Skip to main content

Dear Prime Minister Modi,

Congratulations on being sworn in as prime minister of India. As your new government takes office, we write to you about the human rights situation in India and urge that you take some key steps to help address current and longstanding problems.

Human Rights Watch is an independent nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. We monitor and report on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in about 100 countries around the world. We have been addressing human rights issues in India for more than three decades.

This election provides you and your government an important opportunity to promote and protect human rights, advance the rule of law, and strengthen democratic institutions in India.

As you know, the country faces many human rights challenges. We urge you to take concrete steps to defend fundamental civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in the areas specified below. We believe a proactive human rights agenda is crucial toward achieving this.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to a constructive relationship with your government and would be pleased to discuss these and other matters of mutual concern with you and members of your administration at any time.

Yours sincerely,

Elaine Pearson
Asia Director
Human Rights Watch

Key Human Rights Concerns in India

June 2024

Protect Freedom of Expression, Association and Assembly

There has been an escalating crackdown on the media and civil society in India. The authorities have misused the abusive, broadly worded counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), financial regulations, and other laws to silence journalists, human rights defenders, activists, and critics of the government.[1]

Authorities wrongfully prosecuted 20 student leaders and activists who participated in protests against the citizenship law in 2020 under the UAPA.[2] Sixteen other prominent human rights defenders who worked with the country’s most marginalized communities were arrested under the same law in relation to anti-caste violence in 2018.[3] Government data also shows a rising number of cases under the UAPA in Jammu and Kashmir.[4]

Authorities have shut down foreign funding for thousands of civil society groups, particularly those working on human rights or the rights of vulnerable communities, using the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

Authorities are using technology to curtail rights as part of its broadening crackdown on freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.[5] India continues to impose the largest number of internet shutdowns globally, often to shut down protests or criticism of the government.[6] This in turn, disproportionately hurts communities living in poverty that depend on the government’s social protection measures for food and livelihoods.[7] This is because the “Digital India” program has made regular internet access vital for delivering key public services.

In addition, the Personal Data Protection Act, Information Technology Act, and related rules empower authorities to undermine privacy safeguards and block online content, and enable unchecked state surveillance.[8] India has also been implicated in using Pegasus, the spyware produced by the Israel-based company NSO Group, to target activists and political opponents.[9]

Indian authorities are also restricting free expression, peaceful assembly, and other basic rights in Jammu and Kashmir.[10] There are growing restrictions on media, a number of journalists and human rights defenders have been arrested on spurious terrorism charges, and authorities regularly harass critics including through counterterrorism raids.[11]

We urge your government to:

  • Drop the charges and release all human rights defenders, journalists and others held on politically motivated charges.
  • Amend the FCRA so that it does not interfere with basic freedoms of association and assembly and cannot be misused to choke the protected activities of civil society organizations.
  • Amend the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to ensure that restrictions on organizations and individuals respect the right to freedom of association under international law.
  • Release all those arbitrarily detained in Jammu and Kashmir, and protect people’s right to peaceful protests.
  • End broad, indiscriminate, and indefinite internet shutdowns and improve transparency around shutdown orders by publishing every shutdown order in line with the Supreme Court directives.
  • Ensure any restriction on internet-based communications is lawful, necessary, proportionate, and limited in scope, and in compliance with international law.
  • Amend the personal data protection law to curb unchecked state surveillance and ensure that it is in line with international standards by safeguarding the right to privacy.

Protect the Rights of Dalits, Adivasis and Religious Minorities

There have been growing attacks on religious minorities in India.[12] The government has adopted laws and policies that systematically discriminate against minorities, especially Muslims and Christians.[13] Such laws, coupled with hate speech from political leaders has led to an increase in violence against minorities, followed by biased police action, seemingly intended as collective punishment and summary justice against Muslims.[14]

Dalits and Adivasis continue to face discrimination and crimes committed against them in a targeted manner, too often with impunity, including caste-based beatings, sexual violence, and other abuses. They are often excluded from proper access to education and livelihood despite ostensible government commitments.[15] Dalit and Adivasi women experience especially high rates of targeted violence, including sexual violence.

