Image Courtesy: thehindu.com
In yet another body blow to India’s reputation, The Freedom in the World report released by global non-profit Freedom House has slammed the ruling regime for an alarming departure from democratic norms, mainly on account of how it dealt with two key issues; abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The report titled Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy ranks 195 countries using 25 indicators along seven criteria; electoral processes, political processes and pluralism, functioning of government, freedom of expression and belief, association and organisational rights, rule of law, personal autonomy and individual rights.
The report clubs Indian Prime Minister Narndra Modi with US President Donald Trump when it comes to appreciation for freedom and democratic processes. It says, “…many freely elected leaders are dramatically narrowing their concerns to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest. In fact, such leaders—including the chief executives of the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies—are increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas.”
The report goes on to say, “The Indian government has taken its Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level with a succession of policies that abrogate the rights of different segments of its Muslim population, threatening the democratic future of a country long seen as a potential bulwark of freedom in Asia and the world.”
It specifically places India in the spotlight by stating, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s discriminatory actions against Muslims, and a fierce crackdown on protesters opposing the changes, indicated a deterioration of basic freedoms in the world’s largest democracy.”
The Freedom report pulls no punches as it states, “Almost since the turn of the century, the United States and its allies have courted India as a potential strategic partner and democratic counterweight to China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, the Indian government’s alarming departures from democratic norms under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could blur the values-based distinction between Beijing and New Delhi. While India continues to earn a Free rating and held successful elections last spring, the BJP has distanced itself from the country’s founding commitment to pluralism and individual rights, without which democracy cannot long survive.”
The report also compares India to Chine when it comes to persecution of minorities saying, “Just as Chinese officials vocally defended acts of state repression against Uighurs and other Muslim groups before international audiences in 2019, Modi firmly rejected criticism of his Hindu nationalist policies, which included a series of new measures that affected India’s Muslim populations from one end of the country to the other.”
Kashmir is ‘Not Free’
Reserving perhaps its sharpest criticism for how the Indian government went about creating a humanitarian crisis in Kashmir, the report says, “The first major step was the central government’s unilateral annulment of the semiautonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. Federal authorities replaced the state’s elected institutions with appointees and abruptly stripped residents of basic political rights. The sweeping reorganization, which opponents criticized as unconstitutional, was accompanied by a massive deployment of troops and arbitrary arrests of hundreds of Kashmiri leaders and activists. Restrictions on freedom of movement and a shutdown of mobile and internet service made ordinary activities a major challenge for residents. As a result, Indian Kashmir experienced one of the five largest single-year score declines of the past 10 years in Freedom in the World, and its freedom status dropped to Not Free.”
It adds, “Indian Kashmir’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the Indian government’s abrupt revocation of the territory’s autonomy, the dissolution of its local elected institutions, and a security crackdown that sharply curtailed civil liberties and included mass arrests of local politicians and activists.”
Report slams Assam’s NRC
Taking the government to task for the citizenship related crisis in Asport says, “The government’s second move came on August 31, when it published a new citizens’ register in the northeastern state of Assam that left nearly two million residents without citizenship in any country. The deeply flawed process was widely understood as an effort to exclude Muslims, many of whom were descended from Bengalis who arrived in Assam during the colonial era. Those found to be undocumented immigrants were expected to be placed in detention camps. However, the Bengali population that was rendered stateless included a significant number of Hindus, necessitating a remedy that would please supporters of the ruling BJP.”
Damning indictment of CAA
Finally, the report explores the Indian government’s interest in making an amendment to the citizenship law in the country saying, “That remedy was provided by the third major action of the year, the December passage of the Citizenship Amendment Law, which expedites citizenship for adherents of six non-Muslim religions from three neighboring Muslim-majority countries. In effect, India will grant Hindus and other non-Muslims special protection from persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, but Muslims—including those from vulnerable minority sects or from other neighboring states like China and Sri Lanka—will receive no such advantage. Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah has pledged to repeat the Assam citizens’ register process nationwide, raising fears of a broader effort to render Indian Muslims stateless and ensure citizenship for non-Muslims.”
The report concludes, “These three actions have shaken the rule of law in India and threatened the secular and inclusive nature of its political system. They also caused the country to receive the largest score decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies in Freedom in the World 2020. Tens of thousands of Indians from all religious backgrounds have taken to the streets to protest this jarring attack on their country’s character, but they have faced police violence in return, and it remains to be seen whether such demonstrations will persuade the government to change course.”
The entire report may be read here.
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