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India one of 7 countries where disinformation used for winning polls: Global NGO Civicus

By Rajiv Shah 

The State of Civil Society Report 2023, released by Civicus, an international non-profit organisation, which describes itself as “a global alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world," with headquarters in Johannesburg and offices in Geneva and New York, has singled out India as one of the seven countries where disinformation played a crucial role to win elections.
Seeking to explore contemporary political, economic and social trends and their impact on civil society, and the ways in which people’s movements are responding, innovating and scoring victories, the report says, "disinformation played a huge role in elections" in "promoting the anti-Muslim Hindu nationalism of India’s ruling party." Other countries mentioned are Brazil, Philippines, South Korea, Chile, Russia and USA."
It insists, "Disinformation and conspiracy theories soared under the pandemic, souring every area of public discourse, from vaccines to climate change to gender and racial issues, normalising hate speech and extremist ideas." 
The 12th annually published report, it claims to "look back on 2022 to explore trends in civil society action, at every level and in every arena, from struggles for democracy, inclusion and climate justice to demands for global governance reform."
Referring to the Rohingiya crisis, the report points to how the Rohingya refugees -- whose life has seen "little improvement" after they were "forced to flee Myanmar, where they’ve long been denied citizenship" -- continue to be exposed to be "exposed to anti-Muslim hatred" in India. 
It adds, "In Bangladesh they’re subjected to stifling restrictions on their ability to speak out... Their plight seems largely forgotten, and now the army that unleashed genocidal violence against them rules their country."
Citing survivors of gender-based violence and failures to hold perpetrators accountable across the globe, the report recalls how the Bilkis Bano case murderers and rapists were set free. It says, "A clear example was seen in India when the Gujarat state government unjustifiably granted early release to 11 men convicted of a 2002 gang rape of several Muslim women and the murders of 14 people."
Noting that "when it comes to clothes, liberation isn’t about wearing or not wearing a particular item; it’s about the freedom to choose what to wear", the report regrets, "While in Iran an allegedly ‘improperly’ worn hijab triggered the most widespread and sustained challenge the country’s theocratic regime has ever faced, in India the hijab became a symbol of dignity, pride and resistance against a spreading wave of Islamophobia."
The report states, "In early 2022, in a move led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party to stoke religious divisions for political gain, Muslim students in parts of the country were banned from wearing hijab to class. At a single stroke, they experienced violations of their rights to free expression, free manifestation of religious beliefs and education."
It approvingly quotes Syeda Hameed of the Muslim Women’s Forum as saying, "The hijab ban is a complete violation of women’s rights to express their own identities. It should be my choice alone whether to wear the hijab or not". The report comments, "But this time around, right-wing populists may have picked the wrong target. Indian Muslim women resisted, refusing to be the pawns in someone else’s political game."
In India the hijab became a symbol of dignity, pride and resistance against a spreading wave of Islamophobia
Referring to how the Modi government seeks to undermine the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) mandate which allows civil society participation in the work of the UN, the report says, the International Dalit Solidarity Network move for accreditation was long held up by India.
It says, the Committee on NGOs, an ECOSOC subsidiary body of 19 states, which includes India as a member, has a habit of deferring applications from CSOs working on human rights issues that some states object to. "Several have faced repeated years of questioning and demands for further documentation, in what has seemed a deliberately attritional process. The longest wait – 15 years – was experienced by the International Dalit Solidarity Network, whose accreditation was long held up by India", it notes.
The report notes how an international NGO campaign helped resolve a major labour dispute in favour of women workers, many of them Dalits, when Shahi Exports, India’s largest garment company, agreed to pay around US$4 million in unpaid wages. "This major high-street supplier faced international campaigning over its refusal to pay annual cost of living increases", the report said.
It added, "This is a historic labour rights win for around 5,000 mostly female Dalit workers, who are placed at the bottom of India’s caste system. This agreement is the first of its kind in India, the only one to cover spinning mills and the first to include explicit protections against caste-based discrimination, a problem that intensified during the pandemic."


What surprises me is the current regime's antipathy towards all NGOs. The fact that these very NGOs are doing the work that the government should be doing with no additional expense to it, should be a big plus point in their favour.

No doubt, there are some NGOs which are not all above board, but you cannot and should not paint all of them with the same brush.


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