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 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The Election Commission is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In May 2019 voters re-elected the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the country’s general elections, which involved more than 600 million eligible voters. During the year state assembly elections took place in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal, and Assam. Observers considered these elections free and fair.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens 18 and older. There are no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including two positions as cabinet ministers. This represented a decline from the first Modi government when nine women served in the cabinet. The 2019 general election resulted in 78 women elected to the lower house of parliament, compared with 66 in the 2014 general election. The sole female chief minister leads West Bengal.
The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. Members of minority populations had previously served or currently served as prime minister, president, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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.
Section 7. Worker Rights
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. A separate law bans discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV or AIDs. The law does not forbid employment discrimination against individuals with communicable diseases or based on color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.
The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are physically or morally harmful.
The government effectively enforced the law and regulations within the formal sector; however, penalties were not sufficient to defer violations. The law and regulations do not protect informal-sector workers (industries and establishments that do not fall within the purview of the Factories Act), who made up an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.
Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. The American Bar Association report, Challenges for Dalits in South Asia, noted, “Dalits have been provided with reservations (or quotas) for government jobs; however, reservations do not apply to private sector jobs.” Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: State government laws set minimum wages and hours of work. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.
The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and limits the amount of overtime a worker may perform. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.
State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages and hours of work. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers.
To boost the economy following the COVID-19-induced lockdown, many state governments relaxed labor laws to permit overtime work beyond legislated limits. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat passed executive orders to suspend enforcement of most labor laws for a period of up to three years to promote industrial production.
Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law sets safety and health standards. State governments enforced additional state-specific regulations. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal-sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.
Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.
On February 23, two workers were killed, and 26 others injured in a blast at the United Phosphorous Limited plant in Jhagadia, Gujarat. State authorities shut down the plant following the blast.
On June 7, a fire at the SVS Aqua Technologies chemical plant near Pune in Maharashtra killed 18 persons. Preliminary investigations revealed that flammable materials had been stored in the plant without following prescribed safety norms. On June 8, police arrested the factory director on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and subsequently released him on bail. In March, Geneva-based IndustriALL noted high accident rates continued in factories, chemical plants, and mines. According to IndustriALL, the 14 accidents reported during the year resulted in 42 workers’ deaths and approximately 100 workers being injured.
Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. The World Bank reported most of the labor force is employed in the informal sector. A report issued by the State Bank of India in October estimated the size of the informal sector was more than 52 percent of the total labor sector, but other estimates placed the percentage much higher. On August 26, the Ministry of Labor and Employment launched the e-Shram portal to develop a national database of unorganized workers including migrant workers, construction workers, and gig and platform workers. The portal will facilitate the extension of social-sector benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. More than 30 million unorganized workers registered on the portal as of October 8, nearly half of them women.
According to the World Bank’s Shifting Gears: Digitization and Services-Led Development report, low-skilled and urban workers faced the brunt of employment shocks due to the second wave of COVID-19, and their earnings have yet to return to 2019 levels. In December 2020 a World Bank economist for South Asia and other experts noted more than 44 percent of the country’s informal workers were unemployed in April 2020. In 2020 the International Labor Organization connected the high rate of informal work to a low level of education and skill levels of the overall workforce. Within the informal sector, casual or temporary wage workers were more likely to lose employment than self-employed workers, regardless of industry, location, education, or caste.