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Eroding democratic values in light of social contemporary issues

Concept of Democracy

The word democracy comes from the Greek word, demos meaning people and kratos meaning power, meaning rule of the people. Democracy refers to a system of government wherein the supreme power is vested with the people and exercised by them either directly or indirectly through a system of representation through the process of free and fair elections. Democracy is often known as 'government of the people' or 'rule of the majority.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States defined democracy as government of the people, by the people, and for the people� in 1865, which even after 156 years still applies. It is also known as representative government� meaning, it represents the ideas, values, aspirations, etc., of the people.

The word 'democracy' and 'freedom' often go hand to hand, wherein the essence of democracy is the freedom provided to its citizens. It rests upon the principle of individuals right and liberties. Principles such as equality before the law, social justice, liberty, freedom of speech, are some democratic values which upholds the institution of this form of government.

Democracy in India

After India attainted its independence in 1947 and declared itself to be a democratic and a republic state with the adoption of the Constitution in 1950, it has held much pride and honor in holding the title of being the world's largest democracy. Not only is the Indian democracy referred to as the world's largest democracy but also it has been, for years, been an influence to other democratic nations of the world.

However recently, democracy in India, is being seen in danger, continuously downgrading. The essence and values of a democratic government are being challenged rapidly. Social contemporary issues like, poverty, hate speech, freedom of religion, press freedom, unemployment, caste system, minority rights, etc., are eroding in a way that has caused concerned all over the country and in international media as well.

Literature Review
The growing challenges to the Indian democracy are being observed by the international media and authorities all over the world. Earlier in the month of March, in an annual report published by the US' non-profit Freedom House, on global political rights and liberties, it downgraded India' status from being a 'free' democracy to a 'partially free' democracy. India's score dropped to 67/100 as compared to 71/100 in 2020.1

The Freedom House gave reason for the same; a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters�. In another report, by the Sweden based V-dem institute, in its recent report, called India an 'electoral autocracy.'2 These rankings blame the current government for the backsliding of democracy. Threats to journalists, restriction on press freedom, hate speech against minorities, has grown under the current government as stated by the reports. In addition to this, it has led to a deterioration of political and civil liberties in the country.

What is more concerning is that not only international media but also there are being debates held in parliaments to discuss democracy in India. On 15th March 2021, in a session held by the British parliament, the members of UK's house of lords debated India's alleged crackdown on human right activists and press freedom. Lord Jack McConnell, a labor MP, strongly pointed out to the parliamentary session, that it is not possible for India to claim to be world's largest democracy if they continue to restrict freedom of expression and freedom to organize. Another member, Lord Richard Harries, a crossbench member, quoted one instance to stress on the worrying situation. More than 24 Dalit rights activists are in jail on unproven charges� he cited.3

The eroding democratic values in India can be seen in a number of issues discussed below:

Legality and impact of scrapping Article 370
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution gave a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the power to be an autonomous state. Article 370 conferred the state with its own constitution and most importantly under clause (3) of the article, the President may, by public notification, declare that this article shall cease to be operative or shall be operative only with such exceptions and modifications and from such date as he may specify: Provided that the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of the State� is necessary before the President issues such a notification.

On 5th August 2019 Amit Shah, the Union Minister of India, declared in the Rajya Sabha that the Government of India had officially nullified Article 370 of Constitution of India, thereby removing the special status granted to the state. Further, he introduced two bills in the Rajya Sabha that necessitated revoking the special status guaranteed to the state. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill, 2019 was also passed, revoking the powers of the state given under Article 370.

Both bills were passed in the house. The Presidential Order stated that all the provisions of the Indian Constitution will now apply on State of Jammu and Kashmir, and that the Constituent Assembly in Article 370 (3) shall be read as Legislative Assembly.

This move by the Indian government was severely debated and legally challenged by lawyers and legal experts. In the case of Article 370(1), it gives the power to the President of India to nullify the article anytime provided this to be done in concurrence with the recommendation of State Government of Jammu and Kashmir. However, in this situation, the state of Jammu and Kashmir did not have a government for months, so the order was passed in consultation with the Governor of the State, and as per Article 155 of Constitution of India, the Governor of a state is appointed by President of India, and it can be said that Governor of a State is representative of the Union Government, hereby the Union Government has consulted itself, violating the principles of Article 370(1).

A number of petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of this move. The Centre's decision to abrogate provisions of Article 370 was "unconstitutional" since people of Jammu and Kashmir were "bypassed" and any proposal for altering the constitutional status of the erstwhile state should emanate from the citizens there, one of the petitioners said in the Supreme Court.

Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, said that Jammu and Kashmir was under President's Rule from December 19, 2018 till October 31 this year and "will of the people" was not there in the concurrence given by state for abrogation of provisions of Article 370.

