Political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, says US-based democracy watchdog
Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India
NEW DELHI — Freedom House, a US-based democracy watchdog, has marked India as ‘Partly Free’ citing a pattern in which the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies have presided over rising violence and ‘discriminatory policies against Muslims.
According to the report, the government has pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.
“Political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims,” the report reads.
It states that the attacks on press freedom have escalated dramatically under the Modi government, and reporting has become significantly less ambitious in recent years. Authorities have used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt of court charges, to quiet critical voices in the media. Hindu nationalist campaigns aimed at discouraging forms of expression deemed “anti-national” have exacerbated self-censorship, says the report.
Freedom House mentions key developments of 2020 for this decline in the freedom index. These included the Delhi riots which killed more than 50 people, most of them Muslims, amidst violence over anti-CAA protests; use of sedition law and IT Act against journalists, students, and private citizens in response to critical speech on CAA and Covid-19 pandemic; hardships faced by migrant labourers and escape-goating of Muslims as alleged spreaders of virus in the initial days of country-wide strict lockdown enforced by central government to curb the spread of coronavirus; and acquittal of BJP leaders who are seen as alleged conspirators in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 by a Hindu nationalist mob.
On the free and fairness of elections to choose executives the Freedom House gave India 4 out of 4 but got only 2 on political rights and electoral opportunities to various segments of population.
“Muslim candidates notably won 27 of 545 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, up from 22 previously. However, this amounted to just 5 per cent of the seats in the chamber, whereas Muslims make up some 14 per cent of the population,” the report said, adding that with enactment of CAA and the proposals of nation-wide citizenship tests under NRC the “political rights of India’s Muslims continue to be threatened”.
The government did not also fare well on safeguards against official corruption, openness and transparency.
The report points out weakening of academic freedom in recent years citing increase in intimidation of professors, students, and institutions over political and religious issues. It talks about the violence including attacks on students and professors by members of the student wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on campuses across the country. “Academics face pressure not to discuss topics deemed sensitive by the BJP government, particularly India’s relations with Pakistan and conditions in Indian Kashmir,” the report adds.
The authorities repeatedly suspended internet services to restrict the ability of the people to assemble and organise protests, says the report. “The national government and some state governments used assembly bans, internet blackouts, and live ammunition between December 2019 and March 2020 to quell widespread protests against the CAA and proposals to roll out a citizens’ registration process across the country,” the report notes.
According to the report, human rights groups in India continue to face threats, legal harassment, excessive police force, and occasionally lethal violence.
It notes that the government has been accused of using the powers under Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) “to target perceived political opponents”. The report cites the example of how Amnesty International had to shut its offices after the government froze its bank accounts allegedly over its criticism of the government’s actions in Kashmir and the Delhi Police’s complicity in the February 2020 communal violence, in which Muslims were the main victims.
The report also raises red flags in the judiciary noting the “unusual appointment” of a recently retired chief justice to the upper house of Parliament.