The Human freedom index 2020 ranked India 111th among 162 countries. India fell 17 spots compared to the 2019 rank. The index scans the civil, economic and personal freedom within a country. In the past year, a lot happened in India. The protest against the farm bill, unimaginably large list of cases under UAPA, sedition charges, the new norms for social media platform and the face-off between the private companies and the government with regard to this issue are to name a few. In fact, the new IT rules allegedly infringe the right to privacy which is again a human right.
By definition, human rights are simply the rights and the freedom that an individual enjoys by virtue of being a human. The Universal Declaration of human rights is the document but lays down its foundation. It was proclaimed by United Nations General Assembly in Paris in 1948. The document comprehensively along with the two covenants- the international covenant for civil and political rights and the international covenant for economic, social and cultural rights the International Bill of Rights.
On the lines of the document, India established statutory committees in 1993 the National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commission under the protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. It is a watchdog institution. Recently it was amended in 2019. Despite having a statutory body to overlook human rights Indian performance in the human freedom index was dismal. According to many experts, the Commission is a toothless body. The Commission has practically no power of investigation and hence it is reduced to a recommendatory body. Government can reject its recommendations. Also, most of the pleads go unheard since the legal period for registering a complaint is one year from the incident. The chairperson of the National Commission can be a person who has been chief justice of the Supreme Court or a judge of the Supreme Court. There are three members (At least one should be a woman) who are selected from amongst retired judge of the Supreme Court or retired Chief Justice of a High Court. From the structure itself, it is clear that most of the members are judicial and therefore critics often complain about NHRC being a retirement plan for judges. State Human Rights Commission have even more restricted powers.
We all know what is required to rehaul the system and make it more resilient. Firstly, few changes in the structure of the National Human Rights Commission and states Human Rights Commission by giving them more investigative powers can be the starting point of reforms. Secondly, dissensions should not be muffled. The government should withstand the scrutiny of the activists and answer their queries. No government is bigger than human rights in a democracy. Sedition charges or UAPA should not be used as tools of silencing. These are not new suggestions. The supreme court in its numerous judgements, expert committees and civil society have advocated for a robust human rights system. The wait for a more responsive system is not over and the people are sanguine that reforms will happen in future.