"The record indicates that neither the President nor the Governor held any consultations on the issue either with the public at large or with members of the legislative council," Ramachandran said in his outline of submissions which was handed over to the bench.

Further, following the abrogation of Article 370, section 144 of the criminal procedure code was imposed, internet services were cutoff, political leaders and activists were put on house arrest, thereby hampering the fundamental right to speech and expression.

Although this decision was a landmark decision and an important one to provide the state with an equal status as that of others states of India, nevertheless it hampered the development and freedom of the state and its people.

Threat to journalists

The media is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy in India, and it plays a crucial role in the country's social, political, economic and international affairs. Accordingly, the freedom of press is a sine qua non for the survival and success of democracy and to preserve such values of a transparent governance. However, recently concern of India's clampdown on freedom of expression has grown since the beginning of pandemic with the government actively trying to censor media to cover up the actual severity of the ongoing public health crisis. Not only in respect of covering information of the pandemic, journalists are being threatened, beaten and arrested for merely doing their duty.

A shocking study published in 2020 called Behind Bars: Arrest and Detention of Journalists in India 2010-20 found out that between 2010 and 2020 about 154 journalists were arrested or detained, out of which 40% of these cases were reported in 2020 alone. In a recent article published by Reporters Without Borders, it said India is one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly.�4

The government is actively trying to curb journalist on reporting issues where criticism of the government is a part. Journalists and activists like Disha Ravi, Sidhique Kappan, Ravindra Saxena, Dhaval Patel, have been charged under seditions laws, conspiracy against the state, inciting riots, merely for several reasons like reporting information about the ongoing pandemic, assisting the farmers protest or just travelling to the crime site to report a rape case.

Attack on minorities

Ever since the current government came into ruling in 2014, there was a sharp increase in violence against religious minorities. This got worse when the government was re-elected in 2019 followed by the passing of Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which, many critics felt that these laws had the potential to be used to control and discriminate against India's religious minorities, particularly the Muslim community.

In a report by the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020, it declared India as a "dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities" ever since the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed. There was nation-wide protest held against the passing of CAA and NRC laws, where students protesting were beaten, detained and threatened against being part of these protests.

More than 50 Muslim deaths were reported in February, 2020 amid violent communal riots held in the state of Delhi. Justice S. Muralidhar was transferred from the Delhi High court when he rebuked the police for taking no action during the riots. In 2020 with the spread of Covid-19 cases there was a big propaganda shared by the print and electronic media where the members of Tablighi Jamaat were vilified and Muslims all over the country were scapegoated and blamed for the spread of the virus.

According to a report by UK-based Minority Rights Group International indicate that minority groups in India are increasingly encountering hate crimes, such as lynching, threats, attacks on places of worship and forced conversion.

Caste-based violence

The historically marginalized community of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is subjected to a plenty of problems such as prejudice, poverty, violence, discrimination etc.
According to the Annual Crime in India Report 2019 published by the National Crimes Records Bureau, a crime against Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribe has been recorded an increase of over 7% and 26% respectively in the year 2019. The same report also produced that; 88 rape cases are recorded every day in India.5

In June, 2020 a hashtag Dalitlivesmatter trended on Twitter for days discussing how the justice system was constantly failing survivors of caste-based violence. Following the rape and death of 19-year-old Dalit women in a district of Uttar Pradesh, the police officials without the permission and knowledge of the family 'cremated' the victim's body, several questions and backlash were raised on the issue of alarmingly increasing violence against the Dalit community.

What obstructs the marginalized community from getting justice is that, more than often, atrocities are not reported by the mainstream media. On June 6, 2020 a 17-year-old Dalit boy was shot dead by four upper caste men for visiting a temple in Uttar Pradesh. This incident did not make it to the mainstream media houses until people on social media expressed outrage.

Not only does the lower caste suffer through violence and discrimination but the poverty rate is much higher among them as compared to the upper castes. Among the lower castes, 81% of the STs, 66% of the SCs, and 58% of the OBCs live under the poverty line. On the other hand, the poverty level among the rest of the population is 33%.6

Since the re-election of the current government in 2019, there has been a growing concern worldwide about the decline in India's democratic values. As the world the horror COVID-19 unleashes on India, the world's largest democratic government is going out of its way to curb journalists who are trying to expose its inability to control the spread of the virus. Not only this, but such a clampdown on media and the principal values of democracy has led to a deterioration in the political and civil liberties promised to the citizens of India.

The Freedom House report showed concerned that the world's largest democracy was slipping into authoritarianism under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, and this claim without a doubt has been backed up ample of instances that are taking place in the country every day.

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