CSW is calling on the government of India to uphold the fundamental rights contained in the Indian Constitution as the country marks its 72nd Republic Day. India became a republic on 26 January 1950, the day the constitution came into effect. The date marked a turning point in Indian history as the nation put into force laws guaranteeing fundamental rights and civil liberties.
President Rajendra Prasad, the first Indian President remarked in his 1950 Republic Day speech that “Our Constitution is a democratic instrument seeking to ensure to the individual citizens the freedom which are so invaluable. India has never prescribed, or prosecuted opinion and faith and our philosophy has a room as much for a devotee of a personal god as for an agnostic or an atheist. We shall, therefore, be implementing in practice under our Constitution what we have inherited from our traditions, namely, freedom of opinion and expression.”
However, this year’s Republic Day comes under the shadow of egregious human rights violations, which have undermined the protections afforded in the Indian Constitution. Growing dissent by civil society groups against discriminatory and unconstitutional government laws and policies is increasingly being met with a harsh response by the State. Human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, writers, poets and students who condemn the government’s actions or inaction to uphold the principles of the constitution are labelled as ‘anti-nationals,’ and arbitrary police arrests and legal prosecutions based on fabricated evidence have resulted in international condemnation.
Following the introduction of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019, which violates Articles 14 and 15 of the constitution which protect the right to equality and the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of religion, respectively, Muslims in India continue to face growing discrimination because of their religion. On 20 October 2020, homes belonging to sixty-four Muslim families in Bharasingri village, Sonitpur District, Assam, were demolished, resulting in more than 500 people being made homeless. Local media reported that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ran a campaign accusing the Muslims of being “illegal Bangladeshis” prior to the demolition.
Article 25(1) of the constitution protects the right to freedom of religion or belief where “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.” However, Christians are susceptible to targeted attacks for their faith across the country and particularly in rural India, where they can face permanent ostracisation impacting their livelihoods. Citing conservative figures, the latest annual report by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) documented 327 cases of violence against Christians throughout 2020, which involved approximately five deaths, six churches being demolished or burnt and 26 incidents of social boycott. The BJP-RSS majoritarian nationalists’ rhetoric has been a central source of incitement to hatred and intolerance towards religious minorities, and has fuelled communal tensions, even drawing concerns from UN Mandate Holders.
Dr John Dayal, an Indian civil rights activist and writer said: “I do not know which I find more disturbing, India's dismal, even terrible situation for human rights and especially for freedom of religion or belief, or the government's aggressive state of denial. The current federal government and several of the regional administrations arrest stand-up comics, reporters and activists, with lower courts routinely denying them bail. While Muslims are the principal object of targeted hate and violence, Christian pastors continue to be harassed, assaulted, ostracised and detained on frivolous charges. It is the second Republic Day marked by mass protests in the face of the state’s might. In 2020, women led the protest against an attempt to disenfranchise large populations of Muslims in Assam. This year, it is the farming community challenging three laws that impact them severely.”
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “While we congratulate India on commemorating its 72nd Republic Day, we are deeply concerned by the erosion of fundamental rights and liberties enshrined in the constitution. We urge the government of India to uphold the sacred principles contained in this document that bind its citizens in the pursuit of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, and to ensure that the country does not stray away from the vision upon which India was built.”