In light of the recent debate regarding Freedom of Expression that was brought into focus by the arrests at JNU, we thought it would be pertinent to look at the state of Human Freedom around the world and where India stands. The Cato Institute, a leading think tank based in Washington D.C., publishes the 'Human Freedom Index' (HFI) for over 150 countries around the world. The HFI "...presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint" and comprises of Personal, Civil, and Economic Freedom. It uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the areas of:
Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business.
This is the most comprehensive study on Human Freedom done globally thus far. Countries in Western Europe and North America fare well whereas countries in North Africa and Middle East are ranked lowest. Of the 157 countries studied, India ranks 86th overall. When it comes to Freedom of Expression, India ranks 79th.
Through the course of the JNU debate, some argued that the government and law enforcement acted in a repressive manner and infringed on the freedom of expression. While others argued that the freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly. The arrested JNU student leader vehemently protested by stating he does "..not need a certificate of Nationalism from the RSS." Skeptics looking at the HFI report may very well claim that India does not need a certificate on Freedom from an American think tank either. We encourage our readers to form an informed opinion and engage in this important debate. Whichever side of the debate you are on, you probably agree that the world's largest democracy needs to do better than 86th..
But why should ordinary Indians care? Why does India need to do better? Wouldn't a lot of people, especially those facing economic hardships, gladly give up some of their rights for health, education, prosperity, and the promise of a better standard of living in general? While freedom in and of itself is a noble goal to pursue and should be emphatically preserved, there is an economic argument to be made for it as well. Notice that countries with high GDP and low economic inequality have a high HFI. While this suggests correlation, causation almost certainly exists. This excerpt from the HFI publishers makes this point eloquently: "...Lastly, in recent years China and some minor 'economic tigers' such as Vietnam and Arab monarchies such as Bahrain have, at least in public perception, provided us with a new model for economic growth. A new political mythology holds that only strictly organized authoritarian regimes can create strategies for growth and wealth, while pluralistic democracies cannot agree on such a strategy. This myth is rather the product of a very selective perception of the true successes or failures of autocracies or democracies. While there may be a few successful authoritarian regimes, these are certainly exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of illiberal regimes preside over misery, squalor, and corruption. "