A 28 year old Dalit human rights defender, Mr. Poovarasan, was abducted from his house by five police officers in Tamil Nadu, and brutally tortured and abused using derogatory caste names. Following the abuse, the police filed false charges against him. Unable to walk, the victim was taken to court in an ambulance, and the Police inspector forced the ambulance with Mr. Poovarasan in it to drive off the court premises, while he threatened Mr. Poovarasan to remain silent about the assault. An urgent appeal has been launched to ensure proper medical treatment for the victim and consequences for the involved police officers.
The urgent appeal case details the brutal beatings that Mr. Poovarasan was subjected to and is a report of the entire incident including the intervention from advocates from the human rights organisation that Mr. Poovarasan worked for, Makkal Mandram, to ensure that the case was registered and medical exams undertaken. A model appeal to be filled out and adapted by organisations and individuals has been created.
IDSN strongly condemns this incident and is deeply concerned about the escalating targeting of Dalit human rights defenders in the region. Last week a Dalit human rights defender in Bangladesh, Mr. Milan Das, was also assaulted and beaten for carrying out human rights work, and there is an alarming number of reports from the region on Dalit human rights defenders facing threats, intimidation, harassment and violence when carrying out their work. Often these human rights defenders have a number of false charges filed against them that are later dropped.
The former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya, has raised particular concern for the situation of Dalit human rights defenders. During her last visit to India the Rapporteur expressed concern, “at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adavasis (tribals), religious minorities and sexual minorities, who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities. Collectivities striving for their rights have in fact been victimized.”
Human Rights Watch research has identified various patterns of atrocities by police officials. More than 60% of the victims of torture belonged to SCs and religious minorities. Custodial torture and deaths, encounter deaths, raids on Dalit colonies after inter-caste clashes, violence against Dalit women, false arrest of Dalits, violence to crush peaceful protests by Dalits; violence against entire Dalit colonies while searching out a Dalit accused.
NCDHR-National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) has documented numerous cases in India of threats of physical assault, murder, and insults to Dalit human rights defenders in public places by using caste-based abusive language. Assaults in public places, torture, illegal detention, harassment and misbehavior, forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, illegal imprisonment, surveillance and targeting of family members and implicating in false cases have not been uncommon rights violations against Dalit human rights defenders.
IDSN urges that the points of action set out in the appeal in the case of Mr. Poovarasan be undertaken and that the Government of India do more to protect Dalit human rights defenders. The UN and regional bodies should also include special attention to the particularly vulnerable situation of Dalit human rights defenders in their work in the South Asia region.
Related IDSN news: