CRS Report Exposes Human Rights Decline In Modi’s India – OpEd


India, the world’s largest democracy, has long prided itself on its commitment to democratic values and human rights. However, recent assessments by international organizations and human rights groups paint a starkly different picture. The country is witnessing a troubling trend of human rights violations, democratic backsliding, and increasing authoritarianism, particularly under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (HRR) by the U.S. State Department highlight a worrying trend: the Indian government has taken minimal credible steps to identify and punish officials who commit human rights abuses. This lack of accountability is not only alarming but also indicative of a systemic problem within the state machinery. The United Nations and numerous NGOs have echoed these concerns, noting an increase in the scope and scale of abuses under Modi’s leadership, particularly since his reelection in 2019.

The democratic backsliding in India has been significant and rapid. The Varieties of Democracies project, based in Sweden, has classified India as an “electoral autocracy” since 2019 and identified it as one of the worst autocratizers in the past decade. Similarly, Freedom House has downgraded India’s status to “Partly Free,” accusing Modi and his party of driving the nation towards authoritarianism. These assessments highlight the erosion of democratic institutions and norms, which were once considered robust and resilient.

Religious freedom in India is under severe strain. The 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF) by the U.S. State Department documents numerous attacks on religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians. These attacks range from killings and assaults to intimidation and harassment. The report also highlights the phenomenon of “cow vigilantism,” where individuals, often with tacit support from local authorities, violently target non-Hindus accused of slaughtering cows or trading in beef. The Indian government has reacted defensively to these reports, labeling them as biased and ill-informed. However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has consistently recommended designating India as a Country of Particular Concern due to systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom. This recommendation underscores the severity of the situation and the urgent need for international intervention.

The state of press freedom in India is equally concerning. The 2023 HRR reports severe restrictions on freedom of expression, including violence against journalists, unjust arrests, and censorship. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks India 161st out of 180 countries in its 2023 Press Freedom Index, a significant drop from previous years. The Indian media landscape, once vibrant and diverse, is now plagued by intimidation, legal harassment, and violence against journalists who dare to criticize the government. Freedom of expression, both online and offline, has been under relentless assault. The Indian government frequently imposes internet shutdowns, making the country the world’s largest offender in this regard for the fifth consecutive year, according to digital rights group Access Now. These shutdowns not only stifle free speech but also disrupt daily life and economic activities, particularly in regions like Jammu and Kashmir.

The operating environment for NGOs in India has become increasingly hostile. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) has been used to stifle dissent and silence organizations critical of the government. Amnesty International, a prominent human rights organization, was forced to cease operations in India in 2020 due to what it described as “years of official threats, intimidation, and harassment.” This trend of suppressing civil society undermines the essential role that NGOs play in advocating for human rights and holding the government accountable.

Corruption remains pervasive at multiple levels of government. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks India 93rd out of 180 countries, reflecting widespread public perception of corruption. The HRR notes that many corruption cases go unreported and unpunished, and there are allegations of selective enforcement aimed at political opponents.

Human trafficking and bonded labor continue to be grave issues in India. The 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. State Department places India in the “Tier 2” category, indicating significant shortcomings in combating these practices. Despite laws banning bonded labor and trafficking, millions of people, including children, remain vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is particularly dire. Since the revocation of the region’s autonomous status in 2019, human rights abuses have intensified. Laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) have been used to detain individuals without charges and grant impunity to security forces. These measures have led to widespread reports of torture, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances. Gender-based violence in India is rampant and inadequately addressed. The HRR documents extensive violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and workplace harassment. Low conviction rates for rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetuate a culture of impunity, making it difficult for survivors to seek justice.

The worsening human rights situation in India is a matter of grave concern. The erosion of democratic institutions, increasing authoritarianism, and widespread violations of civil liberties and human rights demand urgent attention from both domestic and international actors. India must recommit to its democratic principles and uphold the rights and freedoms of all its citizens, regardless of their religious, ethnic, or political affiliations. The international community, too, has a crucial role to play in holding the Indian government accountable and supporting efforts to protect human rights and democratic values in the country.

Samantha Azizi

Samantha Azizi is pursuing her MPhil in South Asian Studies at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon. With a keen interest in the rich and diverse cultures, histories, and politics of South Asia, Samantha is committed to exploring the intricate dynamics that shape this region.

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