92nd in the global Freedom Index ratings, how 'free' are Indians really?

Last week I touched upon the global Economic Freedom Survey that ranks India a dismal 111th globally.

It may be worth our while to now shift focus towards Personal Freedom, and thence to a composite Freedom Index which incorporates scores from both the surveys – economic as well as personal. You can access the detailed report by clicking on the hyperlink: “Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom” [Fraser Institute & Liberales Institut, 2012].

First, a small detour while staying firmly on the topic of Personal Freedom. Something that Justice Katju enjoys in enviably large dollops. Absorbed in gigantic anxieties, he occasionally takes to pouring from empty into the void on issues both complex and simple. One should perhaps send him a plaque, inscribed with the following words from Stephen Fry’s Moab is my Washpot –

“You would come away realizing that an influential opinion may be influentially backed and yet be tripe….” [E.M.Foster’s 1934 obit of the art critic Roger Fry].



Before we delve deeper into the issue of Personal Freedom, let me also draw your attention to the superlatively delightful irony in Justice Katju’s frequent use of the word nonsense…..

The first obvious question: What is the Freedom Index?

Freedom Index is calculated using 2 indices –

[1] Economic Freedom Index, which was discussed last week; click here to access.

[2] Personal Freedom Index.

The scores from the two are averaged out, thereby yielding the Freedom Index score.

The second obvious question: What is the Personal Freedom Index?

This metric measures the degree of personal freedom present in four major areas: [1] Security & Safety [2] Movement [3] Expression [4] Relationship Freedoms.

21 components go into the four areas; in some cases, the components are themselves made up of several sub-components. In all, the index comprises 34 distinct variables.

The following table spells out the taxonomy in terms of the Areas, components and sub-components:



The third obvious question: How meaningful and reliable is this index?

The methodology is similar to the one adopted for constructing the Economic Freedom Index and was covered in some detail last week.

Key India-centric Findings:

• India is clustered with countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nepal, Senegal, Congo & Malawi on the Freedom Index

• On Personal Freedom, we again display a propensity towards keeping questionable company; some nations that have scores similar to ours include Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Togo & Nigeria

• A deep-dive into the constituent areas and variables that go into the Personal Freedom Index throw up the following points:

o We have an abysmal rating on “Government’s threat to a person”.

o A look at the component titled “ Society’s threat to a person” throws up variables like “Level of organized conflict”, “Son preference” and “Level of perceived criminality” to be the ones that are dragging the overall score down to a level where Uganda starts appearing to be almost like the perfect society.

o The score on “Women’s freedom of movement” is pretty much a no-brainer.

o India registers a pathetic score in the area of “Expression”, with variables like “Freedom of speech”, “Political pressures & controls on media content” and “Dress code in public” being the usual suspects.

o On the issue of “Relationship Freedoms”, the variables that pull us down to the bottom of the pile include “Freedom of assembly & association”, “Parental authority”, “Religion – Social hostility” and “Adoption by homosexuals”.

• Were it not for the fact that the data on personal and economic freedom is from 2008, India would be well and truly in the last quartile on almost all indices – for instance, on economic freedom, we slipped from 82nd position to 111th, and this would have directly impacted the overall freedom index rating as well [2008 Freedom Index ranking: 92nd].

As the authors note:

“For the personal freedom sub-index, we use 34 variables covering 123 countries for the year 2008, and for a minority of variables we use a more recent year if earlier data were not available. In selecting the countries we limited ourselves to those that are presented in the EFW. In selecting time periods, we would have liked to have used data from at least two periods separated by five or more years to track changes in the level of freedom over time (as we did in a preliminary index that used less extensive data (Vásquez and Štumberger, 2011), but doing so would be of limited value since almost half of the data we use in the current index was not available for most countries prior to 2008, the earliest year for which we felt we could produce a robust enough index”

Let us see how things look like, when we place all the relevant indices inside one frame…



What is deeply troubling is the fact that there has been a consistent slide in rankings over the past few years. On the Transparency International ratings, for instance, India dropped from 72nd rank to the current 94th position [2007-2012]. Similar trends have been observed on Economic Freedom rankings.

Across the Freedom indices that I covered in this 2-part series, there are 76 distinct variables covering the spectrum that spans from the individual to the social, the economic to the political and from on-the-ground administrative to the legislative/judicial. It is time the powers that be identified and prioritized the ones which are screaming for attention [the worst 25?], and start doing what they have been elected to do…safeguard the interests of the nation and its citizens.

Or else, the next time the citizenry takes to the streets, triggered by a specific incident that outrages its collective senses, we could have the force of ungovernable fury destroying the very institutions and values that we as a democracy cherish the most - relying on the continuing patience, self-restraint and tolerance that the populace has exhibited thus far, may not be a wise course of inaction.


Updated Date: Feb 20, 2013 13:51 PM

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