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NHRC’s remit: Human rights body has an incredibly important job. Praising govt is not part of that


The 1993 law that brought the National Human Rights Commission as well as the State Human Rights Commissions into being is crystal clear about their role: Inquire into violations of human rights or negligence in prevention of such violations by a public servant, and intervene in legal proceedings for the same. This is how regulatory checks on power work in a democracy, with one institution ensuring accountability of the other. It is against this backdrop that some of chairperson Justice Arun Mishra’s comments on NHRC’s foundation day cause a measure of disquiet, in that he spoke more for the government than for the organisation’s core function.

To illustrate, he condemned the “new norm” of India being falsely accused of human rights violations at the behest of “international forces” and praised GoI for ushering in a “new age” of peace in Jammu & Kashmir. Other arms of government have the competence to sort out international conspiracies, if any, NHRC doesn’t. Its work is incredibly weighty but decidedly domestic. As for J&K and “peace”, that judgment is to be, again, made by many other stakeholders, including the media and voters. That’s not NHRC’s remit. This position holds even if one agrees with the nullification of Articles 370 and 35A, as this newspaper does. What is NHRC’s job is what Justice Mishra referred to in other parts of his speech – citizens needing protection from false cases, instant justice and encounters.

This public body has been called a “toothless tiger” by the Supreme Court and a cynical argument could be that human right violations are so endemic in India, what can NHRC do after all? But the right approach is to push on nonetheless. Last year it memorably stood up for migrant workers. That’s the kind of work NHRC should do – and talk about.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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