- “Democracy Under Siege,” an annual report by Freedom House reveals that political rights and civil liberties in India deteriorated since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, while the decline accelerated after his 2019 re-election.
India’s status declined from ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free’ in 2020, as political rights and civil liberties were eroded, according to “Democracy Under Siege,” an annual report on global political rights and liberties by human rights watchdog Freedom House. The report says India’s change in status was due to a multiyear pattern in which the current government and its allies “presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting minorities and pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.” India scored 67 points out of hundred, with 34/40 for political rights and 33/60 for civil liberties. In 2019, India scored 71/100 and was considered free.
Despite being a “multiparty democracy, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has presided over discriminatory policies and increased violence affecting the Muslim population,” the report says. “The constitution guarantees civil liberties including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but harassment of journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other government critics has increased significantly under Modi. Muslims, scheduled castes (Dalits), and scheduled tribes (Adivasis) remain economically and socially marginalized.”
In the report, which rates people’s access to political rights and civil liberties in 210 countries and territories, authors Sarah Repucci and Amy Slipowitz observe that “as a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny.” They note that “to reverse the global shift toward authoritarian norms, democracy advocates working for freedom in their home countries will need robust solidarity from like-minded allies abroad.” Authors also discovered that the 2021 report “marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.” The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements “by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.”
According to the report, political rights and civil liberties in India deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, “with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims,” noting that the decline only accelerated after Modi’s reelection in 2019.
Analyzing the key developments of the past year, the report includes issues like decline of judicial independence, ‘Love Jihad’ laws, and crackdowns amid protests against India’s controversial citizenships laws — CAA and NRC. “Last year, the government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response,” the report said.
The report highlights the plight of the migrant workers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March. “Amid the pandemic the government imposed an abrupt COVID-19 lockdown in the spring, which left millions of migrant workers in cities without work or basic resources,” the report said. “Many were forced to walk across the country to their home villages, facing various forms of mistreatment along the way.” The report said police and citizen vigilantes “violently imposed harsh restrictions on movement with Muslims often scapegoated as potential spreaders of the virus.”
About the Ayodhya ruling, the report notes that in September, “several BJP leaders who were credibly accused of orchestrating the demolition of a historic mosque in 1992 were acquitted by a special court. Modi, the previous month, had signaled his support for the construction of a Hindu temple on the contested site.”
In conclusion, authors say “under Modi, India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all.” The report further notes that “the fall of India from the upper ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards.
The report has a separate section for Indian Kashmir as well as for Pakistan Kashmir. Indian Kashmir’s status declined from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free,’ “due to the Indian government’s abrupt revocation of the territory’s autonomy, the dissolution of its local elected institutions, and a security crackdown that sharply curtailed civil liberties and included mass arrests of local politicians and activists,” the report says. The Pakistani Kashmir was also rated ‘Not Free.”
Two days after the report was released, the Government of India refuted the findings and offered a rebuttal, calling it misleading, incorrect and misplaced. This is evident from the fact that many states in India under its federal structure are ruled by parties other than the one at the national level, through an election process which is free and fair and which is conducted by an independent election body. This reflects the working of a vibrant democracy, which gives space to those who hold varying views.
Indian twitterati also criticized the report in response to the India report posted on Twitter by Freedom House. “BREAKING: India is not rated ‘Free’ in Freedom in the World 2021,” the tweet read. “Political rights and civil liberties have eroded in India since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, causing the country to drop from Free to Partly Free in 2020.”
Many took objections to the report’s findings on India, and particularly about India’s map posted by Freedom House, which omitted the disputed region of Jammu & Kashmir. “What freedom are you talking about.. Who gave you the authority to show our map like that,” one user questioned. “Is this not violating and insulting my nation by portraying the map wrong and faking about my PM.”
Similarly another user accused Freedom House of “promoting the act of seceding from India. I deplore your thought-process and object against it. Only the @HMOIndia and @NIA_India are capable of examining this grave matter. I am saving your this tweet for records.