Despite an official ban on “manual scavenging” — the degrading and dangerous practice of manually cleaning human excrement from private and public dry toilets, open defecation sites, septic tanks, and open and closed gutters and sewers — it continues across the country, leading to deaths and injuries. Mostly Dalits and caste groups customarily relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy are forced to do this work.[16]

For over a year, Manipur state has been wracked by ethnic violence between the majority Meitei community and the Kuki tribal groups.[17] More than 200 people have been killed, over 60,000 displaced, and hundreds of homes and churches have been destroyed. Authorities shut down the internet in the state, restoring only fixed-line access after 84 days and mobile internet after seven months.

We urge your government to:

  • Promptly and impartially investigate ongoing killings by ethnic groups and security forces in Manipur, and work with community leaders to restore security.
  • Address the worsening environment for marginalized groups. Leaders should publicly condemn speech inciting violence, hatred and discrimination.
  • Ensure appropriate responses by police and judicial officials for full accountability for all crimes committed against members of marginalized groups, including crimes of sexual violence.
  • Repeal or amend the Citizenship Amendment Act, anti-conversion laws and laws banning cow slaughter, to comply with India’s international human rights obligations.
  • Ensure that the police are free from political influence and are able to take effective action during communal violence and carry out fair investigations to prosecute perpetrators.
  • Strictly enforce the anti-manual scavenging law, including against local government officials who engage in caste discrimination in the workplace.
  • Mechanize sanitation systems and support a professional sanitation workforce that abolishes caste-based practices which impose sanitation-related tasks on Dalits.
  • Establish a monitoring system for all government sanitation programs including Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

End Impunity for Security Forces

To uphold rule of law, it is crucial that state security forces, including the military and police, that commit human rights violations are held to account. However, too often, impunity prevails even in egregious cases of torture or extrajudicial killings.[18] The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) provides soldiers effective immunity from prosecution for serious human rights abuses.[19] Police reforms remain stalled even as police have been accused of torture and extrajudicial killings in several new cases.

We urge your government to:

  • Repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and remove legalized immunity granted under the Criminal Procedure Code to security forces.
  • Repeal the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and the National Security Act.
  • Implement police reform as recommended by the Supreme Court including to establish a complaint mechanism against police abuse.
  • Ratify the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol and the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Protect Refugee and Citizenship Rights

This year, India enforced the amendments to the citizenship law that discriminate against Muslim refugees despite widespread protests against them.[20]

Since October 2018, Indian authorities have threatened to deport Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar despite the risks to their lives and security, and have already repatriated over a dozen.[21] Rohingya Muslim refugees in India face tightened restrictions, arbitrary detention, violent attacks often incited by political leaders, and a heightened risk of forced returns.[22]

India has also failed to adequately protect the rights of other refugees from Myanmar, including members of parliament, civil servants, military and police officials, and civil society and human rights activists, who are fleeing renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and armed groups.[23]

We urge your government to:

  • Uphold constitutional and international law protections that prevent discrimination based on religion.
  • Provide fair asylum procedures and immediately release detained asylum seekers from Myanmar.
  • Uphold international legal obligations by scrupulously respecting the principle of nonrefoulement, by ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, by incorporating the provisions of that convention in domestic law and establishing full and fair asylum procedures, and, in the meantime, by working with the UN refugee agency to ensure prompt access to international protection mechanisms.

Protect Rights of Women and Girls

Women and girls continue to face barriers in reporting crimes on sexual violence.[24] Authorities have failed to properly implement the 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace law, leaving many women, especially those in the informal sector, at risk of violence and without recourse.[25]

We urge your government to:

  • Develop, adopt, and implement binding regulations providing standard operating procedures for all police, forensics experts, and the judiciary that ensure appropriate conduct and a survivor-centered approach in responding to cases of gender-based violence.
  • Enforce the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 by creating effective oversight, carrying out inspections and investigations, sanctioning employers who fail to comply, and ensuring remedies for survivors.
  • Ratify and implement ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, 2011, No. 189 and the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment, 2019, No. 190, paying special attention to sectors with heightened risk of violence and harassment and sectors with a high proportion of women in the work force.

