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.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights.
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 when traveling to certain states. Inner Line Permits are required in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur.
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.”
The government delayed issuance and renewal of passports to citizens from Jammu and Kashmir, sometimes for up to two years. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed there, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.
Citizenship: In 2019 parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The act does not include Muslims from those countries and does not apply to the tribal areas of Assam and Tripura, most of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, or Tripura. Following passage of the act, widespread protests against its passage and the exclusion of Muslims from the statute occurred throughout the country, leading to arrests, targeted communications shutdowns, bans on assembly, and deaths in a few instances.
On July 27, the minister of state for home affairs notified parliament that the government required additional time to further develop and notify the rules for the CAA, effectively meaning that the law was not in effect during the year.
Approximately 1.9 million residents of the state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh, were left off the Supreme Court-mandated National Register of Citizens (NRC) register in Assam. The government established procedures for appeals. The nationality status of those excluded remained unclear, pending the adjudication of appeals. On May 13, Assam’s NRC authorities requested Supreme Court permission for a reverification of the NRC list.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
Settlements of internally displaced persons (IDPs) existed throughout the country. In 2020 approximately 3,900 persons were displaced because of conflicts and violence, while natural disasters displaced almost four million persons.
Precise numbers of those displaced by conflict or violence were difficult to obtain because the government does not monitor 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 the camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse).
National policy or legislation did not address the matter of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. 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 but allowed NGOs and human rights organizations access to IDPs; neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.
On April 20, nearly 400 families of Mizoram’s Bru tribe left a temporary camp and relocated to permanent homes. Since 1997, nearly 37,000 Brus have lived in six relief camps after they fled Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib, and Lunglei Districts. In 2020 the central government, along with the state governments of Tripura and Mizoram, signed an agreement with the leaders of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum that allowed Brus to settle permanently in Tripura.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing minimal protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. While UNHCR does not have an official agreement with the government, it is able to assist asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries. UNHCR did not have direct access to newly arriving refugees on the country’s border with Burma or protracted Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu.
The country hosted a large refugee population, including more than 73,404 Tibetan refugees, per the latest census conducted by Central Tibetan Relief Committee. More than 92,000 refugees from Sri Lanka lived in the country as of July 1. In February, Burmese nationals fleeing violence in Burma began arriving in Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland states. The estimated number of Burmese refugees varied widely from approximately 5,000 to 20,000. A protection working group consisting of civil society and humanitarian organizations provides basic humanitarian assistance to this population.
UNHCR reported 736 Afghans registered for protection between August 1 and September 30, and it established a telephone helpline to answer queries from this population. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced an emergency e-visa for Afghan nationals seeking emergency entry into India on August 17 after the collapse of the previous Afghan government. On September 5, a Ministry of Home Affairs official stated that no Afghan national would be required to leave the country without prior approval of the Home Ministry.
The courts protected refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the constitution. The Supreme Court, however, issued an order allowing the deportation of a group of Rohingya on April 8. The group of more than 150 Rohingya were detained on March 6 for illegally residing in Jammu and Kashmir. The government argued Rohingya were illegal migrants who had crossed the border. They enjoyed equal protection of law, but their right to movement was restricted.
In many cases refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate reported increased obstacles to regularizing their status through long-term visas and residence permits.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. 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 generally honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries.
UNHCR maintained an office in New Delhi, where it registered refugees and asylum seekers, made refugee status determinations, and provided some services. The government permitted UNHCR and its partner staff access to refugees in other urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. Access to some refugees or asylum seekers in detention was granted.
The government generally permitted NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements, but it generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram, Manipur, and Jammu and Kashmir. The government denied requests for some foreigners to visit Tibetan settlements in Ladakh.
After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government cooperated with UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily; however, UNHCR did not have access to Sri Lankan refugees who remained in Tamil Nadu.
Excluding Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees, 43,157 persons of concern were registered by UNHCR as of the end of August.
Refoulement: The government advocated for the return of refugees to Burma. According to UNHCR, at least 26 non-Rohingya refugees (of an estimated 40,000) have been deported since late 2016.
On April 2, Assam police took a 14-year-old Rohingya girl from a shelter home to the international border in Manipur for deportation to Burma. Burmese immigration officials reportedly refused to accept the girl, and police returned the girl to the shelter home.
On May 3, the High Court of Manipur granted seven Burmese nationals who illegally entered the country permission to approach the UNHCR office in New Delhi. The High Court interpreted Article 21 of the constitution as protecting the principle of nonrefoulement.
