Thursday, 11 March 2021

Is the Freedom House Report on Freedoms in India Accurate?


Is the Freedom House Foundation Report on Freedoms in India Accurate?

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 11 March, 2021


Abstract

The report on the status of freedom in different countries in the world by the Freedom House Foundation (FH) caused an uproar in India because it downgraded India’s status from “free” to “partly free.” While the government of India dismissed the report without giving any good reason, the report has caused many to question whether the report gives an accurate picture of freedom in India. The report causes consternation to many Indians who are worried about eroding freedoms in India.

To decide whether the report is based on fact, I have investigated every claim of FH and found that almost every one of them is based on fact. Further, I have also noticed that the FH has missed out many important events in India which, if taken into account, would give India an even lower rating than FH has given it. In such cases, I have given my own rating that takes such events into account.

In what follows, I have investigated every claim of FH and checked if there is a news article that justifies their concern. I have added the hyperlink to that article. I have also given hyperlinks to events which FH has missed and which I think have an impact on freedom in India.

Based on FH's points and my additional points, I believe FH has been very generous with their rating of 67. My own rating comes to only 50.


Introduction

On March 6, a report released by the Freedom House Foundation (FH) caused an uproar in India. The report said that, based on a number of metrics, India had slipped from a status of “free” to “partly free” over the last year. India's rating, based on a total score of 100, fell from 71 the previous year to 67 this year.

When asked about the report, India’s Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, dismissed it by saying that since the Freedom House report did not depict India’s maps accurately, she saw no reason to respond to the report.

The only problem with India’s map in the report on India was that it showed the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) separately. India traditionally likes to show the whole of pre-Independence Jammu and Kashmir, which includes what is currently PoK, as well as Chinese-occupied Kashmir (Aksai Chin), as part of India. Unfortunately for India, India’s stance is not accepted globally.

Freedom House's Map of India, Which Gave Separate Ratings to Kashmir and to the Rest of India


If India were to object to everyone who showed maps that do not reflect the Indian government’s official position, then India would be unable to work with even the US State Department, which also uses a similar map.

The CIA Map of India

A lot of people in India are wondering if the FH report is accurate in terms of characterizing freedom in India or if the report exaggerates the reduction in freedom in India in the last several years.

I have examined the FH report on Freedom in India and looked at the various criteria on which the rating had been given, in order to understand for myself whether or not the ratings of the agency on India are reasonable. I have checked to see if their claims are evidence-based and have searched the news for articles that would corroborate their claims. When I do find corroboration, I have included hyperlinks to those events.

Further, as a resident and citizen of India, I read about events in the news every day. I noticed that some important events that happen in India have been missed by FH. I have added links to those as well.

Below, I give the various questions posed by Freedom House, verbatim, and give FH’s ratings for each question. They have 25 questions, each of which has a 0-4 score, for a total of 100 points. When they have given 4/4, I have agreed with them, and do not give their reasons. (Some may question why I am willing to accept that the country is perfect in the areas that Freedom House thinks it is, but I wish to be charitable.)

But when their rating is less than 4/4, I mention their reasons and investigate their reasons for the same. If I know of other instances which should lead to an even lower rating, I include those as well. Nothing here is my own construction. I have only mentioned what is available in the public media.

I should also point out that my rating is based on the current situation. FH gave its rating based on what it observed in 2020. I am including what I am seeing in 2021. Below is the full list of 25 categories of ratings, for a maximum possible of 100 points.

Political Rights

  1. Electoral Process
    1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? (4/4)
    2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? (4/4)
    3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? (4/4)
  2. Political Pluralism and Participation
    1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? (4/4)
    2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? (4/4)
    3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? (3/4)
    4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? (2/4)
  3. Functioning of Government
    1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? (4/4)
    2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? (2/4)
    3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? (3/4)

Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression and Belief
    1. Are there free and independent media? (2/4)
    2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? (2/4)
    3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? (2/4)
    4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? (3/4)
  2. Association and Organizational Rights
    1. Is there freedom of assembly? (2/4)
    2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? (2/4)
    3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? (3/4)
  3. Rule of Law
    1. Is there an independent judiciary? (2/4)
    2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? (2/4)
    3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? (2/4)
    4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? (2/4)
  4. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights
    1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? (2/4)
    2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? (3/4)
    3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? (2/4)
    4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? (2/4)

Summary and Conclusions

When one looks at the 62 different points of criticism mentioned by FH, one can see that there are only two points where Freedom House has got its conclusions wrong:

It is still remarkable and exceptional that FH got 60 out of 62 criticisms of the absence of freedom in India correct – I was able to find reliable news links or links to research articles for the remaining 60 points, often finding multiple links to justify each point. In addition, as stated in the beginning, I had my own observations about the erosion of freedoms in India which FH had failed to register.

When I accounted for the erosions of freedom not accounted for in FH's list, my overall rating is a score of 50, as opposed to FH’s 67. My political rights score for India comes out to be 29/40 (FH: 34) and my civil liberties score for India comes out to be 21/60 (FH: 33), for a total of 50/100, which is still a partly-free country, but far less free than what Freedom House had estimated. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that FH had missed some key changes in India, and part of the reason is that they would have used data only for 2020, whereas the situation in India has continued to deteriorate in 2021.

It is important for the government to realize that these ratings are not to be scoffed at. The Indian government may dismiss these ratings, but foreign agencies and companies that are evaluating India as an investment decision take these ratings very seriously. It is also important for Indians not to get defensive. These are real problems with our country, as the data show, and we cannot solve problems which we are unwilling to acknowledge. People should also stop looking at this through a political prism. Many of the problems mentioned (for example, dowry or bonded labor) are legacy problems that India has been trying to address for decades. It is in everyone's interest that these problems are solved.

Therefore, the Indian government should take reports such as these very seriously and work on fixing the lacunae that these reports have identified. It would be ideal if a task force was set up to correct these lacunae and give recommendations to the government, which would then be promptly acted upon, leading to greater freedom for all Indians.



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

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