Indian American Muslim Council (www.iamc.com) an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos today expressed its concurrence with the annual report of Freedom House, the Washington-based pro-democracy think tank which designated India as only a “partly free,” democracy. Freedom House is a preeminent think tank in the US with significant influence on the discourse around American foreign policy.
The report on the global political rights and liberties, downgraded India, numerically the world’s largest democracy, from “Free” to “Partly Free” while highlighting a steady erosion of democracy increasingly manifested through pressure on human rights groups, the intimidation and harassment of journalists and academics, policies that target and harm religious minorities, particularly Muslims, and the politicization of the Indian judiciary.
“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,” said the Freedom House report titled “Democracy under Siege.”
The report reflects the worst four year decline in India’s Freedom House ranking- in 2018 it was 77th, the next year it was 75, in 2020 71 and in 2021 it is 67. The report referred in detail to atrocities against Muslims highlighting the fact that “the ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs.”
“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 over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead,” said the Freedom House report.
In December, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, approved a law that prohibits forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage, which critics fear will effectively restrict interfaith marriage in general; authorities have already arrested a number of Muslim men accusing them of “forcing” Hindu women to convert to Islam.
The report situates India’s status as part of a global shift in the balance between democracy and authoritarianism. It warns that India’s “fall from the upper ranks of free nations” could have damaging consequences for the prospect of world’s democratic standards.
“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,” it said.
“The alarming report of the Freedom House is not surprising given the rapidly escalating situation in India that has gotten alarm bells ringing across the United States and other Western European democracies,” said Ahsan Khan, President of IAMC.
Various American newspapers and magazines have questioned if India could still be called a democracy given Mr. Modi’s persecution of free speech and dissent and targeting of its minorities. The Editorial Board of the Washington Post in February called into question India’s status as a democracy, highlighting the clampdown on dissent, especially in reference to the arrest of a 22-year-old climate and animal rights activist Disha Ravi. Similarly, the NYT and the Economist in the past questioned Mr. Modi’s pretense of a democratic government.
“Arresting those who have expressed dissent, on false and fabricated charges is pervasive. Merely giving a speech or protesting, legitimate rights of citizens under the Constitution, can land people in jail,” said Mr. Khan while highlighting the situation of student leader Umar Khalid and anti-CAA protester Gulfisha, both of whom are in jail on fabricated charges.
“Many experts in the United States have raised concerns that India’s rapid transformation into a fascist state is following a genocidal trajectory, against Muslims, minorities as well as Hindus opposed to the Hindutva movement,” added Mr. Khan.
IAMC is dedicated to promoting the common values of pluralism, tolerance, and respect for human rights that form the basis of the world’s two largest secular democracies – the United States and India.