Since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, India’s academic freedom is declining strongly, said a report by an international group of scholars on Thursday.
India’s academic freedom index is in the bottom 30 per cent among 179 countries.
The report, titled “Academic Freedom Index Update 2023” identified 22 countries – including India, China, the United States and Mexico – where it said universities and scholars experience significantly less academic freedom today than they did ten years ago.
“Whereas India’s decline in academic freedom started from a comparatively high level during India’s democratic period and is now associated with rapidly accelerating autocratization,” read the report.
“In India, academic freedom started to decline in 2009 with a drop in university autonomy followed by a sharp downturn in all indicators from 2013. Around 2013, all aspects of academic freedom began to decline strongly, reinforced with Narendra Modi’s election as prime minister in 2014,” it said.
The report further read: “Campus integrity, institutional autonomy, and the freedom of academic and cultural expression declined more strongly over the following years than the freedom to reach and teach and the freedom of academic exchange and dissemination. During this period, V-Dem data indicate that India’s electoral democracy collapsed in 2016, resulting in an electoral autocracy. These findings align with recent research that argues that “centralization, bureaucratization, and politicization” has historically produced weak university autonomy in India. It thus makes sense that institutional autonomy was undermined first. Moreover, the attacks on academic freedom under Modi’s Hindu nationalist government were also possible due to the absence of a legal framework to protect academic freedom.”
It went on to say: “What distinguishes India from other cases is notable pressure on the institutional dimensions of academic freedom – institutional autonomy and campus integrity–combined with constraints on academics’ freedom of expression. Although there is undoubtedly sub-national variation at institutional level and across disciplines, it is noteworthy that the freedom to research and teach and the freedom to exchange research findings are less constrained than the other dimensions of academic freedom. In summary, India demonstrates the pernicious relationship between populist governments, autocratization, and constraints on academic freedom.”