Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Karnataka State Human Rights Commission

A couple of days back, on our regular visit to the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission(KSHRC), Gowru and I picked up our copies of their 2009-2010 annual report. The day was very unusual. We had a long and sympathetic audience with SHRC chairperson Justice Nayak - I mean, the meeting was long and we were sympathetic to the plight of this man, who shouldered this august commission. It was apparent that with a modest staff and only recommending authority, his task was not easy.  We sat listening to him talk about the more than 5000 suo-moto cases that he had  filed, his fond association with PUCL stalwart like Kannabiran, his values on individual rights, his hopes with the nation's youth, his despair at the state of disrepair of the entire nationhood and its fast crumbling edifice. He spoke, intensely, passionately, in recognition of our kindred spirit; we had once again turned up to appeal to him, this time on behalf of beggars and destitutes, the most impoverished members of the society.

A simple perusal of their annual report showed more than a doubling in the annual  number of petitions received by the Commission from all districts of Karnataka, including Bangalore Urban/Rural. In fact in the March 2009-2010 period more than 8,800 complaints had been received by KSHRC.It seemed that an increasing number of people, organisations and communities were turning to our Human Rights' Commissions for directives, recommendations and solutions, to problems inflicted on them by the State, its police force and a burdened/ politicized judiciary.

When systems set up to uphold and enforce provisions of individual rights and civil liberties, enshrined in our constitution, fail and instead turn against the citizens whose interests they are established to serve, then the human rights' commissions become people's last frontier for hope or justice. While doing so, we fail to consider the strengths or weaknesses, intrinsic or deliberate, of such organisations. We also fail to grasp the enormity of our expectations - that we expect a small independent body functioning out of a office to redress the ills inflicted by a repressive state on human rights of any of its subjects. The investigative team at SHRC comprises a IGP and a DSP. That is the extent of its army - its strength. This and and an understanding of justice of its chairperson.

Today, I sat with a yellow highlighter and went through their annual report, page by page. All rulings (with an exception of a couple) with KSHRC recommendations end with 'awaiting complaince' or 'complaince report not received'...from the IGP, from Principal Secretary (Home Dept.), from Law and Commerce etc. etc. The annual report is one long compendium of justice served, but not implemented, from a castrated system established as a convenient cover by the State - to be ignored, deliberately and with impunity. How and who takes a state to task when it commits a continued series of wrongs against its citizens, improvises an impotent commission to verify the veracity of these wrongs, empowers it to rule on these wrongs  but finally ignores all its orders? What is one to do in a case like this?

In a recent misguided instance in Bangalore, a bunch of human rights organisations got together to vilify the HRC in general, and KSHRC in particular. Several examples were cited as to the ineffectiveness of this organisation. Some even went as far as to recommend abolishing the commission which served little purpose.
While one can understand and sympathize with frustrations and failures of dealing with SHRC, this is playing directly into the hands of a State which would have us redirect our angst against such a puny organisation; have it become the scapegoat of State's giant failures, malpractices and repressive actions.

The correct question to ask is why are so many cases being filed with SHRC? As Prabhakar Sinha, PUCL national President says "for wrongs committed within a state, we do have a giant complex machinery in place to approach and expect resolutions".  However, for wrongs committed by the State, we have limited recourse for seeking redemption or justice. National and State Human Rights Commission, despite their limited powers, were established to address and check misuse of powers, especially by the state. So a more appropriate question would be on how to empower HRCs to carry out their duties more effectively? How can SHRC's ruling be ensured of implementation? We need our commissions for precisely the roles that they were created for i.e. to provide independent checks on misuse of powers by State; for this, these commissions have to be strengthened, and empowered first, because who else will work in the interest of the citizens and at a minimum  say " A Wrong was Committed?"