On 3 February 2022, on the intimidation and threats case against Dalit women journalist & Founder of The Mooknayak, Meena Kotwal, a response was sought from the Government of India by the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before becoming public, during which the government was expected to respond. The government did not respond during this period.
India — On 25 December 2021, Meena Kotwal posted a video of the burning of Manusmriti, which she believed advocated the suppression of women’s rights, on the occasion of ‘Manusmriti Dahan Diwas’.
After the video went viral, Meena Kotwal receives threats of violence and abuse on social media platforms. An unidentified caller allegedly claimed to be a police officer and others made casteist remarks and threats of physical violence against him.
From 26 December 2021 onwards, Meena began receiving threatening phone calls allegedly from unidentified male individuals who claimed to be associated with Hindutva nationalist groups such as the Bajrang Dal, Karni Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Several callers reportedly told Ms. Kotwal that she would “suffer the same fate as Gauri Lankesh”. In one of the conversations, a man reportedly warned her that her phone number was being widely distributed on WhatsApp groups and social media pages, with other people, also instructed her to threaten her. The unidentified male persons also reportedly demanded that Ms. Kotwal remove the above video. When she refused, they allegedly threatened her with physical violence.
Complaint to police
On 30 December 2021, Ms. 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 Ms. Kotwal’s complaint. The Sub Inspector reportedly had Ms. Kotwal sit for a long time and advised her to not post such things, such as the aforementioned video, instead of filing her complaint. Ms. Kotwal requested the receipt of the First Information Report (FIR) from the Sub Inspector, who said that it will take time. Ms. Kotwal reportedly said that she would return to get the paperwork for the FIR from the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP).
After Ms. 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. Ms. Kotwal returned to the Ambedkar Nagar Police Station, but an FIR based on her complaint had not been filed.
According to the guidelines issued by the Delhi Police, a woman may lodge a complaint via email or registered post, or send a written complaint through an email or registered post addressed to a senior police officer of the level of Deputy Commissioner or Commissioner of Police. The officer in question then directs the SHO of the police station in the area where the incident occurred to conduct proper verification of the complaint and lodge an FIR. The police may then visit the residence of the victim to take her statement. In order for an investigation to take place, an FIR must be filed first. At the time of writing, an FIR is yet to be filed by the Ambedkar Nagar Police Station for her case.
UN HRDs on this matter
A reply was expected from the Government of India on the matter. The Government did not respond during the period of 60 days. The United Nations Communication on the matter is..
“In the communication, we expressed our serious concerns regarding what appears to be a deliberate and sustained campaign of threats and abuse towards Ms. Meena Kotwal. We are deeply concerned by the numerous threats against her life and physical integrity, and the coordinated attempts by unknown individuals to further intimidate and threaten her. The intimidation of and threats against Ms. Kotwal are particularly concerning, as it appears to be in direct retaliation for the 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 disproportionately subjected to multiple forms of discrimination and violence and extremely marginalized, constituting a violation of international human rights law and standards. The threats and harassment that Ms. Kotwal has been subjected to are occurring against a backdrop of orchestrated intimidation campaigns against groups of women online in recent weeks and months in India, revealing a seriously concerning online environment for women journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and activists”.
“We further conveyed our concern regarding the alleged delay in filing an FIR based on Ms. Kotwal’s complaint, and hence a delay in the investigation of the allegations of threats and abuse, despite her repeated attempts to urge authorities to do so. The inaction of authorities responsible for filing the FIR in relation to the complaint has the potential to put Ms. Kotwal in physical danger, due to the death threats she is receiving. We urge your Excellency’s Government to pressure the authorities to file an FIR based on Ms. Kotwal’s complaint in the Ambedkar Nagar police station”.