According to a recent study from the United States, India is no longer a free country. Which means, it is no more a completely free country. It is “partly free”. What exactly does this study imply? Is it the reality, or is it a global plot to tarnish India’s image?

In general, freedom refers to the ability to act or change without restriction. The word “freedom” has a strong emotive force, or the ability to elicit strong emotions. Freedom is not a black and white concept. It must be assessed on a regular basis in terms of fundamental liberty and equality, as well as the degree to which these principles are applied to the country’s people. Many organisations around the world measure this right using a variety of criteria. Freedom House, a non-profit organisation based in the United States, is one such organisation that recently released a report. Initially, Freedom House operated for two key reasons in the USA. First, fighting for racial equality. During the 1940s, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Whites’ in the United States did not have equal privileges. The second struggle was against McCarthyism. In the 1940s and 1950s, US Senator McCarthy was terming the people in his opposition as communist elements, traitors and sympathizers of the Soviet Union. Many citizens were detained solely on the grounds of being communists at the time. They had nothing to do with Communism, it was later revealed. McCarthyism is the name given to this phenomenon. Freedom House has been at the forefront of the battle against fear mongering. They began publishing their report ‘Freedom in the World’ in 1973, which evaluates countries all over the world on the basis of freedom and assigns a score.

 India received a Partly Free grade in the 2021 Freedom in the World survey. The question then arises in light of this report’s conclusion. The methodology of this report is similar to a school exam. Every country in this report is scored out of 100.There are two subjects in this exam. Political rights are about 40 points, and civil liberties are about 60 points. The Political Rights part deals with Democracy. Questions in this part includes, is it acceptable for people to form political parties and run for election? Is the government holding elections that are free and fair? Is it bribing the media or other lawmakers to silence critics? Is the government operating in a transparent manner? Is it true that the elections were held in a free and equal manner? The category on Civil Liberties examines freedom of speech and belief; are trade unions, NGOs, and other organisations free to operate? Is the country’s judiciary independent? People’s personal autonomy in matters such as marriage, education, jobs, land, and business is questioned. There are a total of 25 such questions, each worth four points. As a result, a total of 25 x 4 = 100 points. Well then who is in charge of the exam and who is in charge of grading the papers. This NGO receives 86 percent of its support from the United States government. This research, however, was not supported by any government. According to the NGO, this study was sponsored by companies such as Google. More than 125 analysts and nearly 40 advisors worked on the 2021 version of this study.

Another aspect is about this report ratings. It’s close to our school’s ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ systems. Free, Partly Free, and Not Free are the grades for this report. In terms of India’s ranking, it earned a 34 out of 40 in Political Rights. 85 percent is a decent result, and India did well in the Political Rights category. In the subject of Civil Liberties, India’s scored only 33 out of 60 marks That is, 55%. Here the performance was quite bad Following the publication of this study, one statement from a particular group of people became increasingly popular: that this report is part of a foreign plot to smear India’s name, and that we should ignore any such NGOs attempting to defame India. When people can’t come up with a rational response in a discussion, they always criticise the source’s character. Although some people believe the government’s curtain has finally been removed and their true selves (as authoritarians) have been revealed, others accuse the country of blindly ignoring the blatant death of absolutism.

Fortunately, our government did not respond by claiming that this is a hoax. Instead, the published a proper statement, refuting the claims of the NGO And said that all citizens are treated equally as per constitution, Human Rights are protected, internet shutdowns and sedition cases were enacted to maintain law and order. Perhaps the most critical aspect of the international backlash against Internet shutdowns that the government overlooks is the fact that officials at both the federal and state levels are not asked to justify why such a broad crackdown is essential. According to the Freedom House survey, internet freedom in India has deteriorated sharply for the third year in a row.  The government stated that the temporary suspension of telecom or internet services is issued under the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act, 185, and is used with the overarching goal of sustaining law and order while adhering to strict safeguards. These were the government’s key points in its response. This two-paragraph defence, particularly the section about how the telecom suspension rules protect law and order with strict safeguards, does a disservice to legitimate concerns posed by privacy experts and civil liberties organisations. The 2017 regulations are undeniably a significant improvement over previous methods of imposing Internet and telecom shutdowns, and they provide a consistent protocol that must be followed, including a review mechanism. However, the laws themselves contain badly drafted wording and ambiguous terminology, not to mention the fact that they are still not being implemented properly in some states four years after they were passed. They specifically note, for example, that temporary suspension of telecom services is only permitted in the event of a “public emergency or public safety.” And yet, many state governments make a mockery of this high legal norm and regularly suspend Internet services to deal with far less weighty issues, such as to discourage cheating in school and college exams.

