Internet Freedom Declines Under Modi Regime: Global Report 

Freedom of the Net Report by Freedom House
Freedom of the Net Report by Freedom House

The report says PM Modi and BJP have presided over discriminatory policies and increased violence affecting the Muslim population. 

By RMN News Service

A new ‘Freedom of the Net’ report released by Freedom House reveals that Internet freedom in India weakened for a fourth straight year. According to the report, the contentious new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 imposed broad obligations on large social media companies to further moderate online content, undermine end-to-end encryption, and increased retention of personal data. 

It also mandated that digital news media and streaming services adhere to a new Code of Ethics that in part serves to guard against purported threats to sovereignty and national security. 

The report released on September 21 adds that the Indian authorities imposed blocks on over 100 apps owned by China-based companies beginning in June 2020, and continued issuing internet shutdown orders, particularly in the context of protests by farmers against new agricultural laws. 

During the protests as well as during the country’s deadly second wave of Covid-19 in April 2021, officials requested US-based tech companies take down content criticizing authorities, shared by opposition figures, journalists, activists, and ordinary users. 

Meanwhile, civil society and a consortium of news outlets reported on intrusive spyware campaigns that further erode privacy rights. Positively, both governmental and nongovernmental entities continued efforts to bridge the country’s digital divides.

While India is a multiparty democracy, according to the report, the government led by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have presided over discriminatory policies and increased violence affecting the Muslim population. 

The constitution guarantees civil liberties including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but harassment of journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other government critics has increased significantly under the current regime. Muslims, scheduled castes (Dalits), and scheduled tribes (Adivasis) remain economically and socially marginalized.

Freedom House says the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is not covered in this report. Certain territories that are assessed separately in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report are excluded from the relevant country reports in Freedom on the Net, as conditions in such territories differ significantly from those in the rest of the country.

Earlier, Freedom House research report “Freedom in the World 2021: Democracy under Siege” had downgraded India’s status from “Free” to “Partly Free” due to the authoritarian actions of PM Modi and his Hindu nationalist government.

Moreover, the V-Dem Institute’s Democracy Report 2021 reveals that India has lost its status as an electoral democracy, as the government led by PM Modi is imposing various restrictions on multiple facets of democracy such as civil society and free speech.

The V-Dem report – released in March – says that Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in India’s 2014 elections and most of the decline occurred following BJP’s victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda.

Freedom House is an American organization devoted to the support and defense of democracy around the world.

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Rakesh Raman