India loses ‘free nation” status in Freedom House 2021 report

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Freedom House the Washington-based noted think tank, which human rights activists say reflects reality in modern India, demoted what was once known as the world’s largest democracy from “free” to “partly free.”

In the report published on 3rd March 2021, the Washington-based institute funded by the US government justified the change of India’s status by saying that civil rights in the country “have been eroding since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014.”

It cited increasing attacks against Muslims and misuse of sedition laws to curb dissent, with Modi and his party “tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism.”

India’s score decreased from 71 to 67, with 100 being the ranking for the most free country and its overall rank fell from 83 to 88 out of 211 countries listed in the report.

India’s score of 67 puts it on a par with Ecuador and Dominican Republic.

The report states that “His (Modi’s) Hindu nationalist government has presided over increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks — including lynching — aimed at Muslims. The decline deepened following Modi’s re-election in 2019, and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 featured further abuses of fundamental rights.”

The main opposition party, Congress, said that losing its “free” status was a shame for the government.

“After 73 years of freedom, if we are called partially free by an NGO which is funded by the US government, shouldn’t our heads be lowered in shame?” Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate told reporters.

Some of the country’s activists and intellectuals say, however, that the report comes as no surprise.

“It states the obvious. Under the majoritarian and authoritarian government all the constitutional safeguards are destroyed and compromised,” renowned public intellectual Prof. Apoorvanand Jha of the University of Delhi

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immediately dismissed the report and its findings. “The report is biased and (politically) motivated,” says BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma.

In the press release by Freedom House, the organisation noted that a “pattern in which the Hindu nationalist government and its allies have presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population and pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters”.

This study is based on answers to questions which had answers that had shifted from 2014 till date and had resulted in the drop of the international standing of the Nation. A few of the questions and their answers are listed to show what has happened to the nation as a whole.

These were questions like, “Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?” which had a response of “the use of sedition and other charges in recent years to deter free speech, including discussion of a discriminatory citizenship law and the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights and governance-related work?”, this score declined because of amendments to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and the freezing of Amnesty International’s assets, leading to the shutdown of the organisation’s India operations.

“Is there an independent judiciary?” was decimated by the appointment of the former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to the Rajya Sabha, which highlighted “a pattern of more progovernment decisions by the Supreme Court”, and “the high-profile transfer of a judge after he ruled against the government’s political interests”.

and “Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?” and this score declined due to the migrant crisis and “violent and discriminatory enforcement by police and civilian vigilantes”.

India’s Internet Freedom Score stayed at 51. However, the report stated that “internet freedom in India declined dramatically for a third straight year”, citing Internet shutdowns, blocked content, disinformation spread by political leaders, online harassment, amendments to the Foreign Direct Investment Policy, coordinated spyware campaigns and digital monitoring.

According to Freedom House, India under Modi 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.”

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