Is the Indian Democracy Declining?

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Our Editor-at-Large, Norway-based Amit, focuses on the declining democratic values and rising fascistic, extremist and dictatorial tendencies in contemporary Indian politics and society. An expose with hard facts, exclusively in Different Truths.

These are the dark times for democracy and freedom in India; times when reason is being replaced by the revelations; logic replaced by faith; democratic deliberations by fanatic mob violence.  

Since the arrival of Narendra Modi-led government, in 2014, there are ubiquitous marks of suppression and decadence in the values India always stands for. Be it intolerance to opposing views; protection of religious ; imposition of fundamentalist religious ideology, indirect political support to public violence (cow vigilantes) and neglect in following parliamentary procedures for the arbitrary imposition related to the currency note-ban – all suggests that India is sliding towards in a dictatorship like situation – where holding accountable to government can put one in prison; risk being labelled as an anti-national – popular tactics by BJP supporters to silence the opposing views and genuine criticism. Also, tame/paid media is selectively ignoring burning issues, which could put pressure on the government.

Our national concern has already shifted from increasing employment rate, dwindling foreign investment to war-mongering, religious nationalism, and silencing of civil society.

Based on these observations by the author, following points are noted as a subject of concerns as the situation of democracy, rule of law and human rights declines in India.

Decline in Journalistic Freedom

In its latest report, without Border placed India abysmally on low rank, 136th in the list of 180 countries. Even Afghanistan, Burma and Cambodia outshined India as far as journalistic freedom is concerned. This report has stressed, “with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media…Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals….”

Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists, who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment. These laws are vaguely worded, overly broad, and prone to misuse, and have been repeatedly used for political purposes against critics at the national and state levels. However, more alarming is the ‘polarisation of people’ on the religious lines and ‘callous attitude’ of the majority of (BJP) supporters (media, intellectuals, party workers including fringe Hindu nationalist religious elements) who are quick to label any dissent as an anti-national, thus narrowing the space for logical debate; hindering access to fundamental rights of freedom of expression.  In fact, the military wing of BJP – R.S.S. (Rashtriya Swam Sawayak) decides for a nation of more than one billion people – what to eat (ban on beef – controlling the eating pattern of largest minority of India), what to read/see/listen (media control, self-censorship) and what to say (threat of sedition laws; only dominant Hindu narratives allowed in public discourse).

Along with it, self-censorship is on rise, and government supported media leaves no stone unturned to block any alternative views into public discourse.

Restricting the to Protest

The Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh has banned all kinds of strikes by employees and teachers in state universities and colleges effectively violating their right to protest and freedom of expression. The ban is put under the stringent Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). ESMA gives police the powers to arrest, without a warrant, anybody violating the Acts provisions.

Selectively Ignoring Higher Rates

The United Nations (ILO) released its 2017 World Employment and Social Outlook report, on Thursday, which finds economic growth trends lagging behind employment needs and predicts both rising unemployment and worsening social inequality throughout 2017.  The unemployment rate in India has shot up to a five-year high of 5 per cent in 2015-16, with the figure significantly higher at 8.7 per cent for women as compared to 4.3 per cent for men, says a report by Labour Bureau[1].

Dwindling International Trade and Investment Credits

It is being given the impression in tame/paid media that Indian economy is growing; media also downplayed the loss of and economy due to note bane specifically when economy is sliding down[2], however, international credit rating agencies rated India pathetically close to the economic which is about to bankrupt[3].

Shrinking Spaces for Religious Minorities

In its report (2017), U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed deep concern over the rising intolerance and public violence against religious minorities in India. The Report states, “The heightened enforcement against religious minorities by BJP government officials and/or Hindu nationalists . . . has contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom in the country.”

In 2016, “cow protector” vigilantes — often Hindu nationalists — intimidated, harassed, and attacked Muslims and Hindu Dalits for allegedly slaughtering, selling, or consuming cow products. For example, in April 2016, in Uttar Pradesh, police arrested six Muslim men, who the RSS members, allegedly without evidence, believed were slaughtering stray cows. In July 2016, in Madhya Pradesh, members of a Hindu nationalist group beat two Muslim women, who they alleged were carrying beef. Reportedly, the incident took place in full view of the police, who did nothing to help the victims and even allowed onlookers to film the incident. Also in July, in Una Town, Gujarat, four Hindu Dalit men were stripped naked and beaten, reportedly by members of the Shiv Sena, an Indian far-right regional political party, for killing a cow and skinning it.

Christian communities across many denominations reported numerous incidents of harassment and attacks in 2016, which they attribute to the Hindu nationalist groups supported by the BJP. In early 2017, the NGO, Open Doors, estimated that a church was burned down or a cleric was beaten 10 times a week on average in India between January and October 2016—triple the number of incidents the group reported in 2015[4]. Forced conversions of Christians and other religious minorities by Hindu nationalists also were reported in 2016. For example, in April 2016 in Chhattisgarh, two unidentified attackers, believed to be Hindu extremists, broke into a Pentecostal Church and beat the pastor and his pregnant wife, as USCIRF report describe.

Disregard to the Rule of Law

In Uttar Pradesh and other parts of our country, the gau rakshaks and anti-Romeo enthusiasts run amok with impunity. The police, eager as always to remain on the right side of might, arrest the victims first, lest they are labeled as anti-national.

Final Remark

Recently, President Pranab Mukherjee stressed on the need to ask questions of those in power and loudest noise should not drown those who disagree[5] and showed his concern that media is not resisting enough against dominant views. Events occurring at the political-social stage indeed demonstrates disregard to democratic values and critical opinion is on the rise. There is direct and indirect support from government to its political and religious affiliate who are pushing totalitarian hegemonic political ideas in mainstream discourse (fringe elements has become mainstream) jeopardising our Constitution and liberal values India always stood for.

©Amit Singh

Photos from the interenet.

#FailingDemocracy #IndianDemocracy #FreedomOfPress #FreedomToProtest #PunismentsGoneAmok #Democracy #CoverStory #DifferentTruths

Amit Singh

Amit Singh

Amit Singh is a human security and social justice expert. He is a doctoral candidate at University of Coimbra, Portugal; hold master degrees in history, human rights, and multiculturalism. He is a columnist for several newspapers in Norway and India.
Amit Singh