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Amnesty International Halts India Operations

Celebrating the work of Amnesty India in the midst of bad news

Source: Deccan Herald Newspaper, 30th September 2020, Sajith Kumar

In a saddening video, Amnesty International declared that they have halted their operations in India as their bank accounts have allegedly been frozen by the Government. The UK-based non-governmental organisation focusing on human rights has had to put all their current work in India to a "grinding halt" after "persistent harassment from the State". Yes, I know this is bad news that doesn't have any place in 'The Joyful Peach'. But after seeing several unnecessarily negative comments on the Instagram page of Amnesty India, I found it fitting to commemorate some of the accomplishments of this organisation– from campaigns to acts of powerful dissent:

  1. Progress for Transgender Rights

In August of 2016, the government published a contentious and "highly flawed" Bill on transgender rights in Parliament– including the necessity of a medical examination to be recognised as transgender, and the inability to self-determinate one's identity amongst others. Amnesty India, along with several other organisations, made several recommendations for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to amend the Bill.

GOOD NEWS: Merely a few hours ago, the transgender Rules has declared that no medical exam is needed to declare desired sex. It must also be noted that the bold stance taken by the organisation has initiated and still initiates much-needed discussion. For instance, in April of this year, many media platforms (like The Hindu) have covered the plight of the transgender community in the backdrop of the pandemic and called for action after Amnesty International's statements– "As the world comes together, India’s transgender community fights COVID-19 alone.”

2. Release of Undertrial Prisoners (pre-trial detention)

Undertrial prisoners are unconnected prisoners who have been detained during the period of investigation or trial for the crime accused to have committed. Often, prisoners remain under trial for a longer period than their sentence even is. According to a report published in 2017 by Amnesty, India has one of the highest undertrial populations in the world with 67% of prisoners being in this situation in 2015. Prolonged pre-trial detention violates the right to liberty and fair trial as one is punished before being convicted. Therefore, Amnesty India has done its fair share of work in releasing those mistreated.

Justice Under Trial, Amnesty International India, 2017

3. #LetKashmirSpeak

Unfortunately, with the sudden shut down of operations, campaign #LetKashmirSpeak has been left incomplete. However, we can still celebrate the efforts of Amnesty to attempt to lift the concerning communications lockdown in Kashmir. They persistently contacted the Indian Governor of J&K, Satya Pal Malik, to demand "[putting] humanity first and let[ting] the people of Kashmir speak". Furthermore, they forcefully called out the unethical and violent use of tear gas which is falsely considered a "safe method of dispersing participants of violent protests". In Kashmir, especially, tear gas is being used to choke dissent.

4. 'Our Safety, Our Rights' Campaign

This campaign, launched a few years ago, aimed to sensitive an estimated 50,000 students, parents, teachers, and key stakeholders on the issue of child sexual abuse. Amnesty India stepped in to help towards both the awareness and eradication of an issue that is a blatant and serious violation of child rights that can have a severe impact on the well-being of a child. The crux of 'Our Safety, Our rights' lay in empowering children to speak up and report abuse without fear; The campaign has tried to spread its reach by creating activity books and posters in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu for classrooms and homes.

5. Supporting Brave Whistleblowers

In 2014, the Whistle Blowers Protection Act was passed to create a procedure for whistleblowing while keeping them safe; an utmost necessity. However, over the years, amendments have been made to this Act that has weakened it, making the safety of whistleblowers uncertain. It is disheartening to know that practicing one's freedom of speech–a basic human right–can leave one vulnerable and susceptible to harm. Amnesty India International has tried to stand with the Brave and support others to do the same to ensure that citizens of India are not reluctant to expose the truth, and that those responsible are held accountable.

6. Human Rights Education

The human rights organisation quite fittingly launched a Human Rights Education (HRE) programme "to create a rights-respecting society in India by promoting the values and principles of human rights in communities." Amnesty worked directly with schools, colleges, and education systems to raise awareness on the same.

Amnesty believes greatly in the power of the youth to harness change in the 21st century.

Deccan Herald

While I have highlight merely a few of the things Amnesty India has worked on, I strongly believe that the most impactful thing they have done is stand as an ADVOCATE FOR DISSENT.

To quote the organisation, "This is not the end of Amnesty's human rights commitment in India".

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