The chest-thumping of being the world’s largest democracy can stop for a while. India has slipped ten spots to 42nd on the Democracy Index 2017. In its recently released report (February 2018), The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a research wing of The Economist Group has categorised India as a ‘flawed democracy’. We took immense pride in breaking into the top 100 club in the Ease of Doing Business Index last year. Every other decline - 21 slots on the Global Gender Gap Index, 3 each on the Global Hunger Index and World Press Freedom Index, and 1 position on the Human Development Index has been conveniently turned a blind eye to.
One need not be a genius to decipher the reasons for the downgrade. Conservative right-wing forces have transgressed every possible limit to destroy the secular fabric of the country. EIU has attributed this to the unrestrained rise of extremist Hindutva ideology that has given a free rein to vigilantism and endangered minorities (‘Rise of Conservative Religious Ideologies’, 2018). Voices of dissent are being curbed by the most draconian measures such as charges of sedition, branding dissenters as ‘anti-national’ or worst, murder. It is no longer unusual for critics of the majoritarian hegemony to face death threats and rape threats too in the case of women.
Time and again, it has been emphasised that dissent is the essence of democracy. Can a country be called democratic if there are restrictions on free speech and the right to expression? As one of my professors often remarked, we have a democratically elected dictator at the helm. How does being critical of the ruling regime - a particular government, its ideologies, policies, actions or inaction amount to being anti-national? Does it imply that the government is the nation? But that is in stark opposition to the most commonly quoted definition of democracy that it is of, by and for the people. Then why are people forbidden from expressing their discontent, lest they be threatened to be deported to Pakistan or jailed for sedition?
The report subtitled ‘Free Speech under Attack’ has laid a special emphasis on the freedom of media in various countries. It has declared India as a ‘dangerous’ place for journalists. Five of them - Gauri Lankesh (Karnataka), Santanu Bhowmik and Sudip Datta Bhaumik (Tripura), Rajesh Mishra and Naveen Gupta (Uttar Pradesh) were killed in 2017 alone. These cold-blooded murders bear testimony to the fact that the press - the fourth pillar of democracy - is indeed collapsing.
The Constitution clearly states that India is a secular country. Any hate crime triggered by conservative religious ideologies is essentially an erosion of the constitutional value of secularism and must be subjected to stringent legal action. More importantly, these acts of discrimination are not conducive to inclusive development. How can we ensure development for all when hierarchies related to religion and caste obstruct its way? The hegemony of the majority threatens the very existence of the minorities in ‘Hindu’stan.
“In a democracy, the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority”, quoted the Irish statesman Edmund Burke. Cow vigilantism and mob lynching are two burning examples of the same. Violence in any form is unacceptable, be it killing Afrazul or Ankit. The silence of those in power is just another form of sanction. When they do not condemn this violence and refrain from initiating legal action against the perpetrators, the latter are encouraged to further engage in such destructive acts. Providing universal adult franchise alone does not make a country democratic. Rather, it is the power of the citizens not only to elect but also to critique and question their representatives. If exercising the latter undermines their right to life, it is both a flaw and failure of democracy in the country.
Our democracy is under threat and this is stalling our development. Unless we consider this decline a clarion call for upholding the secular fabric of our country, our democracy will be torn further apart. Criminalising dissent, killing those who reveal the truth, or oppressing the minorities simply cannot be tolerated. Unless these flaws are done away with, there is little hope for reviving our ailing democracy.
Committee to Protect Journalists (2018). Journalists killed in India. Retrieved February 4, 2017 from https://cpj.org/data/killed/2017/#~(status~'Killed~motiveConfirmed~(~'Confirmed)~motiveUnconfirmed~(~'Unconfirmed)~type~'Media*20Worker~cc_fips~(~'IN)~end_year~'2017~group_by~'location)
India makes it to Top 100 in ‘ease of doing business’ (2018, January 9). The Hindu Business Line. Retrieved from http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/policy/india-makes-it-to-top-100-in-ease-of-doing-business/article9935450.ece
India slips in human development index (2017, March 23). The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-slips-in-human-development-index/article17566555.ece
Jyoti, D. (2017, April 27). Press freedom rankings: India slips 3 places to 136, ‘Modi’s nationalism’ blamed. Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/world-press-freedom-rankings-india-slips-3-places-to-136-modi-s-nationalism-blamed/story-ea1yBJzuPAkA7SZ9hqkC9N.html
‘Rise of Conservative Religious Ideologies’ Causes India to Fall 10 Spots on EIU Democracy Index (2018, January 31). The Wire. Retrieved from https://thewire.in/219706/rise-conservative-religious-ideologies-causes-india-fall-10-spots-eiu-democracy-index/#disqus_thread
PTI (2017, October 12). India 100th on global hunger index, trails North Korea, Bangladesh. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-100th-on-global-hunger-index-trails-north-korea-bangladesh/article19846437.ece
PTI (2017, November 2). India slips 21 slots on WEF Gender Gap index 2017. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-slips-21-slots-occupy-108th-rank-on-wef-gender-gap-index-2017/article19966894.ece
The Economist Intelligence Unit (2018). Democracy Index 2017: Free speech under attack. London: Author.
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