the government was institutionalizing intimidation by exploiting the policy against media platforms critical of the government.
In January, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, and New Delhi police filed charges against India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha; the Caravan founder Paresh Nath, editor Anant Nath, and executive editor Vinod K. Jose; and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. The charges included sedition, intent to cause riot, and other charges through their coverage of a violent January 26 protest. The Supreme Court granted the individuals a stay of arrest on February 9.
On March 5, journalists Shafat Farooq and Saqib Majeed said they were beaten by police during a protest in Srinagar. On July 17, Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was allegedly assaulted by police. In August, Jammu and Kashmir police detained and questioned journalist Irfan Malik concerning tweets critical of the Jammu Kashmir government’s film promotion policy.
On April 7, Jammu and Kashmir Police inspector general Vijay Kumar issued a warning that police would file criminal charges against journalists who approached ongoing police counterterrorism operations, on the grounds that such reporting was “likely to incite violence” or promote “antinational sentiment.” The Editors Guild of India criticized the prohibitions as “draconian and undemocratic.”
Media reported criminal charges were filed against individuals who posted requests for oxygen supplies via social media during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, police in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, filed charges against 26-year-old Shashank Yadav for tweeting a plea for oxygen for his grandfather. On April 30, the Supreme Court warned that states should protect citizens’ right to communicate their grievances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on social media.
On June 15, Uttar Pradesh police filed charges against Twitter; online news platform The Wire; journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammad Zubair; and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani, and Sama Mohammad for “stoking communal unrest” by posting video footage of the assault of an elderly Muslim man.
On July 22, the Income Tax Department searched 32 office and residential locations affiliated with the Dainik Bhaskar Group, publisher of Dainik Bhaskar, the country’s second-most-read Hindi language newspaper. The Income Tax Department also raided the offices of Hindi language television station Bharat Samachar. Government sources asserted the raids were a result of alleged tax evasion by the media groups. The media groups claimed the raids were conducted as retaliation for investigative reporting during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 8, police summoned journalists Naseer Ganai and Haroon Nabi to the police facility, where they were questioned for reporting on a statement by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.
In June the Jammu and Kashmir government released Media Policy – 2020, a policy which authorizes the Directorate of Information and Publication Relations to “examine” the content of print, electronic, and other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities” in the name of law and order. Under the new media policy, government action could range from legal proceedings against journalists for “indulging in fake news, unethical or antinational activities, or plagiarism” to withholding advertisements from any media that “incite or tends to incite violence, question sovereignty and the integrity of India, or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”
On June 13, Uttar Pradesh authorities charged Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for a news report critical of the COVID-19 lockdown; she was charged with violating the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and sections of the penal code regarding printing defamatory matter and negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life. Police also charged the Mumbai-based editor in chief of Scroll.in. On August 26, the Allahabad High Court granted Sharma protection from immediate arrest in the case but allowed the investigation to continue.
On July 1, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called for authorities to end “gunpoint censorship” and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Shubham Mani Tripathi, a journalist for the newspaper Kampu Mail. Tripathi died on June 19 when he was shot six times by two gunmen in Uttar Pradesh. His killing was allegedly in retaliation for his investigative reports into connections between illegal sand mining and corruption allegations. The two assailants, along with a third individual, were arrested.
The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses to entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of selected books that contained material government officials deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.
On May 14, Andhra Pradesh police filed sedition charges against Telugu news channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for broadcasting the speeches and statements of Member of Parliament K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju that allegedly “promoted enmity and hatred among different communities.” Police arrested Raju and filed sedition charges against him. On May 21, the Supreme Court granted bail to the lawmaker; on May 31, the Supreme Court blocked Andhra Pradesh police from acting against the two channels.
Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported five journalists were killed during the year. Journalists were threatened online with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.
On March 24, Syandan Patrika journalist Bikash Das was assaulted in Tripura while covering a story on corruption. A group of assailants attacked Das, inflicting serious injuries before he was able to escape.
On June 13, Uttar Pradesh journalist Sulabh Srivastava was found dead under mysterious circumstances. On the day before his death, Sulabh wrote to seek protection from Uttar Pradesh police, claiming he faced danger after reporting on organized crime in the city. Police reported the cause of Srivastava’s death as a motorcycle accident.
In July photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who relocated to Germany after UAPA charges were filed against her, alleged her parents were beaten by Jammu and Kashmir police because of her work.
On August 8, journalist Chennakeshavalu was stabbed to death by two suspects allegedly for his reporting on illegal gambling activities in Andhra Pradesh. Police arrested Venkata Subbaiah, a police officer, and his brother Nani for suspected murder.
