After a US-government funded NGO said in a report that civil liberties in India had been on a decline since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power, the government responded saying the findings were "misleading, incorrect and misplaced".
In its report titled 'Democracy under Seige', the US-based Freedom House - that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights - changed India's status as a free country to 'partly free'. The report said the change in India's status is part of a global shift in the balance between democracy and authoritarianism.
While the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) stressed that the country treats all citizens equally without discrimination and that discussion, debate and dissent are part of Indian democracy, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said India has robust institutions. The MEA also took a dig at the democracy watchdog, saying India does not need "sermons", especially from those who cannot get their basics right.
Asked about the report, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, "The political judgements of Freedom House are as inaccurate and distorted as their maps." Srivastava was referring to a wrongful depiction of India's map by Freedom House.On Delhi 2020 riots
In a detailed rebuttal, the MIB said, "Government of India treats all its citizens with equality as enshrined under the Constitution of the country and all laws are applied without discrimination." It said the due process of law is followed in matters relating to law and order, irrespective of the identity of the alleged instigator. "With specific reference to the North East Delhi riots in January 2020, the law enforcement machinery acted swiftly in an impartial and fair manner. Proportionate and appropriate actions were taken to control the situation. Necessary legal and preventive actions were taken by the law enforcement machinery on all complaints/calls received, as per law and procedures."
ReutersOn migrant crisis
The government statement also rebutted the allegation in the report that the COVID-19-induced lockdown "left millions of migrant workers in cities without work or basic resources" and "resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers". It said the lockdown was announced to control the spread of the coronavirus and the period allowed the government to ramp up the production capacity of masks, ventilators, personal protection equipment (PPE) kits, etc. and thereby effectively prevent the spread of the pandemic. "India has, on a per capita basis, registered one of the lowest rates of active COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 related deaths globally.
Reuters - Representational ImageOn journalists, media
Rejecting the report's claims that academicians and journalists were intimidated, it said, discussion, debate and dissent is part of Indian democracy. "The Government of India attaches the highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists." The report had also claimed that though the private media are vigorous and diverse, and investigations and scrutiny of politicians do occur, but attacks on press freedom have escalated dramatically under the Modi government, and 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. Responding to this assessment, the government statement said that 'Public Order' and 'Police' are State subjects under India's federal structure of governance. The responsibility of maintaining law and order, including investigation, registration and prosecution of crimes, protection of life and property, etc., rests primarily with the concerned State governments. Therefore, measures as deemed fit are taken by law enforcement authorities to preserve public order, it added.
BCCLOn 'quelling' CAA protests
The report claims that the authorities used assembly bans, internet blackouts, and live ammunition between December 2019 and March 2020 to quell widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposals to roll out a citizens' registration process across the country.
The government said, "...the temporary suspension of telecom/internet services is resorted to with the overarching objective of maintaining law and order under strict safeguards."