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India Slips Down to ‘Partly Free’ Status

As per the Freedom House Report, India is stated to have slipped from the ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free‘ category due to rising violence, discriminatory policies, the crackdown on the expression of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.

India is a proud nation to have Maha Upanishads professing “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” meaning that the world is one family.  Commitment to this verse is also evinced from the fact that it is engraved at the entrance hall of the Indian Parliament. The demonstration of the larger heart of the nation for others in the world unequivocally indemnifies its citizens for equity and mutual concerns within the country.

It has been more than seven decades of much sought-after freedom from the British empire. The country’s superstructure built on the sacrosanct Constitution of India is gleaming and getting constantly corroborated by the accomplishments of its natives within and abroad. The Indian Constitution explicitly enshrines the responsibilities, duties, and obligations of all constituents of the country in a well-crafted framework.  The success of democracy in the country is obligated to tolerance, mutual respect, and faithful adherence to the constitutional prescriptions.

Fig. 1 Freedom Index of India for past 5 years as per www.freedomhouse.org
Fig. 1: Freedom Index of India for the past 5 years as per www.freedomhouse.org

However, for quite some time discussions are abuzz regarding freedom in the country. The recent Freedom House report has rippled India by its Freedom index emanating out of considerations of “political rights” and “civil liberties” put together in proportion of 40:60. The continuous fall in Freedom Index has been reported since the year 2018 as evident from the following statistics.

Attribute for Global Freedom ScoreScore (out of 4)
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?4
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?4
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?4
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?4
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?4
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?3
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?2
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?4
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?2
Does the government operate with openness and transparency?3
Are there free and independent media?2
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?2
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?2
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?3
Is there freedom of assembly?2
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?2
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?3
Is there an independent judiciary?2
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?2
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?2
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?2
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?2
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?3
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?2
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?2
Parameters on which ‘Freedom’ in India has been measured
Infographic: Number of Active UAPA Cases on the Rise | Statista
Increasing Number of UAPA Cases. Courtesy: Statista

As per the Freedom Report, India is stated to have slipped from the ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free‘ category due to rising violence, discriminatory policies, the crackdown on the expression of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters. The attributes and the specific scores in each of them indicate the phenomenon of reduction in the Global Freedom Score for the year 2021.

A careful perusal of attributes contributing to Global Freedom Score with less than 100%  in 4 point score is indicative of something to ponder upon. Freedom House has attributed such decline of India’s freedom condition to the increasing number of cases being filed under UAPA, shrinking individual sphere of an Indian citizen through likes of the ‘Love Jihad‘ laws in few states of India, etc.

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Internet Freedom Score
Fig. 2 Internet Freedom Score of India for past 5 years as per www.freedomhouse.org
Fig. 2: Internet Freedom Score of India for the past 5 years as per www.freedomhouse.org

Another interesting index of Freedom House pertains to internet freedom estimated as Internet Freedom Score (out of 100). “Internet Freedom Score” is quantified through its constituents namely “obstacles to access”, “limits on content”, and “violation of user rights” weighted as 25%, 35%, and 40% respectively. The “internet freedom score” has steeply declines from 59/100 in 2016 to 51/100 in 2020.

This score of internet freedom score of India is also stated to be in the partly free category and this decline is attributed to an increase in arrests for online activity and continued internet shutdowns during times of perceived unrest in spite of the continued improvement of internet penetration in India. The scores of each attribute contributing to the overall internet freedom score for the year 2020 demonstrate the concerns.

Attribute for Internet Freedom ScoreScore
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?3 / 6
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?1 / 3
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?2 / 6
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?4 / 6
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?2 / 4
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content?3 / 6
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content?2 / 4
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?2 / 4
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?3 / 4
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?2 / 4
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?2 / 3
Does the online information landscape lack diversity?3 / 4
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?4 / 6
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?4 / 6
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities?2 / 4
Are individuals penalized for online activities?2 / 6
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?3 / 4
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?1 / 6
Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users?2 / 6
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities?2 / 5
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?2 / 3
Parameters on which India’s Internet Freedom Score was measured

The decline in internet freedom across the country owes to the increasing frequency of internet shutdowns even in important regions of India. Also, the increasing regulations on social media platforms, and the sedition cases imposed on online tweets and posts need to be given credit for the paradoxical decline in internet freedom in India at a time when the Union Government is pushing ‘Digital India’ as its flagship scheme. Apparently, the insights from the Freedom House Report deem worthy of consideration by all citizens of the country dreaming of India becoming a ‘superpower’ in the near future.

Also Read: Rolling the Dice of Democracy through Protests

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