On August 9, the minister of state for defense informed parliament that 8,486 Burmese refugees entered the country after the military coup in February. The minister noted that 5,796 refugees were “pushed back” into Burma while 2,690 remained in the country.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The law does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees as any other foreigner. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to detention, forced returns, and abuse. The country historically treated persons as refugees based on the merits and circumstances of the cases.
Refugees reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, fraud, and labor and sex trafficking. Most 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.
NGOs claimed law enforcement officials harassed and intimidated Rohingya refugees, including by confiscating UNHCR-issued refugee cards and government identification documents. NGOs also alleged Delhi police handcuffed, physically abused, and covered refugees’ heads with hoods while detaining them for routine questioning.
UNHCR continued to advocate for the release of detained refugees, for asylum seekers to freely move within the country and have their claims assessed, and for refugees to benefit from protection in the state where they arrived, and which has jurisdiction over them.
Freedom of Movement: UNHCR registered 43,157 refugees and asylum seekers as of August 31. This included 23,518 persons from Burma. On August 10, the minister of state for home affairs told the lower house of parliament the government did not have accurate data on the number of illegal migrants in the country and responded to questions from parliamentarians that there were reports of Rohingya migrants committing illegal activities.
The country hosted more than 92,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. In August, 29 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees attempted suicide in two separate incidents at a detention camp in Tamil Nadu. Media reports stated nearly 80 Sri Lankan Tamils conducted a protest for weeks demanding their release and alleging false detention. The refugees were reportedly dissatisfied after meeting Tamil Nadu government officials in May who determined that their release would be delayed. Tamil Nadu has 107 refugee camps across the state, including one detention camp for refugees with criminal records.
Employment: Most UNHCR-registered refugees found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers and landlords. According to UNHCR, obtaining formal employment was difficult for refugees because they did not possess government-issued documents such as long-term visas, which the government stopped issuing to refugees in 2017.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers had access to housing, primary and secondary education, and health care. In cases where refugees were denied access, it was often due to a lack of knowledge of refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR or its partners were able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access.
For asylum seekers UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was being considered for UNHCR refugee status.
Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during elections and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.
On August 27, Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin announced a special welfare package of 3.17 billion rupees ($42 million) for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu. The assistance will support refugee housing, cooking gas subsidies, and education allowances for refugee children. This allocation followed the disbursement of 4,000 rupees ($53) per Sri Lankan refugee family earlier in the year.
Government services, such as mother and child health programs, were available. According to a factsheet published by UNHCR in June, 6,561 refugees and asylum seekers were vaccinated against COVID-19 across the country during the year.
Refugees were able to request protection from police and courts as needed.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.
According to UNHCR an April 2020 moratorium on the repatriation of Sri Lankans remained in effect since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of commercial flight operations. A ferry project jointly proposed by the government and the government of Sri Lanka for the repatriation of refugees remained on hold. Departures for voluntary repatriation, third country resettlement, and complementary pathways continued.
g. Stateless Persons
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 citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was a citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities consider 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 do not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at a consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities may also confer citizenship through registration in specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years.
Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received birth certificates. While these certificates alone do not entitle refugees to citizenship, refugees may present birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to obtain a consular birth certificate, which entitles them to pursue Sri Lankan citizenship.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The Election Commission is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In May 2019 voters re-elected the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the country’s general elections, which involved more than 600 million eligible voters. During the year state assembly elections took place in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal, and Assam. Observers considered these elections free and fair.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens 18 and older. There are no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including two positions as cabinet ministers. This represented a decline from the first Modi government when nine women served in the cabinet. The 2019 general election resulted in 78 women elected to the lower house of parliament, compared with 66 in the 2014 general election. The sole female chief minister leads West Bengal.
The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. Members of minority populations had previously served or currently served as prime minister, president, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.
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 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). There were reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and acted in response to their reports or recommendations.
The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations had limited access to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised concerns regarding restrictions on public assembly, internet shutdowns, and the use of UAPA charges in the country.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.
The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC dependence on the government funding and its policy of not conducting investigations that last more than one year. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.
Of 28 states, 24 have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which they claimed were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. The Human Rights Law Network observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The group claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.
The government closed the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission in 2019 and ordered the NHRC to oversee human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the military. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and paramilitary forces operating under the AFSPA in the northeast states.