Civil society organisations from India and their international allies have issued a joint statement calling for action to safeguard democracy and human rights in India ahead of the 2nd edition of the Summit for Democracy.
The summit, which is being jointly hosted by the United States, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Republic of Korea, and Republic of Zambia from March 28-30, 2023, aims to preserve and strengthen democracies around the world. The statement highlights the deteriorating state of democracy in India, citing evidence that shows a clear disregard for the rule of law and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
The statement highlights the fact that India, often hailed as the ‘world’s largest democracy‘, has not pledged any concrete policy initiatives to safeguard civil and political rights during the first edition of the summit in 2021. The signatories call on participating states to urge India to make pledges towards ensuring constitutionally guaranteed democratic freedoms during the upcoming session later this month.
The statement notes that India’s constitution enshrines democracy and that this constitutionally guaranteed democracy is integral to the Indian ethos and history. However, evidence shows that the reality in India diverges from these lofty claims. The Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020 report downgraded India to “partly free” and ranked India as one of the ‘Countries in the Spotlight’ for the “deterioration of basic freedoms”- an assessment that remains unchanged in its 2022 report, showing a clear disregard for the rule of law and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
The right to freedom of expression, through press freedom, is under immediate threat, and civil society organisations and human rights defenders are targeted by draconian laws, including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which allows the designation of individuals as terrorists without due process.
In the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, India slid in ranks to the 150th position. Since its decline to the 150th rank, more incidents such as the recent crackdown against the BBC following the broadcasting of the two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question“ on the 2002 Gujarat Riots, and reports of foreign press being controlled on the ground have followed.
The statement also highlights the March 2023 USCIRF report, which cites India as being a country of particular concern regarding freedom of religion and belief.
The statement calls for India’s democratic heritage to be preserved according to the spirit of its Constitution and international obligations.
The signatories urge the Summit for Democracy participants to engage meaningfully with India and call on India to implement constitutionally enshrined fundamental freedoms. The statement is signed by a range of civil society organisations, including the Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians from New Zealand, The Humanism Project from Australia, Arisa Advocating Rights in South Asia, Indian American Muslim Council, the Chicago Coalition for Human Rights in India, the Indian American Muslim Council, Stichting The London Story, and the South Asia Solidarity Group, among others.