Open statement on India’s plummeting rank in key global indices: Constitutional Conduct

Representational Image I Photo: Sajjad HUSSAIN | AFP

India is fighting a battle within itself, and a rapid decline in safeguarding democratic values had led the country into economic and social disarray. In an open letter addressed to the central government, Constitutional Conduct, a group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services discusses the rapid decline in the moral ideas and socio-economical conditions in the country through the means of different indices available today.

The 83 signatories of the letter openly discuss the concern over India’s rank in the list of countries in the world across different indices released recently.

One of the major metrics that was released in 2021 was the Global Hunger Index, a tool that measures and tracks hunger globally. According to the latest reports, India’s rank has slipped to 94 in 2020 from 55 in 2015, with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, all doing better than us. Even worse is the fact that, in 2021, in a year, India has dropped from rank 94 to rank 101, with only 15 countries ranking lower, the letter points out.

Meantime, the group also dismissed the view of the government that such metrics are “devoid of ground reality” and is based on “unscientific methodology”. Further, they point out that the government’s data from the National Family Health Survey, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy and academic studies broadly confirm the statistics which are contested by the GoI.

Further, the group also looks into “The Human Development Index” for the year 2020, which places India at rank 131 out of 189 countries, having slipped two spots from 2018. In fact, there has been practically no improvement since 2014, when, too, India ranked at 131- it reads.

Discussing the gender disparity and the safety of the women in the country, the letter points out the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, which placed India at the dismal rank of 140. A drop of 28 spots, much below the 65th rank that Bangladesh is at. Moreover, the child sex ratio has fallen from 983 girls per 1000 boys in 1951 to 899 per 1000 in 2018, underlining the strong and pervasive male child preference in Indian society.

Additionally, they take into consideration of “The World Happiness Report”, which measures subjective wellbeing by relying on life evaluations, positive emotions and negative emotions. The World Happiness Report of 2020 also places India very low. It ranks India at 139 out of 149 countries. As per this report, Pakistan is a happier country than India standing at rank 105, the report points out.

Citing the ‘Democracy Report’ released by V-Dem Institute in Sweden, they discussed the freedom of the media in the country. In an unflattering grouping of India with Hungary, Poland and Brazil, the report argues that the “first steps of autocratisation involve eliminating media freedom and curtailing civil society.” The report could not have been more explicit when it says: “…the dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India (is) associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”- the letter points out.

In addition to the findings of V-Dem, the group also points out that India’s rank in the Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit had fallen by 26 places from rank 27 out of 167 countries in 2014 to rank 53 in 2020. The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom flagged India as one of 15 “countries of particular concern” for the treatment of its minorities and has continued that label for this year as well, they claim in the letter.

The letter also remark that the Indian government sidestepped a discussion in Parliament on the Democracy Index’s findings because the issue was both trivial and also too sensitive. It dismissed the allegations of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom as “biased and untrue”, and brushed aside Freedom House’s political judgements as “inaccurate and distorted”- the letter read.

“India has become known internationally for criminalizing dissent and using laws relating to sedition and terrorism against those activists, media persons and opposition politicians who stand up against the ruling dispensation. Human rights violations continue apace and constitutional institutions like the Election Commission and the judiciary are undermined and eviscerated by all manner of means including the lure of post-retirement sinecures, intimidation and threats”.

India has not done well concerning levels of education, life expectancy, the status of girls/women and per capita income. Hunger and malnutrition stalk the land. Moreover, democracy, freedom of speech, the right to protest and secularism, all basic features of the Indian Constitution, are in grave danger. There has to be a vigorous pushback. These challenges have to be met head-on by a vigilant civil society, the media, political opposition, people’s movements and revitalized Constitutional institutions like the Election Commission and the judiciary. What is at stake is no less than the life and liberty of the poor and the disadvantaged and the hard-won rights of the people of India under the Constitution- the letter read.

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