Freedom in Fetters

Dr Suresh Mathew Dr Suresh Mathew
15 Mar 2021

A demotion for India. That too in an area it claims to be the largest in the world. An international institution, Washington-based Freedom House, has put India in the “partly free” category, bringing it a notch down from the “free” category. On similar lines, another global agency, Sweden’s V-Dem Institute, has described India as an “electoral autocracy” stating that the country is as autocratic as Pakistan and worse than Bangladesh and Nepal.

It is easy to see an international conspiracy in these reports. But it won’t help to retrieve the situation. The developments in the recent past tell a story that justifies the global agencies’ reports. Look at the following scenarios. India is witnessing an unprecedented increase in the number of cases and arrests under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The number of people put behind bars under sedition laws, even for dissenting from government policies, is on the rise. Adults opting for inter-religious marriages are locked up in jails under the new anti-conversion law. The litany of such disturbing instances that strangulate the freedom of people goes on and on.  

The irresponsible statements of people holding responsible positions have muddied the water further. The remarks of Amitabh Kant, the Chief of Niti Aayog, that “we have too much of a democracy” was nothing but a reckless one. As if not to be left behind, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath joined the fray with another unscrupulous statement that secularism was the biggest threat to India. Attack on democracy and secularism combined with curbs on political rights and civil liberties have only helped to downgrade India as a free country. In the ranking system where 100 means a near-perfect democracy, India has fallen from 71 last year to 67 this year. It would be easy to sidestep the low ranking as a sinister foreign conspiracy to malign the largest democracy in the world, but it would not cut much ice in the eye of the world. 

The biggest threat to individual freedom and liberty in independent India was during the Emergency days of the mid-1970. The country is going through a similar or worse situation under the present regime. The infamous ‘midnight knock’ has been replaced by ‘anytime knock’ by law-enforcing agencies. The 10-month-long internet suspension in Kashmir gave a glimpse into the government’s determination to muzzle people’s freedom to suit its purpose. Freedom of speech and expression is subjugated to the whims and fancies of the government. Voices of dissent are stifled and silenced using sedition law. This has prompted the Supreme Court to caution the agencies against reckless use of it. The space for freedom and other fundamental rights has shrunk as never before.

The government appreciates the reports of global agencies if they give ‘good marks’ for its performance. The government shouted from rooftops and showed it as a feather in its cap when an international agency reported that India had gone a few notches up in ‘ease of doing business.' The Modi government would do well if it accepts reports of global agencies even when they go against it. Adverse reports should be taken as a cue to improve the areas wherein the country has gone backward. Listen to the warning bells wherever they come from. Never let the guard down. Any blot on the country’s hard-won freedom will badly hit its image globally.

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