(New York) – The Indian government blocked foreign funding and escalated pressure on media and civil society groups critical of government policies, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing its World Report 2017. Authorities also failed to address attacks and harassment against religious minorities by vigilante groups claiming to be supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

Indian policemen patrol a street following a protest in Srinagar against killings in Kashmir, August 30, 2016.

© 2016 Danish Ismail /Reuters

"India’s crackdown on civil society groups threatens the country’s rich tradition of people’s movements,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of punishing the messenger by hindering their work, the government should engage with activists to improve access to rights and justice.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government continued to use the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which regulates foreign funding for civil society organizations, to cut off funds and activities of environmental and rights groups. In 2016, three United Nations special rapporteurs called on the government to repeal FCRA. However, the Modi administration blocked funding for 25 groups, including some prominent human rights defenders, without offering valid reasons.

India’s crackdown on civil society groups threatens the country’s rich tradition of people’s movements.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

Authorities continued to use sedition and criminal defamation laws to prosecute critics, often describing them as anti-national. Hindu vigilante groups attacked Muslims and Dalits over suspicions that they had killed, stolen, or sold cows for beef. A new report on caste-based discrimination by the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted that caste-affected groups continue to suffer exclusion and dehumanization.

A crackdown on violent protests in Jammu and Kashmir beginning in July killed more than 90 people and injured hundreds. The government failed to ensure accountability for police and soldiers in Kashmir and in other states, or to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

India also abstained on key UN resolutions to protect human rights.

“The BJP came into office with the promise of development and foreign investment, but has been unable to contain its supporters who engage in vigilante violence,” said Ganguly. “Repression and an ostrich approach to problems will only make investors doubt India’s commitment to basic rights and the rule of law.”