Protect Rights of Children

Children also continue to face barriers to reporting sexual violence. Children from socially and economically marginalized communities remain at risk of early marriage, child labor, and trafficking.

We urge your government to:

  • Launch mass outreach campaigns to persuade communities and families of children who have been out of school - either due to the pandemic or other reasons - to return to school and have local authorities conduct outreach to individual families of out of school children, especially girls.
  • Develop and implement a national action plan to end child marriage.
  • Make, as expeditiously as possible, at least one year of pre-primary education compulsory and free for all children, and make additional years free over time.
  • Immediately increase financial investment in the public education sector bearing in mind international benchmarks established in the 2015 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action to dedicate 15 to 20 percent of the national budget to education, and the obligation to use maximum available resources for the realization of rights, including the right to education, and specific funding targets for pre-primary education.

Protect Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Persons

In 2023, India’s Supreme Court declined to legalize same-sex marriages and recognize civil unions among same-sex partners.[26] Moreover, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which was passed in December 2019, fails to provide full protection and recognition including the right to self-identify, which India’s Supreme Court recognized in a historic judgment in 2014. Its provisions are also contrary to international standards for legal gender recognition.[27]

We urge your government to:

  • Ensure LGBT persons enjoy all fundamental rights without discrimination.
  • Amend the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act to be in line with international standards and global medical best practices to separate legal and medical procedures regarding gender transition.

Protect Rights of Persons with Disabilities

People with disabilities experience a range of barriers to education, health care and other basic services, and are at risk of violence and discrimination. Many remain locked up in overcrowded and unsanitary institutions.[28] Women and girls with disabilities disproportionately face sexual violence and experience serious obstacles in accessing justice.[29]

We urge your government to:

  • Fully implement laws and policies to protect rights in cases of sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities.
  • Create and implement a national de-institutionalization policy with a time-bound action plan, based on the values of equality, independence, and inclusion for persons with disabilities, and shift progressively to voluntary, community-based mental health and independent living services.
  • Establish guidelines and monitoring mechanisms to improve conditions and prohibit arbitrary detention and involuntary treatment in mental hospitals and state and organization-run residential care institutions.

Promote Rights Abroad

India has long sought a greater voice in global affairs and campaigned to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It should take the lead in international efforts to curtail rights violations by abusive governments and speaking out for the rights of the oppressed.

[1] “India: Arrests, Raids Target Critics of Government,” Human Rights Watch, October 13, 2023,; “India: Increased Abuses Against Minorities, Critics,” Human Rights Watch, January 11, 2024,; “India: Laws Misused to Crack Down on Peaceful Dissent,” Human Rights Watch, February 8, 2024,; “Indian Court, Finding Lack of Evidence, Grants Bail to Activist,” Human Rights Watch, April 9, 2024,

[2] “India: End Bias in Prosecuting Delhi Violence,” Human Rights Watch, June 15, 2020,; “Indian Court, Finding Lack of Evidence, Grants Bail to Activist,” Human Rights Watch, April 9, 2024,

[3] Siddhartha Deb, “The unravelling of a conspiracy: were the 16 charged with plotting to kill India’s prime minister framed?” Guardian, August 12, 2021,; Niha Masih and Joanna Slater, “Evidence found on a second Indian activist’s computer was planted, report says,” Washington Post, July 6, 2021,

[4] Safwat Zargar, “‘For anything and everything’: UAPA cases are rising in Kashmir,”, April 9, 2021,

[5] Apar Gupta and Jayshree Bajoria, “India’s Digital Governance ‘Model’ Fails on Rights,” Just Security, September 6, 2023,; Apar Gupta, “An Act to Cement Digital Authoritarianism,” The Hindu, August 17, 2023 (accessed June 4, 2024).

[6] Human Rights Watch, “No Internet Means No Work, No Pay, No Food” Internet Shutdowns Deny Access to Basic Rights in “Digital India” (New York: Human Rights Watch),; “Shrinking Democracy, Growing Violence: Internet Shutdowns in 2023,” Access Now, May 2024, (accessed May 28, 2024).

[7] Human Rights Watch, “No Internet Means No Work.”

