The limitations of pursuing human rights in India: A critical analysis

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”


The year 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the National Human Rights Commission. We are celebrating the silver jubilee of an institution, the founding stone of which was laid down in the background of the Paris principle (adopted by United Nation General Assembly in 1993) to safeguard the purest form of rights i.e. the Divine rights or Human Rights. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 that gives statutory recognition to the commission was thus enacted with a pious objective to incorporate the greatest human values entrusted by various international instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, International Covenant on Civil and political Rights, 1966 and others in our domestic legal regime.

In the light of the said legislation, NHRC has been made responsible for protecting the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual, along with the provision for setting up State Human Rights Commission and District Human Rights Courts; to effectively deal with human rights abuses.

However, the existing system theoretically looks sound but in reality is far behind the apex standards and expectations. That can be understood in the light of below mentioned discussions.


Since, its inception, the commission has proved to be “a toothless tiger”; as it doesn’t have power to penalize the offenders. The functions of the Commission are mainly recommendatory in nature and the recommendations are not binding on the concerned authorities. Ironically, the commission which claims to protect the human rights of a common people is constrained to pray with hands folded before the state for timely disposal and implementation of the recommendations. It is generally on the sweet will of the concerned authorities to abide by the guidelines and directions. In most of the cases, it is just a moral obligation for the authorities and nothing more than that.

Further, the condition worsens in cases of complaints filed against police atrocities, when after a long period of consideration, the National Human Rights Commission transfers the matter to the State Human Rights Commissions declaring the subject ‘Police’ to be an exclusive jurisdiction of the state governments. The State Human Rights Commission then starts afresh, and the loop continues.

Even in some cases of serious nature, the victim who seeks immediate action finds no relevance in the action taken by the authorities due to unnecessary delay and therefore, remains aggrieved perpetually. Instance of complainants being victimized by the alleged police authorities is not an unprecedented event or a matter of surprise and has been reported frequently.

In addition to that, one of the major issues is the absence of an ‘Independent Investigating Machinery’ on ground level. However, the Commission has its own investigating staff headed by a Director General of Police for investigation into complaints of Human Rights Violation.

But, Practically on lower level, it is heavily dependent on the existing state machinery. Due to the unavailability of personals well acquainted with the knowledge of human rights and to investigate the cases of Human Rights abuse, the commission usually asks for action taken report from the senior authorities of the concerned departments who in their turn either complete their investigation in their air-conditioned office at the eleventh hour or rest the onus to prove the alleged violation on the commission indirectly. It has also been witnessed that the senior officials try to protect their subordinates to justify their own position. The authorities who are departmentally biased don’t hesitate to submit reports in favour of their subordinates, over which the commission neither has a say nor any mechanism to cross check.

Some other issues involved are-

a) The selection committee tasked with appointing the Chairman and the members to the Commission is dominated by the ruling party. Political interference in its working is a major drawback.

b) NHRC cannot inquire in any case, if the complaint is made after one year of the incident. This shows that there is a limitation period in which the victim has to complain. It is therefore clear that the acts which are found to be beyond the limitation period, NHRC cannot inquire; even if the violation is too extensive.

c) No time limit has been prescribed to dispose the complaints. It usually takes years to initiate proceedings in some cases that discourage the complainants to knock the door of the commission.

d) The Commission spends a lot on seminars and conferences in metropolitan cities but fails to reach countryside where cases of human rights abuses are prevalent. The unawareness among people about Human Rights and lack of proper access is further adding fuel to the fire.


In a bid to get international appreciation and to make the commission more compliant with the Paris Principles concerning its autonomy, independence, pluralism and wide ranging functions in order to effectively protect and promote human rights, the said proposed bill is waiting for its turn in the pipeline. The key proposals are as follows:-

  • Include “National Commission for Protection of Child Rights” as deemed member of the commission.
  • Add a women member in composition of the commission.
  • Enlarge the scope of eligibility and scope of selection of Chairperson, NHRC as well as SHRC.
  • Incorporate a mechanism to look after the cases of human rights violation in the Union Territories.
  • Amend the term of office of Chairperson and members of NHRC and SHRC to make it in consonance with the terms of Chairperson and members of other commissions.

The Amendment Bill is a welcome step and the proposals made are of greater significance but still the practical issues have not been dealt anywhere in the bill. The Bill mainly focuses on the composition of the commission and related shortcomings. There are other important flaws that must be done away with.


As a matter of fact, it must be admitted that despite the existing framework to protect the Human Rights, cases of Human Right abuse is continuously on rise in India. Like an ostrich hides his head in the sand in the hope that trouble will pass, we cannot afford to do the same. If there is an issue, that must be resolved with due care and diligence. In the background of above discussion, the government should mull over the following suggestions and adopt a holistic approach towards the up gradation of Human Rights Commissions to create a level playing field in true sense.

Few suggestions are:-

a) Setting up of Independent Investigation Team dedicated to investigate cases of Human Rights abuses at District and Sub-district level. These appointments should be made on a full-time basis. The members of civil society and academicians with proven track records in the field of Human Rights can be included as facilitators. Empanelment of reputed NGO’s having mass reach should be done on a large scale to cater the needs of the aggrieved people.

b) In collaboration of the Civil Society members, whistleblowers should be accommodated and encouraged to report cases of Human Right abuses, especially in the remote areas and on behalf of the disadvantaged and vulnerable sections of the society. Protection of these whistleblowers should also be given paramount importance.

c) The National Human Rights Commission must be given more teeth to penalize human rights abusers and provision to impose fine on authorities who fail to submit report within stipulated time should also be inserted through amendment Act on the line of the Right to Information Act.

d) The government must do legislative reform to minimize the role of ruling political party to ensure fair play in the selection process of the chairperson and members of the commission. The law makers should also remove the bar to inquire the complaints made after the expiry of one year of the incident.

e) Cyber Space can be used to revolutionize the battle of Human Right by launching Apps to make access to the commission more convenient and time- saving. It can also be used as a medium to impart knowledge of human rights among common people. The Government should also consider including Human Rights as a subject in the academic syllabus to inculcate Human values among students and their peer group.

Above all, Human Rights, being an antithesis of state atrocity and absolutism need the political will to triumph in the sky. We cannot let the Human Rights Institutions be “sophisticated empty guns” for whatsoever reason it may be. It is a sacred medium to serve humanity and mankind at large. When we profess Human Rights, we serve humanity and serving humanity is equal to serving the Almighty. So, the spirit of humanism should not only reflect in the documents but in our deeds also.


Raj Prashar 
on 03 January 2019
Published in Others
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