Online and mobile harassment was prevalent, and reports of internet “trolling,” continued to rise. In some instances police used information provided by anonymous social media users as a pretext to initiate criminal proceedings against journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Citizens generally enjoyed freedom of speech, but the government continued to censor and restrict content based on broad public and national interest provisions in Article 19 of the constitution.
On February 25, the government published new regulations to govern social media platforms, messaging services, and streaming service that delivers content directly to the consumer over the internet. Human rights advocates and journalists expressed concerns that these rules would curtail freedom of speech and expression, and several media organizations filed legal actions against the regulations. They contended that parts of IT Rules 2021 are unconstitutional and contrary to the necessity and proportionality standard laid down by the Supreme Court in the 2018 Puttaswamy v. India decision guaranteeing the right to privacy in the constitution. In response to one such challenge on August 14, the Mumbai High Court ordered a stay on implementation of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the IT Rules 2021, which require digital news media and online publishers to adhere to a prescribed code of ethics and establish a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.
Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to face legal action for posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. In January the Delhi High Court dismissed a criminal defamation case filed by a former senior official against Priya Ramani, accusing Ramani of sexual harassment. The court noted, “a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”
National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. The government banned more than 200 Chinese mobile apps because they were “prejudicial” to the sovereignty and security of the country.
There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and there were reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law 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 directives for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information. The government temporarily blocked telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions during periods of political unrest.
In January 2020 the Supreme Court declared access to the internet a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of the information technology law that restricted content published on social media but upheld the government’s authority to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. The government may shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” A suspension order can be issued by a “competent authority” at either the federal or the state level.
NGO Software Freedom Law Center reported the central and state governments conducted localized internet shutdowns 36 times as of October. For example, according to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 19 instances of internet shutdown as of August.
Press outlets reported instances in which individuals and journalists were arrested or detained for online activity. Police continued to arrest individuals based on the Information Technology Act for legitimate online activity, despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down the statute as unconstitutional; experts claimed the arrests were an abuse of legal processes.
The Central Monitoring System continued to allow government agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The monitoring system is an indigenous mass electronic surveillance data mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Contacts reported a few Kashmiri academics attempting to travel internationally to attend academic conferences or pursue professional assignments were prohibited from leaving the country.
In January the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for holding virtual conferences and seminars that required local universities to seek government approval for any virtual discussions, including approval of the names of all participants, and prohibited virtual events related to security matters. The academic community, including the country’s two largest science academies representing 1,500 scientists, protested and requested the elimination of these regulations. In February the government withdrew the guidelines and left in place a 2008 rule that only concerned in-person conferences.
In July, Madhya Pradesh police warned the administration of Dr. Harisingh Gour University of possible action based on the national penal code “if religious and caste sentiments are hurt” during an international webinar titled Culture and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper. The police warning was prompted by a complaint from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which objected to the topic as well as past statements and “antinational mentality” of the academic participants.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful 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. Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces 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 law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government suspended foreign banking licenses or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without authorization or that unlawfully mixed foreign and domestic funding. In other instances the government canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations.
In September 2020 parliament passed amendments to the FCRA that placed additional limitations on the international funding of nongovernmental organizations. Financial consultants and NGO leaders believed the new legislation would severely restrict the ability of smaller, regional organizations to raise funds and diminish collaboration between the government and civil society.
Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by Ministry of Home Affairs officials. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on confidential investigations by the Intelligence Bureau.
Some NGOs stated they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” topics such as human rights or environmental activism. In September 2020 Amnesty International India (AII) closed its offices after a two-year FCRA investigation charged the organization with financial irregularities resulting in the suspension of its local bank accounts. In February the Enforcement Directorate froze access to AII assets worth more than 170 million rupees ($2.3 million) as part of a money-laundering investigation.
On March 31, the National Investigation Agency conducted searches of suspected terrorist organizations at 31 locations across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The Human Rights Forum described the searches as intimidation intended to stifle lawful protest, while a representative of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties alleged that human rights activists were being deliberately targeted and silenced by this law enforcement action.
On June 7, the government temporarily suspended the FCRA license of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) for alleged violations. CHRI lawyers believe the enforcement action was taken as retribution for CHRI’s human rights work. Subsequently, the Delhi High Court allowed the human rights organization access up to 25 percent of the impounded funds to pay staff salaries.
On September 16, Enforcement Directorate officials raided the home and office of human rights activist Harsh Mander. Authorities alleged Mander violated provisions of the FCRA. Human Rights Watch claimed authorities repeatedly targeted Mander, who has criticized the government’s “discriminatory policies against religious minorities.” On September 29, more than 30 activists and intellectuals released a statement condemning the raids as a tactic to harass and intimidate Mander.