The global report by Freedom House was on the front pages of Indian Express, Hindu, and Hindustan Times but relegated to page nine by the country’s largest English daily.
The downgrading of India’s status from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ in Freedom House’s annual report on the state of democracy in the world was carried in the front pages of all major national dailies on Thursday, except the Times of India.
The US-based human rights watchdog downgraded India’s status in its latest report, Freedom in the World 2021 on Wednesday. The report accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and its state-level allies of “continuing to crack down on critics during the year” and of “tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism.”
The Times of India did carry a story about the report, but it was on page nine with the headline, “India’s rating dips to ‘partly free’ in global freedom index”. The story was featured along with another report under the sub-heading, “Where the country stands on rights and freedom”. The other report was about internet shutdowns in India.
Dainik Jagran, India’s largest newspaper by circulation, also failed to carry the story on the front page.
The Indian Express carried a single column story on the report on its front page titled “Global freedom watchdog report downgrades India from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’”. Hindustan Times also carried it as a single-column story on the front page with the headline “Freedom house downgrades India’s rating to ‘partly free’”.
A story about the report on the front page of the Hindu with the headline, “U.S thinktank report classifies India as ‘partly free.’” The Telegraph carried it as the lead story with the headline “India is no more free.” The sub-heading was, “Yes, we have done this too!”
What the report said
The report released on Wednesday, said that the Indian government’s response to Covid included a “ham-fisted lockdown” which resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers.
“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,” said the report. India’s score dipped from 71 to 67 in the report on global freedom scores.
Freedom House observed in its annual report that the fall of India from the upper ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards.
It said that political rights and civil liberties in India have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became the prime minister in 2014 “with increased pressure on human rights organisations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims”. The decline, noted the report, accelerated after Modi’s re-election in 2019.
“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 report, which also took note of the government’s crackdown on protesters during the anti-CAA protests, the arrest of journalists, and Uttar Pradesh’s love jihad law.
It said that with India’s decline to ‘partly free’, less than 20 percent of the world’s population now lives in a ‘free’ country – the smallest proportion since 1995.