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India hits new lows

India has seen one of the XpA’s most significant drops in scores over the last decade, specifically over the last five years, with big declines across all themes. India has been an XpA Decliner for the three-, five-, and ten-year periods. In 2008, India sat in the middle of the second 2nd quartile; it has dropped more than 40 places over the decade now positioned near the bottom of the 3rd quartile.

The right-wing Hindu nationalism – which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, promotes – is choking freedom of expression in India (3rd quartile) as nationalists push to purge all ‘anti-national’ thought from discussion.[1]

Figure 20: 

The mainstream India media – often the target of harassment and legal complaints from government loyalists – is increasingly practising self-censorship.[2] A petrol bomb was thrown at the home of newspaper editor, Patricia Mukhim, who had recently written about unregulated limestone mining and the culture of violence and impunity in northeast India. Mukhim had received death threats on Facebook some months before, and had complained to the police and Facebook, but no action was taken.[3]

There is a religious conservatism in India that not only stifles the environment for expression but also permits hostility against those who do not toe the line. In 2019, there have been mob killings of Muslims.[4] In 2018, journalist Swathi Vadlamudi was charged with blasphemy and made the target of a campaign of violent online harassment and death threats over a cartoon she drew of two Hindu gods. She also faced a possible three-year jail sentence for ‘hurting religious sentiments’.[5]

Threats and harassment of women journalists via social media are a significant form of censorship in the country. Investigative freelance journalist, Rana Ayyub, received an onslaught of anonymous graphic threats via social media after a parody Twitter account falsely stated, on 22 April, that she was a defender of child rapists. These threats included calls to gang rape Ayyub ‘if she didn’t stop talking against Hindus and [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’, as well as sharing her personal details (‘doxxing’) and pornographic images with her face superimposed onto them.[6]

India is the country with the most disrupted internet services – disruptions amounting to more than 15 weeks over 2018.[7] Closing down the internet is a repressive measure that India wielded even more severely in August 2019, shutting off all lines of communication – phone and internet – in Jammu and Kamshir, which it argued was necessary to prevent the spread of content that might cause violence after the government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status.[8]


[1] Reporters without Borders, India, 2016, available at

[2] Committee to Protect Journalists, Weight of Legal Cases and Threats Leave India’s Journalists Feeling Exposed and Alone, 10 April 2018, available at

[3] International Federation of Journalists, ‘India: Petrol bomb hurled at residence of newspaper editor Patricia Mukhim’, IFEX, 21 April 2018, available at

[4] Rana Ayyub, ‘Mobs are killing Muslims in India. Why is no one stopping them?’, The Guardian, 20 July 2019, available

[5] Reporters without Borders, India: Journalist Hounded, Charged Over Allegedly Blasphemous Cartoon, 24 August 2018, available at

[6] Committee to Protect Journalists, Indian Freelancer Receives Graphic Threats Following False Accusations Against Her, 26 April 2018, available at

[7] Software Freedom Law Centre India, Internet Shutdowns, available at

[8] Human Rights Watch, India: Restore Kashmir’s Internet, Phones, 28 August 2019, available at