Freedom House, a pro-democracy research organisation and watchdog with headquarters in Washington, rated India as a “partially free” nation for the third year in a row.
It evaluated 195 nations based on factors including political freedoms and civil rights. The organisation can classify a certain nation as “free,” “partially free,” or “not free” based on the cumulative score.
According to the report, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has presided over discriminatory policies and a rise in persecution affecting the Muslim population.
“The BJP has increasingly used government institutions to target political opponents. Muslims, scheduled castes (Dalits), and scheduled tribes (Adivasis) remain economically and socially marginalized,” the report says.
Similar to last year, India received a score of 66 out of 100 in the 2023 report.
India received a score of 4 out of 4 for the evaluation of its voting procedures, however other characteristics received a lower rating (between 2 and 3).
Regarding freedom of expression and belief, the United States non-governmental organisation stated that attacks on media houses critical of the BJP have risen considerably under the Modi government and that 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,” said the organisation. “Hindu nationalist campaigns aimed at discouraging forms of expression deemed ‘anti-national’ have exacerbated self-censorship.”
According to the survey, Indian journalists also run the danger of being harassed, receiving death threats, and experiencing physical abuse while at work.
The raids on the offices of news portal The Wire in October and the arrest of Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair on suspicion of hurting religious sentiments were cited, along with the case brought by the Delhi Police against journalist Meer Faisal and news website Article 14 for their coverage of a Hindutva event in the nation’s capital.
According to Freedom House’s study, academic freedom has substantially declined in India in recent years as a result of intimidation of academics, students, and institutions over political and religious matters.
“Academics face pressure not to discuss topics deemed sensitive by the BJP government, particularly India’s relations with Pakistan and conditions in Kashmir,” the report says.
The report found that anyone who oppose the Modi administration’s policies, including activists, Muslims, and members of other marginalised groups, frequently face charges of sedition.
“Online ‘troll armies’ associated with the BJP routinely harass individuals – notably Muslims – and organisations for voicing criticism of the government and for engaging in behaviour that supposedly deviates from Hindu orthodoxy,” it said.
Moreover, it stated that Muslim homes had allegedly been demolished in retaliation for demonstrations, despite the fact that the authorities had claimed the dwellings were unlawfully constructed.
The Freedom House report was released a week after the Varieties of Democracy Institute of Sweden claimed that India was among the “worst autocracies” of the previous ten years. According to V-Dem, it is now “witnessing the most dramatic increases” in political polarisation, joining the likes of Afghanistan, Brazil, and Myanmar.