India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. The constitution gives the country’s 28 states and nine union territories a high degree of autonomy and primary responsibility for law and order. Electors chose President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to serve a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister for the second time following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general election. Observers considered the parliamentary elections, which included more than 600 million voters, to be free and fair, but there were reports of isolated instances of violence.
The states and union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are within state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; restrictions on internet freedom; overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; refoulement of refugees; serious government corruption; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation or gender identity; and forced and compulsory labor, including child labor and bonded labor.
Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and underresourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions.
Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist terrorism-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, kidnapping, and recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, but marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than 15. According to legal experts, the law does not criminalize rape of adult men. Rape of minors is covered by the gender-neutral Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO). Official statistics reported rape as one of the country’s fastest-growing crimes, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of survivors to report rapes, but observers believed the number of rapes remained vastly underreported.
Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape survivors were inadequate, and the judicial system was unable to address the problem effectively. Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape survivors and their attackers. In some cases they encouraged female rape survivors to marry their attackers.
The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated and at times unreported. NGOs observed the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and survivors remained major concerns and were more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government sought to expedite cases involving women by setting up more than a thousand fast-track special courts to handle pending rape cases. In addition, several high courts have also directed state governments to establish more fast-track courts to promptly dispose of pending rape cases.
Civil society organizations provided awareness and survivor-centered, nonstigmatizing, confidential and free care to victims of violence and facilitate referrals to tertiary care, social welfare, and legal services. Some also provided short-term shelter for women and child survivors of rape. These services were intended to encourage women and children to come forward and report cases.
Additionally, the central government implemented interventions to improve the safety and security of women while reporting violence. This includes centers for reporting and accessing health support, women help desks at police stations to facilitate reporting, emergency response support system via a mobile application for reporting emergencies, and training programs for police, prosecutors, medical officers, and the judiciary to respond to victims in compassionate and respectful ways.
Rape continued to be a persistent problem, including gang rape, rape of minors, rape against lower-caste women or women from religious and nonreligious minority communities by upper-caste men, and rape by government officials.
The minimum mandatory punishment for rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than age 16 is between 20 years’ and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than 12 is either life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offenses monitors sexual assault investigations. According to latest government data, 77 cases of rape per day were reported across the country in 2020.
On April 7, a 24-year-old Delhi woman was gang raped by five men in Gurugram, Haryana. The woman was raped repeatedly and left near Farrukhnagar, Haryana. To date, no suspects have been arrested.
On June 11, two minor tribal girls in Assam’s Kokrajhar District were found hanging from a tree after they were raped and killed. Police arrested seven suspects.
On August 1, a nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped, suffocated to death, and her body cremated in New Delhi. Police arrested and charged four suspects, two of whom admitted to raping her because she was a Dalit.
Women in areas such as in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized. Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown led to increased instances of domestic violence. Women and children were more vulnerable due to loss of livelihood of the perpetrator and the family being forced to remain indoors, where victims were locked in with their abusers with limited means to escape or access to resources.
Local authorities made efforts to address the safety of women. The NCRB’s 2021 Crime in India report revealed that overall crime against women fell by 8 percent from 405,326 cases in 2019 to 371,503 cases in 2020. West Bengal and Odisha reported the highest increase in crimes against women while Uttar Pradesh recorded a 17 percent decline in registered cases. Madhya Pradesh reported the largest number of domestic violence cases while Rajasthan reported the highest number of rapes.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million persons concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowries, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed a total of 7,045 dowry-related deaths in 2020 as compared with 7,141 in 2019. The highest number of cases were registered in Uttar Pradesh with 2,302 victims. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling mandates all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry death cases with murder.
Acid attacks against men and women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. On April 16, a man from Patiala threw acid on his wife for not giving birth to a son. The woman sustained burns on nearly 58 percent of her body in the acid attack. Police charged the man with attempted murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt.
On May 21, a woman contracted to have acid thrown on her boyfriend after he rejected her marriage proposal. Police arrested the perpetrator.
So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana; they were usually attributable to the victim marrying against his or her family’s wishes.
In August, Gwalior police in Madhya Pradesh arrested the father and brother of a 22-year-old woman found hanging at her home after a reported “honor killing.” Police also charged the woman’s uncle and two cousins with murder, as the family had opposed her choice to marry outside of her community.
Andhra Pradesh police registered a case of suspicious death as murder in response to a complaint that the parents of an 18-year-old girl allegedly killed and cremated her when she refused to end her relationship with a man of another caste.
The Telangana High Court questioned police statistics that reported only four “honor killings” and three cases of assault on individuals who married outside of their caste in the preceding four years in the state. A social activist filed a petition alleging 36 “honor killings” took place in the state in recent years.
