Activists fret as India slides down democracy index

Nation drops 10 spots to No.42 as news media shuttered, religious persecution on the rise
Activists fret as India slides down democracy index

Members of the Telugu Desam Party, a regional political group that is part of the coalition government in New Delhi, demonstrate outside parliament urging the federal authorities to fulfil the promises they made to the state of Andhra Pradesh. (Photo IANS)

India has plummeted 10 places to 42nd on the annual Global Democracy Index (GDI) in the space of a year, causing civil society and political groups to express concern about where the country is headed.

Pro-Hindu groups are gaining strength and vigilantism or other forms of violence against religious minorities is becoming more commonplace, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, which provides information about risk and opportunities to nations, industry and management.

Released last week, the 2017 GDI report showed India had suffered one of the severest drops from 2016 while the total score of all 89 countries on the list was lower than 12 months earlier.

It claimed India has become a more dangerous place for journalists, especially the central state of Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir in the north.

"The authorities there have restricted freedom of the press, closed down several newspapers and heavily controlled mobile internet services. Several journalists were murdered in India in 2017, as in the previous year," the report stated.

This highlights how "something is going terribly wrong in the county," said Subhash Bhatnagar, head of the National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector Workers.

"Through one survey or the other, such things are coming to the fore. This is certainly a concern," Bhatnagar told ucanews.com.

India's image as a secular nation where all religions are respected is "getting disturbed in recent years," he said, urging governments to try to keep sectarian forces in check.

Rights activists say Hindu groups have been resorting to violence to further their goal of making India a single-religion state since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to power in New Delhi following the 2014 elections.

The BJP, which now controls 19 of 29 states as well as New Delhi, has been accused of unfairly supporting Hindu groups.

Supporters of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate the party's victory in the key states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh outside the party office in Siliguri on Dec. 18, 2017. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked voters in Gujarat, his home state in India's west, and the northern Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh, for backing the ruling Hindu national party in the local polls. (Photo by Diptendu Dutta/AFP)

 

Reports such as the latest GDI list reflect "the true picture of how the democratic space in India has been shrinking and voices are being crushed with impunity," said Sanjeev Kumar, chief of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. Dalits rank as the lowest caste in India and are also known as "untouchables."

"Dalits are persecuted and lower castes [in general are] being denied their due rights. The situation is terrible," Kumar told ucanews.com

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The influence of the caste system and the rise of a conservative Hindu ideology only exacerbates matters, he said.

"The governance graph is on the decline and 'futile' issues are being raised in a bid to divert peoples' attention," he added.

Even Supreme Court judges have publicly voiced concern about this for the first time in India's history, Kumar told ucanews.com.

"You can imagine the situation on the ground when even the judiciary says it is not completely free [of interference]," he added.

Human Rights Watch has also weighed in. The New York-based group's 2018 World Report stated that the Indian government failed to contain rights violations on several fronts last year.

"The government failed to promptly or credibly investigate the attacks, while many senior BJP leaders publicly promoted Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism, which encouraged further violence," it stated.

Others like Ranjan Kumar dismiss such reports as groundless.

"How could democracy be under threat in a country where elections are happening almost after every six months in one state or another?" asked Kumar, who directs Nidan, an NGO that works with the poor and marginalized.

"The fact is democracy is not under threat in India, but issues that cannot be resolved are being blown out of all proportion," he told ucanews.com.

Some political parties are trying to spoil things by driving a wedge between communities, he said.

"It's all power politics," he said.

"An atmosphere of animosity is being created in the country by some groups … all to secure votes."

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