UN writes to India over inaction on death threats to Dalit journalist

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A group of United Nations rights experts has written to the Indian government expressing concerns re-garding the death threats received by Dalit journalist, Meena Kotwal, and the failure of the police to take cognisance of the same.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts said that they wrote to the Government of India on 3 February this year regarding this and the communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, during which time the Indian government was ex-pected to respond. However, the government did not respond during this period, they alleged.

The undersigned include the UN Special Rap-porteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes; and the Working Group on the discrimination against women and girls, the members of which include Melissa Upreti (chair), Dorothy Estrada-Tanck (vice-chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić and Meskerem Geset Techane.

In the communication to India, the UN rights experts expressed their serious concerns regarding what appears to be a deliberate and sustained cam-paign of threats and abuse towards Meena Kotwal.

“We are deeply concerned by the numerous threats against her life and physical integrity, and at the coordinated attempts by unknown individuals to further intimidate and threaten her. The intimidation of and threats against Ms Kotwal is particularly concerning, as it appears to be in direct retaliation for her exercising of her right to freedom of opinion and expression online, which in this instance involves a protest against the oppression of women, among whom Dalit women are disproportionally subjected to multiple forms of discrimination and violence and extremely marginalized, constituting a violation of international human rights law and standards,” they said.

Meena Kotwal is a Dalit woman human rights defender, journalist, and the founder of ‘The Mooknayak’, an online news channel and website that covers issues related to the persecution of the Dalit minority and marginalised people. It also ad-vocates for social justice and democracy for the marginalised.

It merits mentioning here that on 25 December last year, Kotwal posted a video of herself burning the Manusmriti, on the occasion of ‘Manusmriti Dahan Divas’, to commemorate Dr Ambedkar’s metaphorical burning of the Manusmriti in 1927, which he believed to be regressive and against women’s rights.

Since then, Kotwal reportedly began to receive threatening phone calls from unknown male indi-viduals, claiming to be associated with Hindutva nationalistic groups, such as Bajrang Dal, Karni Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Multiple callers allegedly told Kotwal that she would “suffer the same fate as Gauri Lankesh”. In one conversation, an individual allegedly warned her that her phone number was being widely distributed on WhatsApp groups and on social media pages, with instructions for others to also threaten her. The unknown male individuals also reportedly demanded that Kotwal remove the aforementioned video. When she refused, they allegedly threatened her with physical violence.

Kotwal has received threats of violence and abuse on social media platforms as well. One unknown caller allegedly claimed to be a police officer and others made casteist comments and threats of physi-cal violence against her.

On 30 December 2021, Kotwal filed a complaint at the Ambedkar Nagar Police Station in New Delhi, with details of the numbers that were contacting her and threatening her, and screenshots of the abusive messages and threats. The Station House Officer (SHO) of the Ambedkar Nagar Police Station asked the Sub Inspector to file Kotwal’s complaint. The Sub Inspector reportedly had Kotwal sit for a long time and advised her to not post such things, such as the aforementioned video, instead of filing her com-plaint. Kotwal requested the receipt of the First Information Report (FIR) from the Sub Inspector, who said that it would take time. Kotwal reportedly said that she would return to get the paperwork for the FIR from the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP).

After, Kotwal submitted a copy of the complaint to the Addl. DCP South West Delhi, she was told that the FIR would be filed in the Ambedkar Nagar Police Station. Kotwal returned to the Ambedkar Nagar Police Station, but an FIR based on her com-plaint had not been filed.—AP

 

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