In its report on the human rights situation in India in 2023, the United States’ State Department paints an appalling picture. The report for 2023 was released by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on April 22.

The report begins with the conflict between the Kuki and Meitei ethnic groups in India’s north eastern state of Manipur that resulted in at least 175 deaths and the displacement of more than 60,000 people between May 3 and November 15.

“Activists and journalists reported armed conflict, rapes, and assaults in addition to the destruction of homes, businesses, and places of worship. The government deployed security forces, implemented daily curfews, and internet shutdowns in response to the violence.

“The Supreme Court criticized the failure of the central government and the Manipur state government to halt the violence and appointed officials to investigate incidents of violence and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the rebuilding of homes and places of worship,” stated the report.

Country-wide there were “significant human rights abuses” the report added. “The government took minimal credible steps or action to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses,” it added.

India registered 813 cases of extrajudicial killings between 2016- 2022, with the most reported in Chhattisgarh, followed by Uttar Pradesh. According to non-governmental sources, there was one conviction of an army officer in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) of the 813 cases documented during that period.

According to human rights organisations, approximately 8,000-10,000 persons disappeared in the J&K region between 1989-2006, allegedly attributed to government forces, paramilitary forces, and terrorists. Data documenting disappearances in J&K since 2006 were limited, the US State Department report stated.

On March 24, the UN’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance and UN special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders expressed concern regarding the government’s treatment of Kashmiri human rights defenders and called for the closing of investigations against them and for their release.

Prisons were often severely overcrowded. According to the 2022 India Justice Report (IJR), the average national occupancy rate in prisons in 2021 was 130 percent.

The National Security Act allowed police to detain persons considered security risks without charge or trial for as long as one year. The Public Safety Act applied only to J&K and permitted authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members.

As of February, the press reported that more than 800 persons remained in detention under the Public Safety Act in J&K from 2019 to February, including 22 persons detained during the year.

According to a study by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the UAPA accounted for more than 8,000 arrests between 2015 and 2020.

Pre-trial detention was arbitrary and lengthy, sometimes exceeding the duration of the sentence given to those convicted. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data reported 427,165 prisoners were awaiting trial at the end of 2021, totalling 77% of the country’s prison population.

Academic experts noted the government tried to use the incentive of postretirement appointments to influence judges to pass judgements favourable to the ruling political party. Certain cases such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the validity of electoral bonds (a system of anonymous political donations instituted in 2017) had been on the Supreme Court docket for several years.

The National Judicial Data Grid has listed total pending criminal cases in the court system at more than 33.4 million as of October 25. Of these, 8.5 million cases had been pending for more than five years and 3.1 million for more than 10 years.

Net numbers of unresolved criminal cases continued to rise, with approximately 1.4 million new cases instituted each month against a disposition rate of approximately 1.2 million cases.

Between March 2020 and March 2022, there was a greater than 66 % decrease in the number of nationally sanctioned legal aid clinics providing representation.

Civil society organisations, members of diaspora populations, and journalists working outside the country and advocating for human rights reported experiencing threats, harassment, arbitrary surveillance, and coercion, including online, that they attributed to the government or individuals alleged to be connected to the government.

They reported that some of their families, friends, or associates in India also experienced harassment and pressure from local authorities because of their human rights activities. They noted these activities created a “chilling effect” on their advocacy efforts and led to self-censorship, due to fear of reprisals against themselves and their families in India.

Civil society leaders noted the blocking of social media accounts in India and hashtags, takedown requests, and proliferation of conspiracy theories in the country were examples of transnational repression against diaspora activists working to advance human rights and religious freedom.

For example, on October 14, accounts of Hindus for Human Rights and the Indian American Muslim Council on X (formerly Twitter) were withheld in the country after it was noted X received a legal removal demand from the government.

The government claimed that the two accounts violated the Information Technology Act. The blocking of these two accounts came after Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani and IT Cell Head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Amit Malviya publicly claimed that Hindus for Human Rights Executive Director Sunita Viswanath was working on behalf of philanthropist George Soros to allegedly “destroy India,” and that Indian American Muslim Council New Jersey President Tazeem Ansari was allegedly tied to the Pakistan-based Jamaat-e-Islami.

After the X accounts of both organisations were blocked in October, Malviya renewed these claims on his social media account.

A civil society organisation estimated the government demolished at least 43,000 homes between March 2020 and July 2021, as well as evicted approximately 21 persons every hour during that period, the report said.

Human rights activists reported some state governments targeted vocal critics from the Muslim community, especially after incidents of protests or communal violence, by using bulldozers to destroy their homes and livelihoods.

Following communal clashes between Hindu and Muslim communities in Haryana on July 31 and August 1, local officials demolished houses in a Muslim-majority district, claiming homes were used by perpetrators of communal violence and were built illegally on government land.

On August 7, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the Haryana state government to halt the demolition. The court questioned whether the demolitions were “an exercise of ethnic cleansing” against members of the Muslim community.

The Supreme Court issued a separate ruling ordering the central and state government to ensure protests were peaceful and described economic boycotts against Muslim businesses as “unacceptable.” The state government claimed the demolitions complied with the law.

Both the UAPA and the J&K-specific Public Safety Act allowed the government to seize property with limited due process or safeguards.

The RSF 2023 World Press Freedom Index described the country as “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media,” with an average of three to four journalists killed in connection with their work every year by police, political activists, criminal groups, and local officials.

Violence against journalists, an increasingly politically partisan media landscape, and the concentration of media ownership in the hands of government-allied business interests constituted a press freedom “crisis” in the world’s largest democracy, the RSF report stated.

There were 127 instances of internet shutdowns from December 2019 to December 2022. During this period, 18 states shut down the internet at least once, and 11 did not publish shutdowns orders.