Indians hold religious freedom dearer than free media, speech or judiciary: Pew survey

Freedom of religion, at 78%, remained the top priority for Indians in 2019, significantly eclipsing the levels of support for a free media, freedom of speech and a fair judiciary, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Only 37% Indians believe it is very important to have a free media without government/state censorship, a report based on the survey’s findings, released on Thursday, show. While support for freedom of the press rose since 2015 in several nations including France, the U.K. and Turkey (where it jumped by 19 percentage points), the U.S. (by 13 points) and Australia (by 12 points), in India backing for a free media plunged by four percentage points. The median across the 34 nations polled was 64%, and only Lebanon and Tunisia in the Middle East/North Africa region scored less than India, at 28% and 33%, respectively. Greece (89%), Sweden (82%) and the U.S. (80%), meanwhile, led the pack in favour of a free press.

In contrast, freedom of religion, at 78%, remained the top priority for India this time too — in 2015, it was five percentage points higher at 83%. Across the countries, a median of 68% consider freedom of religion as very important. “However, it is the lowest priority in several more secular nations, especially in Europe, where the French, Swedes, Spanish and Dutch all rate it their lowest priority,” wrote the authors of the report titled ‘Democratic Rights Popular Globally but Commitment to Them Not Always Strong.’ Evidently for India, support for freedom of religion remained at odds with backing for freedom of speech, which was favoured by just 32%, the lowest among all countries. This was a 12 percentage points plunge from 2015.

The report however includes a key caveat on the findings on free media and speech where it concerns India as 20% or more of the respondents did not answer the questions relating to these two parameters.

The U.S.-based think tank conducted the survey among 38,426 people in 34 countries last year, between May 13 and October 2. The report analyses how people around the world see the state of democracy in their country on nine parameters: fair judiciary, gender equality, free religion, regular elections, free speech, free media, free Internet, free civil society, and free opposition parties.

Pew noted that globally, people were more dissatisfied (a median of 52%) than satisfied (a median of 44%) with the way democracy was working in their country. “Discontent is often more common among people with lower incomes,” wrote the report’s authors. In India, meanwhile, 70% of people said they were satisfied as compared with 26% who were not. And, while a median of 64% disagreed with the statement “most elected officials care what people like me think,” the number stood at just 31% in India. In the U.S., for instance, that figure was 71%. The free operation of opposition political parties garnered the least support among the nine attributes linked to democracy. While 67% people in the U.S. and Canada favoured free opposition parties, a mere 37% of Indians supported it.

Indians also don’t seem to value a free civil society, according to the report’s authors. Just 35% said it was very important for human rights organisations to operate freely in their country. This was the lowest support by a country, after Russia (at 31%).

Also, the idea of a fair judiciary is “the most vital — a median of 82% say it is very important, and, of the nine items tested, it has the highest percentage describing it as very important in 19 countries (it has the second-highest percentage in 10 countries),” the report’s authors observed. India, however, ranks the lowest on that count as well, with just 58% people supporting it. This was in stark contrast to Greece and Hungary (95% each).

Internet freedom received somewhat lower support overall across the 34 countries, with a median of 59% considering it very important.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2022 10:28:32 pm |