Let’s discuss a look at India’s grade and see where it fell short. I would like to discuss the highlights. Especially, the problematic areas where India scored low. Under the heading of Political Rights, there are several concerns about the electoral process. Is it true that India’s elections are held in a free and equal manner? In all of them, India received a perfect score. 12 out of 12 points. Another issue concerns whether all segments of India’s population, including ethnic, racial, religious, gender-based, LGBT+, and other groups, have full political rights and opportunities. India could score only 2 out of 4. Another Question was if there are any safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? India got only 2 out of 4. Since the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act has been ineffective since its inception in 2014. Then there was question if the Government operate with openness and transparency? Fetched 3 out of 4 marks because often RTIs are written to the government which go unanswered. Government-issued Electoral Bonds, for example, conceal the source of financing. Additionally, the amendments of 2019 to the RTI Act weakens tithe vacancies in the Central Information Commission are not filled up by the government on time. Also during his term, our prime minister has yet to hold a press conference. As a result, it’s not shocking that India’s transparency score is so low. In the area of civil liberties, questions such as: Is there a free and independent press? India scored 2 out of 4. Since over 67 journalists have been arrested or detained in 2020. Not because they were involved in a criminal case, but simply because they were doing their jobs. One of the major examples is Kappan Siddique. Who has been detained as a result of his coverage of the Hathras case? In public and private, are people free to exercise and share their religious beliefs or non-belief? India scored 2 out of 4. When the pandemic was still in its early stages in 2020, the media and the IT cell pushed a narrative of how Muslims and the Tablighi Jamat were to blame. That they were carrying out Corona-Jihad. The courts, on the other hand, had stated that no religion was to blame for the virus.

Is it safe for people to express their political views? India received three out of four possible points. Not only have people been arrested for their Facebook posts, but those who speak out have also been targeted by Income Tax and ED raids. Is there freedom of assembly? Here also India got 2 out of 4. The farmers’ protest, for example, is an example of how the government dug up roads, erected barricades, and did all it could to keep citizens from coming together to protest. The next question is quite critical. Is there an independent judiciary? In it too, India scored 2 out of 4. Do rules, laws, and procedures ensure that different parts of the population are treated equally? Are the laws enforced in our country fair for everyone? Here also, India scored 2 out of 4. Under this question an example of Arnab Goswami’s case, in which the Supreme Court granted bail right away. On the other hand, when other journalists are jailed who aren’t as famous, Supreme Court never takes actions expeditiously. Do people have fair access to opportunities and are they free from economic exploitation? Nowadays it is estimated that 2 to 5 crore people are still victims of bonded labour and human trafficking. Child labour is still a problem, with children being forced to work in potentially dangerous industries. This may be one of the reasons why India earned a two-out-of-four rating in this category. When it comes to India’s overall ranking, it was 77 out of 100 in 2018. It was 75 in 2019, and it was 71 in 2020.This year it has fallen to 67. It has been declining continuously since 2018. If you still believe this study is a plot to defame India, I’d like to point out that this isn’t the only metric on which India’s ranking has been declining. The Economist Intelligence Unit publishes a Democracy Index that analyses the democracy index of countries around the world. India was ranked 53rd in the Democracy Index in 2020, and 27th in 2014.

Sweden, Finland, and Norway were the top scorers on this test, scoring 100 out of 100. New Zealand earned a score of 99 out of 100. And Canada received a score of 98 out of 100. On any of these requirements, the citizens of these countries have complete equality. In the Not Free category, China, on the other hand, earned just a 9 out of 100. This report reveals an unfortunate reality that India is not the only country where democracy has begun to deteriorate. The United States’ ranking has also been decreasing in recent years. In Hongkong, Belarus, Myanmar, Thailand, in all these countries the score has been falling. The report also stated that the Chinese regime’s “malign influence” in China was particularly strong in 2020. Its efforts have included intensified meddling in international democracies’ domestic political dialogue, transnational extensions of mainland China’s rights violations, and the destruction of Hong Kong’s liberty and legal autonomy. In fact, when comparing the results from the previous few years, more countries have fallen into the Partly Free and Not Free categories than into the free category in 2021.

Since 2005, democracy has been dwindling around the world. You may find it disappointing, but keep in mind that democracy is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. Democracy has not been the norm throughout human history. We are an extraordinary generation living in an exceptional period, when the majority of countries are democracies with free people. However, there is no guarantee that it will remain the same in the future. This serves as a reminder to all of us that rather than avoiding reality, we should learn from it. It is our generation’s responsibility to safeguard democracy. Democracy and liberty should not be taken for granted as if they have always existed and always will. For years, our freedom fighters have fought to get us to this stage.

Finally, I would like to ask you to think about all these 25 questions and the marks India scored on them. Are they justified?

Author: Arisha Naqvi

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