India was downgraded to “partly free” in an annual ranking of democracies by the US-government funded research group, Freedom House, for “worsening civil rights under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
The self-proclaimed world’s largest democracy slipped in rankings because of continuing discrimination against Muslims and increased harassment of government critics and journalists, according to the “Freedom in the World” report released by the Washington-based organisation.
The report cited “a multi-year pattern in which the extremist Hindu nationalist government and its allies have presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies.” It listed several events in 2020 like religious riots in Delhi, the use of sedition laws against critics, and hardships endured by migrant workers after Modi announced a sudden lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic.
“Political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, with increased pressure on human rights organisations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims,” said the report, stressing that the decline only accelerated after Modi’s re-election in 2019.
“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. Judicial independence has 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 more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead.”
“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 added.
India was among 73 nations downgraded for declines in political rights and civil liberties, affecting three-fourths of the world’s population. The report, which ranks 210 nations, found that states designated “Not Free” have reached the highest since 2006. Those affected included not just authoritarian states like China, Belarus, and Venezuela, but also troubled democracies like the US and India.
India’s status change means that less than 20% of the world’s people now live in a “free” country — the smallest proportion since 1995, the report said.
The changes in India since Modi took charge in 2014 “form part of a broader shift in the international balance between democracy and authoritarianism, with authoritarians generally enjoying impunity for their abuses and seizing new opportunities to consolidate power or crush dissent,” the report said.
Freedom House was formally established in New York in 1941 to promote American involvement in World War II and the fight against fascism, according to its website.