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We are not a free country anymore as the Global freedom watchdog report downgrades India to ‘partly free’

Democracy- seems like a very complicated thing that India these days just seem unable to understand, but it really is just a simple paradigm standing on 3 pillars- equality, freedom and fraternity. We have fought hard to be here, at this level of rights, freedom, equality and opportunities. And well, looks like we are giving it all away, especially because we are so focused on turning a blind eye that we forget the world is watching.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi led NDA government coming into power back in 2014, India witnessed a wave of certain communal triggers and widespread protests across the country for multiple reasons that we cannot deny. But as years passed by, this took a more violent turn towards religious intolerance, undemocratic ruling and distortion of basic constitutional and human rights with tools such as internet shutdowns. The normalisation of the usage of sedition law, police brutality and civil rights violation are some things that define India we look at today. We, as citizens, may very well hide under the government distributed blanket of conspiracy but the world can see clearly, beyond politics and self-interest. We may be silenced by the government’s constant attempts to erode opinions and brutalise the protestors but the world is bold, loud and clear. The demotion of India in the global ranking of free countries is one such response by the world.

Washington based noted think tank ‘Freedom House’ in its recently released report of the ranking of free countries, has demoted India’s freedom score from 71 to 67, on a scale ranging to 100, 100 being the score for the most free country. With this downgrade in the score, India now belongs in the category of ‘Partly free’ country as opposed to the earlier ‘free country’. Give a moment to acknowledge this fact- We are not a free country anymore.  You know when you see your countrymen speaking up against the government trying to suppress voices, oppress people and violate their rights- they are trying to stop the government from taking away our freedom, freedom to express, speak. When we call them conspiracists and “andolanjeevi”, we are letting the government get away with taking away our freedom. Well, looks like that’s what we did.

India’s rank on the global grounds fell from 83 to 88 out of 211 countries and the reason cited explains how rights and civil liberties have been eroded since the advance of Narendra Modi’s nationalist government in 2014. Fingers have been pointed at the government’s actions relating to attacks on certain communities, the unregulated use of the sedition law and the government’s coronavirus response including the lockdown. The report mentioned also criticised the government’s persistent attacks on academicians and journalists, with people being brutalised and thrown into jail without proper evidence and being denied basic means of contact. The government’s attempt to suppress voices is not even silent and indirect anymore, those who are speaking up are facing consequences like income tax raids, arrests and worse yet, sedition. Ignorance and mishandling of the largest protest in the world history undertaken by Indian farmers that have been going on for 90 days now are also heavily criticised in the global watchdog’s report. On these lines, the report 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 — 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 arrests of activists, journalists and climate change callers is an attempt to scare people from speaking up, which, however, the government is getting thoroughly successful in especially considering how all is hidden in name of conspiracies and the national media staying silent. Monitoring OTT content, cyber content and other tracings would further crackdown expressional freedom of the people, especially considering the new India where anti-ruling party means anti-national. This behaviour to establish nationalist dominance is pretty evident from the government’s pattern and anybody in their right senses can point it. The organisation thus mentioned, “a pattern in which the nationalist government and its allies have presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting some sections of the population and pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters”.

With India no longer being a free country, less than 20% of the world’s population now lives in free countries, the number being lowest since 1995.  The organisation after the release of the report expressed in a press conference how “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.”

This move of India from a free to a partly free country is a step towards the direction of authoritarianism that India seems to be moving towards under the Narendra Modi rule. The score that was 77 back in 2016 now stands at 67 in 2021, thanks to the government and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics and dissenters during the period, with more activists put in jail in these past years that the country had ever witnessed. The government’s mishandling of the pandemic induced lockdown where the ruling nationalist movement encouraged the scapegoating of people and disproportionately blaming them for the spread of the virus is also heavily criticised. The government has largely displayed a pattern of avoiding accountability and it continues to do so as we are busy playing the nationalist anti-nationalist game amongst ourselves.

The downfall in India’s score was mainly because of this one question- “Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?” Well, ask yourself because you and I both know the answer to this. The last time I checked, India was still a democracy and no democracy can exist with the answer to that question being a ‘no’.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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