"Free" to "Partly Free" India

India Mar 12, 2021

Freedom House, a Washington-based, widely noted think tank has demoted India’s freedom score from “Free” to the “Partly Free” category in it’s annual assessment and report. The think tank said that rights and civil liberties “have been eroding since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014”, specifically referring to attacks on minorities, use of the sedition law, and the government’s coronavirus response including the lockdown.

India’s score decreased from 71 to 67 out of 100,  with 100 being the ranking for the most free country- resulting in India’s rank falling from 83 to 88 out of 211 countries. In its annual report, Freedom House said, "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's -- 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 organization assesses nations on 25 different indicators. The following questions are the cause for the fall in India's score according to statements by Freedom House:

“Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?” The report states this score declined because 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 non-governmental 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 the human rights organization to shut down operations in  India.

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

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

The report also says, “The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to COVID-19 included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers. The ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus 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."

India’s Internet Freedom Score has remained 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.

Between 2013 and 2015, India’s ranking had risen twice consequently by 1 point, going up from 76 to 78. The ranking had remained 77 from 2016 to 2018. It dipped to 75 in 2019 and 71 in 2020. Freedom House noted that the change in India's status from "Free" to "Partly Free" was the most significant for 2020 and also released a statement saying that now " less than 20 percent of the world’s people now live in a Free country -- the smallest proportion since 1995".

After reading about the changes in India, as noted by Freedom House, do you think there has been a larger, more general shift in the international balance between democracy and authoritarianism?

This article has been written by Kyra Songadwala for The Paradigm.

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