There were reports women and girls in the devadasi system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities (a form of so-called ritual prostitution) were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons, including sex trafficking. This practice was found in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and almost always targeted girls from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. The practice deprived girls of their education and reproductive rights and subjected them to stigma and discrimination.
Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra have legislation that prohibits the devadasi system and provides rehabilitation services to women and girls affected by the practice. Enforcement of these laws remained lax.
In February police rescued a 19-year-old girl from Karnataka after she alerted them to her parents’ plan to force her into the devadasi system. Officials noted the victim’s mother was a former devadasi and insisted her daughter join the practice.
No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for an individual accused of witchcraft. The NCRB reported 88 deaths with witchcraft listed as the motive in 2020. Madhya Pradesh registered 17 cases of murder against those accused of witchcraft. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing accusing others of witchcraft.
On March 9, a woman’s dismembered body was found buried in Jharkhand. According to police, villagers suspected the woman of practicing witchcraft.
On May 25, a group of villagers in Assam’s Baksa District beat a 50-year-old tribal man to death. Police suspected a case of witch hunting and detained five persons.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography.
Reproductive Rights: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.
Policies and guidelines that penalized families with more than two children were not widely enforced but remained in place in various states. Certain states continued to maintain quotas for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children. For example, Assam linked a two-child norm to accessing state government benefits and running for certain offices.
Many states promoted female sterilization as a family planning method, which resulted in risky, substandard procedures and limited access to nonpermanent methods. The central government does not have the authority to regulate state public health policies. Some women, particularly poor and lower-caste women, were reportedly pressured to have tubal ligations, hysterectomies, or other forms of sterilization.
The government recognized the role of health-care professionals in treating survivors of sexual violence and implemented protocols that meet international standards for such medical care. Government directives instruct health facilities to ensure survivors of all forms of sexual violence receive immediate access to health care services, including emergency contraception, police protection, emergency shelter, forensic services, and referrals for legal aid and other services. Implementation of the guidelines was uneven, however, due to limited resources and social stigma.
In February the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the Sample Registration Report for Maternal Mortality Rates between 2016 and 2018, which estimated that the maternal mortality ratio declined to 113 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016-18, compared with 130 such deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014-16. The report indicated Assam’s maternal mortality rate, at 215 per 100,000 live births, was the highest in the country, while Kerala recorded the lowest maternal mortality ratio at 43 per 100,000 live births.
Care received by women, especially those from marginalized and low-income groups, at public health facilities was often inadequate, contributing to a reluctance to seek treatment. Government initiatives resulted in a significant increase in institutional births, but there were reports that health facilities continued to be overburdened, underequipped, and undersupplied.
Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There were reports these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies.
To counter sex selection, almost all states introduced “girl child promotion” plans to promote the education and well-being of girls; some plans required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men. The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws.
Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Other laws or customs relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law bans sex determination tests, the use of all technologies for the purpose of selecting a fetus’s gender, and sex-based abortions; however, NGOs claimed the practice of abortion based on sex was widely practiced across the country despite government efforts to enforce the legislation. This resulted in a sex ratio of 889 females per 1,000 males (or 112 males per 100 females) per the 2011 census.
States implement “girl child promotion” programs to counter prenatal sex selection. In 2015 the national government launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program to arrest the decline in the child sex ratio. According to government data, the sex ratio at birth improved from 918 girls per 1,000 boys in 2014-15 (109 boys per 100 girls) to 934 girls per 1,000 boys in 2019-20 (107 boys per 100 girls).
According to media reports, fear of giving birth to a girl child drove some women toward sex-selective abortion or attempts to sell baby girls.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, or place of birth. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower-caste groups to provide better quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.
The term Dalit, derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes. According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Caste members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons). The NCRB reported 50,291 crimes against Scheduled Castes in 2020 – an increase of 9.4 percent from 2019. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.
Discrimination based on caste remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. In August Haridwar police arrested two suspects for using caste-based slurs against Indian hockey player Vandana Katariya. The suspects were charged with insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace and violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act.
The law protects Dalits, but there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions (such as temples), and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without pay.
NGOs reported Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste, required to present caste certification prior to admission, barred from morning prayers, asked to sit in the back of the class, or forced to clean school toilets while being denied access to the same facilities. There were also reports some teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.
In September an Uttar Pradesh school principal was suspended and a police report filed for using caste-based slurs and discriminating against Dalit children.
On February 2, the minister for social justice and empowerment told parliament that Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of deaths of persons who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, work often performed by Dalits, between 2016 to December 2020. While Uttar Pradesh recorded 52 deaths, Tamil Nadu registered 43 deaths. Most manual-scavenging accidents occurred due to asphyxiation and exposure to poisonous gases when workers were inside the sewer systems and septic tanks. NGOs estimated the number of deaths was underreported.
