New Delhi: India’s status has been downgraded from ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free‘ by the US government-funded NGO Freedom House due to “a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters”.
India’s score in the organisation’s annual Freedom in the World report this year – based on data from 2020 – was 67, a drop from 71/100 from 2020, which downgraded it from the free category.
The democracy advocacy group noted that India’s fall from the upper ranks of free nations could “have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards”. The report said that the deterioration in political rights and civil liberties had “only accelerated after Modi’s reelection in 2019” and that judicial independence had also come under strain.
“In one case, a judge was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in New Delhi that left over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead,” the report said referring to the transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar from the Delhi high court in February 2020.
The report also made a note of Uttar Pradesh’s ‘love jihad’ law to prohibit forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage and said that a number of Muslim men had been arrested for allegedly forcing Hindu women to convert to Islam.
It further cited the abrupt COVID-19 lockdown “which left millions of migrant workers in cities without work or basic resources” and “resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers”. The lockdown, which had been announced by PM Modi on March 24, 2020, prompted thousands of migrant workers, who were stranded, to undertake long journeys home on foot. Many workers also died of starvation, exhaustion and rail accidents.
Referring to the vilification of members of the Tablighi Jamaat, the report further said that Muslims were scapegoated and blamed for the spread of the coronavirus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs. “Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,” it said.
BREAKING: India is not rated “Free” in Freedom in the World 2021. 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. #FreedomInTheWorld https://t.co/HuNzEAc6Nw pic.twitter.com/mae0CmGpi5
— Freedom House (@freedomhouse) March 3, 2021
“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 said.
Freedom House’s report also said that attacks on press freedom had “escalated dramatically” under the Modi government and that authorities had used “security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to quiet critical voices in the media”.
“Separately, revelations of close relationships between politicians, business executives, and lobbyists, on one hand, and leading media personalities and owners of media outlets, on the other, have dented public confidence in the press,” the report said in an apparent reference to the revelations from Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami’s alleged chats with the former chief executive of BARC Partho Dasgupta.
Regarding the US, which dropped three points over one year to 83/100, Freedom House said that the Trump presidency featured “ unprecedented attacks” on American democracy. “Only a serious and sustained reform effort can repair the damage done during the Trump era to the perception and reality of basic rights and freedoms in the United States,” it said.
The report also said that the “malign influence” of the Chinese regime in China was especially profound in 2020. “Its efforts also featured increased meddling in the domestic political discourse of foreign democracies, transnational extensions of rights abuses common in mainland China, and the demolition of Hong Kong’s liberties and legal autonomy,” it said.
In his first major policy speech about US’s new prioritie, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken referenced the report. “…We will renew democracy, because it is under threat. A new report of the independent watchdog group, Freedom House, is sobering. Authoritarianism and nationalism are on the rise around the world and governments are becoming less transparent and have lost the trust of the people,” he said on Wednesday.
— Department of State (@StateDept) March 3, 2021
The US democracy watchdog group, which was established in 1941 to mobilise support for American action against Germany in World War II, further noted that in countries like Algeria, Guinea, and India, “regimes that protests had taken by surprise in 2019 regained their footing, arresting and prosecuting demonstrators, passing newly restrictive laws, and in some cases resorting to brutal crackdowns, for which they faced few international repercussions”.
“With India’s decline to Partly Free,” the report said, “less than 20 percent of the world’s population now lives in a Free country, the smallest proportion since 1995.”