The global democracy watchdog, Freedom House, downgraded India to a “partly free” nation from an earlier “free” country. Freedom House, which is a non-profit organisation funded by the US Government, released its ratings on March 3 in which India scored a total of 67 out of 100, down from 71 in the past year. India ranked 88 among the 211 countries.
The report said the decline in ratings is due to a “multilayer 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 protestors”.
Among the major developments in 2020, Freedom House marked the violence that took the shape of communal riots in North East Delhi in February, while the then US President Donald Trump was in New Delhi, which ended up in 55 people being killed, most of them belonging to the minority community. It also took into account how the authorities filed criminal charges against journalists, students and private citizens under the sedition law and Information Technology Act in response to critical responses to the Citizenship Amendment Act and the Government’s policies in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in India. It also took the cognizance of how the nation’s migrant workers faced hardships due to the pandemic induced lockdown in March and April, forcing the migrant population to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes. Along with these factors, it also included how India’s Muslim population were “scapegoated” for the widespread of the virus in the nation. Other developments in 2020 included in the report include the acquittal of several leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party, who were “credibly accused of orchestrating the demolition of a historic mosque in 1992”.
“Was the current head of Government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?”, “Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?” and “Are the electoral laws and framework fair and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?”, in all these sub-categories, India scored a full 12 points. However, India performed poorly when it came to “personal autonomy and individual rights” and “rule of law”, scoring only 9 out of 16 and 8 of 16 respectively.
“Is there academic freedom and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?”. A score of 2 out of 4 was achieved in this sub section. The report clearly stated “Academic freedom has significantly weakened in recent years, as intimidation of professors, students, and institutions over political and religious issues has increased. Members of the student wing of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—from which the ruling BJP is widely regarded to have grown—have engaged in violence on campuses across the country, including attacks on students and professors. Academics face pressure not to discuss topics deemed sensitive by the BJP government, particularly India’s relations with Pakistan and conditions in Indian Kashmir.” It must be noted that the alleged people in the violence that took place at Jawaharlal Nehru University on the evening of January 5 the previous year, (in which several students and teachers were injured, some of them severely) also included those belonging to the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, and no arrests have been made till date, despite clear evidence against a few.
“Is there an independent judiciary?”, the score changed to 2 out of 4 because of the “unusual appointment if a recently retired chief justice to the upper house of the parliament, a pattern if more progovernment decisions by the Supreme Court, and the high-profile transfer of a judge after he had ruled against the government’s political interests all suggested a closer alignment between the judicial leadership and the ruling party.”
Like last year, Freedom House listed “Indian Kashmir” separately, and retained its status as “not free”. It must be remembered that between 2013 and 2019, “Indian Kashmir” was labelled as “partly free”.
In the Internet Freedom report, India stayed at 51. However, the report stated that “internet freedom in India declined dramatically for the third year straight.”
Freedom House is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation funded by the US Government and was established in the year 1941 and conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights.
Aditya Jha is a student pursuing Psychology from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.