After India was rated 150th out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) 2022, more sober friends asked the same issue. For comparison, China is at 175, Bangladesh is at 162, Russia is at 155, Afghanistan is at 156, and Pakistan is at 157. At 146, Sri Lanka outperforms India, whereas Bhutan (33) and Nepal (76) are both substantially poorer countries. Since 2016, when India was ranked 133rd, its position has steadily slipped. North Korea is ranked at the bottom of the ranking, which includes Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.
The World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) is compiled using qualitative and quantitative criteria by a non-profit organisation named Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Authorities in India aren’t happy with the technique, particularly the subjective nature of the qualitative component. It is difficult for me to approve or reject India’s ranking on the WPFI since I have not examined the criteria in sufficient depth, but I do think qualitative judgments must be subjective, particularly when it comes to freedom of speech. Then there are the hard numbers, like the number of times journalists have been harmed.
It is possible that some of the deaths of intellectuals like M M Kalburgi (2015) and journalists like Gauri Lankesh (2017) are still fresh in our minds because of demonstrations and resistance, but many more murders are likely to go unreported. Indian police actions are not necessary to lower the press freedom rating; rather, a lack of restraint would suffice. According to the new story, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair received money from outside to degrade India, which is what the courts will conclude in the end. Is it fair to say that when India detains an Indian journalist for tweeting a photograph of the Honeymoon Hotel in 1983 Hindi film, it is sending the wrong message to the world?
Zubair was detained because of a message from a user with the Twitter account @balajikijaiin, who went by the moniker ‘Hanuman Bhakt.’ In October 2021, a Twitter account was set up, and the first message was sent out on June 19, which led to Zubair being arrested the following day. On top of that, ‘Hanuman Bhakt’ has been missing from Twitter since last Wednesday. Sanna Irshad Mattoo, a Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri journalist, was barred from travelling to Paris by immigration officers at Delhi airport hours before a Delhi court put the journalist in 14-day judicial detention and refused him release.
When the administration went after Aakar Patel, a well-known opponent of the government, they almost chased him through the airports in order to prevent him from participating in international conferences on human rights. He is not celebrating his right to freedom of expression; he is simply summoning his right to protect that freedom and remind its bulldozers that freedom is a paradox so paradoxical that when they bulldoze its last line of resistance, they will always find another one. He is not celebrating his right to freedom of expression.