On September 8, the Madras High Court directed the heads of corporations and municipalities in Tamil Nadu to submit a written report that no manual-scavenging work would be permitted in their jurisdiction. The court had previously indicated the heads of corporations and municipalities would be held personally liable for any manual-scavenging activity or mishap occurring in their jurisdiction. The court also recommended the state government obtain appropriate machinery and improve sewer lines to eliminate manual scavenging in the state.
Jewish groups from the 4,650-member Jewish community cited no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.
Trafficking in Persons
Buying and selling of human organs are prohibited by the Transplantation of Human Organs Act. Organs can be donated to close relatives as well as others in need of transplantation for medical reasons after proper authorization.
In July, Assam police arrested three persons for trading in human organs – mainly kidneys harvested from approximately 12 victims. Other reports indicated almost 30 individuals may have been victims. Reports suggested that pandemic-induced financial hardship led villagers to fall prey to those involved in the organ trade.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution does not explicitly mention disability. The law provides equal rights for persons with a variety of disabilities, and a 2016 law increased the number of recognized disabilities, including persons with Parkinson’s disease and victims of acid attacks. The law requires the government to provide persons with disabilities with unrestricted free access to physical infrastructure and public transportation systems.
The law states the government should take necessary measures for persons with disabilities to provide barrier-free access in government, private hospitals, and healthcare institutions.
The law further states the government shall take measures to provide: (1) facilities for persons with disabilities at bus stops, railway stations, and airports conforming to the accessibility standards relating to parking spaces, toilets, ticketing counters, and ticketing machines; (2) access to all modes of transport that conform with design standards including retrofitting old modes of transport, wherever technically feasible and safe for persons with disabilities, economically viable and without entailing major structural changes in design; and (3) accessible roads to address mobility necessary for persons with disabilities.
According to the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), only 494 state government buildings in 15 states were accessible by persons with disabilities. The Central Public Works Department has made 1,030 central government buildings accessible, while 603 railway stations and 44,153 buses were partially accessible by persons with disabilities.
The law establishes quotas of 3 percent of all educational seats and 4 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities. The government allocated funds to programs and NGOs to increase the number of jobs filled. In 2017 a government panel decided that private news networks must accompany public broadcasts with sign language interpretations and closed captions to accommodate persons with disabilities.
Access to education continued to be a challenge for students with disabilities. During the pandemic the closure of schools led to an increase in the number of students with disabilities dropping out. According to NGOs the digital divide has led to increased exclusion of persons with disabilities due to lack of access to technology.
The law states that the appropriate government and local authorities shall endeavor that all educational institutions provide inclusive education to children with disabilities. Toward that end, they should: (1) admit them without discrimination and provide education and opportunities for sports and recreation activities equally with others; (2) make buildings, campuses, and facilities accessible; and (3) provide reasonable accommodation according to the individual’s requirement. According to the law, the government shall take measures to promote, protect, and ensure participation of persons with disabilities in adult education and continuing education programs equally with others.
Private-sector employment of persons with disabilities remained low, despite governmental incentives. Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care was more pervasive in rural areas, and 45 percent of the country’s population of persons with disabilities were illiterate.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimated 25 percent of individuals with mental disabilities were homeless. Mainstream schools remained inadequately equipped with teachers trained in inclusive education, resource material, and appropriate curricula. Patients in some mental-health institutions faced food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical care.
The NCPEDP reported the government allowed persons with disability to access COVID-19 vaccination services using the Unique Disability ID cards.
In May the NCPCR reported a total of 99 sexual abuse cases relating to children with disabilities had been registered from 2017 to 2020.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
NGO activists reported heightened discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in the eastern area of the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.
LGBTQI+ persons faced physical attacks, and rape. LGBTQI+ groups reported they experienced widespread societal discrimination and violence, particularly in rural areas. Activists reported that transgender persons continued to face difficulty obtaining medical treatment. Some police officers committed crimes against LGBTQI+ persons and used the threat of arrest to coerce victims not to report the incidents. With the aid of NGOs, several states offered education and sensitivity training to police.
In June the Madras High Court ordered the state and union governments to draw up plans for reforms that protect sexual orientation and gender identity rights. The High Court recommended awareness training for government officials and police, separate housing for gender-nonconforming and transgender persons in prison, revocation of licenses from doctors who claim “cures” for homosexuality, and gender-neutral bathrooms at school and colleges.
On June 13, the Odisha state government began recruitment for police positions of candidates who self-identified as transgender. A Bhubaneswar-based transgender activist welcomed the move as one of the several protransgender policy decisions taken by the Odisha government in recent years.
On July 6, the Karnataka state government amended its civil services rules to enable a 1 percent quota of government jobs for transgender individuals to be filled through direct recruitment.