The Ministry of External Affairs on Friday dismissed a United States report flagging human rights concerns in India.

“This is clearly an internal exercise of the US government,” foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said during a press briefing. “We are not a party to it. There should be a proper understanding of developments in India.”

The US State Department had on Tuesday released the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The report identified “unlawful and arbitrary killings, arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities, overly restrictive rules on non-governmental organisations, violence against women and minorities and restrictions on freedom of expression and the press” as some of the concerns in India.

“There were several instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling,” the report said. “There were also reports of extremists perpetrating acts of killing, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.”

The report also spoke about the detention of Jamia Millia Islamia student Safoora Zargar in connection with the large-scale communal violence that took place in Delhi last year as well as the arrest of activist Umar Khalid.

The US State Department report highlighted the “serious abuses” of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East, “including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, and recruitment and use of child soldiers”.

The report also noted the steps taken by the Centre to restore normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir. “The government released most political activists from detention,” it said. “In January, the government partially restored internet access; however, high-speed 4G mobile internet remained restricted in most parts of Jammu and Kashmir. Local district development council elections took place in December, in which a coalition of Kashmiri opposition parties won the majority of seats.”

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had visited India last month. Austin said that he had discussed human rights violation in India, “especially against Muslim minorities in the northeast”, with the ministers of the Narendra Modi-led government.

Ahead of his visit, United States Democratic Senators Bob Menendez had written to Austin, asking him to raise “democracy and human rights concerns” in his discussions with the Indian government. Mendez citied the crackdown on the farmers protesting against the new agricultural laws and intimidation of journalists under the Modi regime, saying these indicators had only underscored the “deteriorating situation of democracy” in India.

Last month, some reports by international organisations raised concerns about the steady subversion of democracy and erosion of civil rights in India under Narendra Modi’s regime.

The US-based non-government organisation Freedom House’s report on political rights and civil liberties lowered India’s status from “free” in 2020, to “partly free” this year. It said that the situation “deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014” and the decline only “accelerated after Modi’s reelection in 2019.”

Sweden based-research institute Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute’s report, meanwhile, said that India has turned into an “electoral autocracy”. It said India’s autocratisation process has “largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the ‘Third Wave’ over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia, and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent”.

India dismissed these reports, saying that the country does not need approval or tedious moral lectures from a “set of self-appointed custodians of the world”.