Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government appear intent on squelching any independent scrutiny of India’s human rights problems. Last week, the government froze the assets of the human rights organization Amnesty International, claiming that the organization was in violation of Indian law. Its stated reasons aside, there is more than ample evidence that the government was irritated by Amnesty’s unfavorable reports on recent riots in New Delhi, India’s human rights record in Jammu and Kashmir, and the passage of recent legislation that could adversely affect Muslims.
Images of Amnesty International closing its Indian offices may be shocking, but this is hardly the first time an Indian administration, faced with similar criticisms, reacted with hostility. For example, at the height of the Kashmir insurgency in 1990, Narasimha Rao, then prime minister, was surely irritated by criticism of the Indian security forces’ harsh counterinsurgency tactics. Still, his actual efforts to limit the work of foreign human rights organizations in India was minimal. On the contrary, stung with repeated allegations of rampant human rights violations in Kashmir, his government created the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to examine the charges. Initially dismissed as a public relations move, over time, the NHRC became more autonomous and powerful.