India faces a setback at the international front over freedom index

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India faces a setback at the international front over freedom index

*India has been downgraded from ‘Free’ to Partially Free’ in the annual report published by Freedom House, a Washington-based pro-democracy think tank and human rights watchdog.*

Published this week, the latest report marks the 4th consecutive year of democratic backsliding under the Modi government, highlighting that the country appears to be inching closer to authoritarianism.

"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,” the democracy research institute stated in its annual assessment.

The report stated that political rights and civil liberties have eroded in India since Modi became prime minister in 2014, and have further accelerated after the Indian prime minister’s re-election in 2019.

The US government funded NGO which has been a vigorous proponent of democratic values for almost eight decades, assigned an overall score of 67 to India in its annual Freedom in the World report. The decline from last year’s status, the democracy advocacy group noted, was driven by several factors, including legislation and policies that undermine the political rights of Muslims, increased government pressure on human rights organizations, and rising intimidation of academics and journalists in the country.

“I’m not surprised at all. Since Modi’s election India has become a more regulated society. One way of judging it is how dissenters and journalists are being treated. In the last couple of years India has become a very dangerous place for journalists, particularly those who criticize Modi or his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” said Dr. Talat Wizarat, a noted scholar of International Relations.

“The erosion of rights happened gradually, but the free fall probably became difficult to control after Modi’s re-election in 2019,” said the former chairperson of Department of International Relations at University of Karachi.

According to the Washington-based research institute, India has witnessed a 9-point decline since 2005. This year’s report also raises several questions about the Indian judiciary’s role. Citing the recent acquittal of BJP leaders who were credibly accused of orchestrating the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992, the report said judicial independence had also come under strain since Modi’s re-election.

Quoting another case from last year, the authors mentioned that a judge was transferred to a less desirable position after he issued rulings that criticized Delhi police for their failure to address communal violence and related hate speech by BJP politicians.

Referring to the Indian government’s actions against members of the Tablighi Jamaat, the advocacy group said Muslims were scapegoated by the BJP government as potential spreaders of the coronavirus and subsequently exposed to attacks by vigilante mobs.

Freedom House also highlighted laws against religious conversions implemented in BJP-ruled states. “Under Modi, India appears to be elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all,” the report said.

An increasing number of Hindutsva activists claim that Hindu women are being forcibly converted by Muslim men through marriage. The theory has been labeled as ‘love jhad’. Such conspiracies, the report explained, are being used to enact laws that prevent interfaith marriages in India.

In its annual report, Freedom House assigns a grade to each country on 25 different indicators that measure the health of a given country’s democracy. The overall score allows the Washington-based pro-democracy watchdog to rank countries as “Free”, “Partly Free” or “Not Free”.