By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Muneeza Naqvi · WORLD, ASIA-PACIFIC
A series of moves taken by the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government since it was re-elected by a sweeping majority in May have hurt the rights of its Muslim minority population, according to the latest global report by Freedom House, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that conducts researches and advocacy on democracy and human rights.
"The Indian government's alarming departures from democratic norms under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could blur the values-based distinction between Beijing and New Delhi," the report titled "Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy" found.
It comes as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom holds a public hearing on India's new religion-based citizenship law, which fast-tracks citizenship for religious minorities from three neighboring nations but excludes Muslims. Taken together with a proposed national register of citizens, the new law is seen as a way for Modi's government to marginalize Muslims.
A spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, Raveesh Kumar, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past the government has strongly rejected any outside criticisms of its laws and said the citizenship act provides protection for persecuted minorities.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed by an overwhelming majority in India's Parliament on Dec. 11, is one of the series of moves the Freedom House cites as harmful to India's Muslims, who constitute some 14% of its nearly 1.3 billion population.
Other actions include the Aug. 5 abrogation of nearly 70 years of constitutional autonomy in India's portion of the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir and the detention of local political leaders which has continued for more than seven months now. That same month some 1.9 million people, mostly Muslims, in the northeastern state of Assam faced the risk of losing their Indian citizenship as Modi's government seeks to enforce a National Register of Citizens to weed out illegal migrants.
"These three actions have shaken the rule of law in India and threatened the secular and inclusive nature of its political system," the Freedom House report said.
The country slipped four spots on the report's global ranking to number 71. The rankings do not include the Indian-controlled portion of the Himalayan Kashmir region, which the report ranks much lower. Some 195 countries and 15 territories were assessed through 2019 and ranked out of 100 based on a series of civil and political liberty measures. Despite the slip in ranking India kept its "free" status as functioning electoral democracy. Other democracies like Australia and Canada slipped one spot as did India's neighbor and rival Pakistan.
While the U.S. ranking remained unchanged it was marked out, along with India, as a democracy where leaders were pursuing populist agendas without paying regard to its critics or minorities.