[8] “India: Data Protection Bill Fosters State Surveillance,” Human Rights Watch, December 22, 2022,; “India: Technology Use Shouldn’t Undermine Free, Fair Elections,” Human Rights Watch, April 8, 2024,; “India’s General Elections, Technology, and Human Rights Questions and Answers,” Human Rights Watch, April 8, 2024,

[9] “India: Spyware Use Violates Supreme Court Privacy Ruling,” Human Rights Watch, August 26, 2021,

[10] “India: Basic Freedoms at Risk in Kashmir,” Human Rights Watch, August 6, 2019,

[11] “India: Abuses Persist in Jammu and Kashmir,” Human Rights Watch, August 4, 2020,; “India: Media Freedom Under Threat,” Human Rights Watch, May 3, 2022,

[12] “India: Violence Marks Ram Temple Inauguration,” Human Rights Watch, January 31, 2024,; “India’s Hindu Festivals Bring Increasing Anti-Muslim Violence,” Human Rights Watch,; Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2023, India Events of 2022”,

[13] “India Activates Discriminatory Citizenship Law,” Human Rights Watch, March 15, 2024,; “Discriminatory Policies Trigger Religious Violence in India,” Human Rights Watch, August 3, 2023,; “India: Government Policies, Actions Target Minorities,” Human Rights Watch, February 19, 2021,

[14] “India: Surge in Summary Punishments of Muslims,” Human Rights Watch, October 7, 2022,

[15] “Crime in India, 2022,” National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 2023, (accessed on May 10, 2024).

[16] “India: Caste Forced to Clean Human Waste,” Human Rights Watch, August 25, 2014,

[17] “Indian Government Finally Responds to Violence in Manipur,” Human Rights Watch, July 21, 2023,; “Ethnic Violence Spirals in India’s Northeastern Manipur State,” Human Rights Watch, June 30, 2023,; “India: Investigate Police Bias Alleged in Manipur Violence,” Human Rights Watch, May 30, 2023,

[18] Human Rights Cases Statistics, National Human Rights Commission, May 6, 2024, (accessed on May 10, 2024); “India: Army Kills 14 Civilians in Nagaland,” Human Rights Watch, December 8, 2021,

[19] “Indian Troops Won’t Be Tried for Nagaland Killings,” Human Rights Watch, April 18, 2023,; “Kashmir: UN Reports Serious Abuses,” Human Rights Watch, July 10, 2019,

[20] “India Activates Discriminatory Citizenship Law,” Human Rights Watch, March 15, 2024,

[21] “India: Halt All Forced Returns to Myanmar,” Human Rights Watch, March 10, 2021,

[22] “India: Rohingya Deported to Myanmar Face Danger,” Human Rights Watch, March 31, 2022,; “India: 7 Rohingya Deported to Myanmar,” Human Rights Watch, October 4, 2018,

[23] “India: Release Detained Myanmar Asylum Seekers,” Human Rights Watch, July 28, 2021,

[24] “Olympic Committee’s Rights Commitments Tested in India,” Human Rights Watch, October 5, 2023,; “Olympics: Act on Sexual Abuse Complaints by Indian Athletes,” Human Rights Watch, June 7, 2023,; Human Rights Watch, “Everyone Blames Me”: Barriers to Justice and Support Services for Sexual Assault Survivors in India, November 2017,

[25] Human Rights Watch, “No #MeToo for Women Like Us”: Poor Enforcement of India’s Sexual Harassment Law, October 2020,

[26] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2024, India: Events of 2023,

[27] “India: Transgender Bill Raises Rights Concerns,” Human Rights Watch, July 23, 2019,; Kyle Knight (Human Rights Watch); Kyle Knight, “India’s Transgender Rights Law Isn’t Worth Celebrating,” commentary, The Advocate, December 5, 2019,

[28] Human Rights Watch, “Treated Worse than Animals”: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2014),; “India: End Lifelong Warehousing of People with Disabilities,” Human Rights Watch, January 28, 2024,

[29] Human Rights Watch, Invisible Victims of Sexual Violence: Access to Justice for Women and Girls with Disabilities in India, (New York: Human Rights Watch 2018)

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country

Most Viewed