Contents – Modi’s India: The Age of Intolerance


The central theme of the Spring 2023 issue of Index is India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

After monitoring Modi’s rule since he was elected in 2014, Index decided to look deeper into the state of free expression inside the world’s largest democracy.

Index spoke to a number of journalists and authors from, or who live in, India; and discovered that on every marker of what a democracy should be, Modi’s India fails. The world is largely silent when it comes to Narendra Modi. Let’s change that.

Up Front

Can India survive more Modi?, by Jemimah Seinfeld: Nine years into his leadership the world has remained silent on Modi's failed democracy. It's time to turn up the temperature before it's too late.

The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest news from the free speech frontlines. Big impact elections, poignant words from the daughter of a jailed Tunisian opposition politician, and the potential US banning of Tik Tok.


Cultural amnesia in Cairo, by Nick Hilden: Artists are under attack in the Egyptian capital where signs of revolution are scrubbed from the street.

‘Crimea has turned into a concentration camp’, by Nariman Dzhelal: Exclusive essay from the leader of the Crimean Tatars, introduced by Ukranian author Andrey Kurkov.

Fighting information termination, by Jo-Ann Mort: How the USA's abortion information wars are being fought online.

A race to the bottom, by Simeon Tegel: Corruption is corroding the once-democratic Peru as people take to the streets.

When comics came out, by Sara Century: The landscape of expression that gave way to a new era of queer comics, and why the censors are still fighting back.

In Iran women’s bodies are the battleground, by Kamin Mohammadi: The recent protests, growing up in the Shah's Iran where women were told to de-robe, and the terrible u-turn after.

Face to face with Iran’s authorities, by Ramita Navai: The award-winning war correspondent tells Index's Mark Frary about the time she was detained in Tehran, what the current protests mean and her Homeland cameo.

Scope for truth, by Kaya Genç: The Turkish novelist visits a media organisation built on dissenting voices, just weeks before devastating earthquakes hit his homeland.

Ukraine’s media battleground, by Emily Couch: Two powerful examples of how fraught reporting on this country under siege has become.

Storytime is dragged into the guns row, by Francis Clarke: Relaxed gun laws and the rise of LGBTQ+ sentiment is silencing minority communities in the USA.

Those we must not leave behind, by Martin Bright: As the UK government has failed in its task to rescue Afghans, Index's editor at large speaks to members of a new Index network aiming to help those whose lives are in imminent danger.

Special Report: Modi's India

Modi’s singular vision for India, by Salil Tripathi: India used to be a country for everyone. Now it's only for Hindus - and uncritical ones at that.

Blessed are the persecuted, by Hanan Zaffar: As Christians face an increasing number of attacks in India, the journalist speaks to people who have been targeted.

India’s Great Firewall, by Aishwarya Jagani: The vision of a 'digital India' has simply been a way for the authoritarian government to cement its control.

Stomping on India’s rights, by Marnie Duke: The members of the RSS are synonymous with Modi. Who are they, and why are they so controversial?

Bollywood’s Code Orange, by Debasish Roy Chowdhury: The Bollywood movie powerhouse has gone from being celebrated to being used as a tool for propaganda.

Bulldozing freedom, by Bilal Ahmad Pandow: Narendra Modi's rule in Jammu and Kashmir has seen buildings dismantled in line with people's broader rights.

Let’s talk about sex, by Mehk Chakraborty: In a country where sexual violence is abundant and sex education is taboo, the journalist explores the politics of pleasure in India.

Uncle is watching, by Anindita Ghose: The journalist and author shines a spotlight on the vigilantes in India who try to control women.


Keep calm and let Confucius Institutes carry on, by Kerry Brown: Banning Confucius Institutes will do nothing to stop Chinese soft power. It'll just cripple our ability to understand the country.

A papal precaution, by Robin Vose: Censorship on campus and taking lessons from the Catholic Church's doomed index of banned works.

The democratic federation stands strong, by Ruth Anderson: Putin's assault on freedoms continues but so too does the bravery of those fighting him.


Left behind and with no voice, by Lijia Zhang and Jemimah Steinfeld: China's children are told to keep quiet. The culture of silence goes right the way up.

Zimbabwe’s nervous condition, by Tsitsi Dangarembga: The Zimbabwean filmmaker and author tells Index's Katie Dancey-Downes about her home country's upcoming election, being arrested for a simple protest and her most liberating writing experience yet.

Statues within a plinth of their life, by Marc Nash: Can you imagine a world without statues? And what might fill those empty plinths? The London-based novelist talks to  Index's Francis Clarke about his new short story, which creates exactly that.

Crimea’s feared dawn chorus, by Martin Bright: A new play takes audiences inside the homes and families of Crimean Tatars as they are rounded up.

From hijacker to media mogul, Soe Myint: The activist and journalist on keeping hope alive in Myanmar.

Report: The rise of Confucius Institutes

“First, we stood up, then we got rich, and now we got strong.” Chinese officials are repeating this slogan over and over, China analyst Mareike Ohlberg recently told the audience at an Index on Censorship event. “Part of being a strong country means being able to influence or determine what people talk about, not just in China but globally.”

Confucius Institutes were established in 2004 with the stated mission of teaching Chinese language and culture abroad and are widely acknowledged as one of the ways China exerts its influence around the world. In 2010, the Confucius Institute headquarters (known as Hanban) received the ‘Chinese Influence the World Award’. “People often ask me about the Confucius Institute’s role in soft power,” said its founder, Xu Lin, at the award ceremony. “We are indeed trying to expand our influence.”

Confucius was a sixth-century philosopher, educator, and quasi-religious figure, who has since come to symbolise peace and harmony. By promoting this image and avoiding any reference to Marxist ideology, a Chinese state institution has made its way onto more 550 university and college campuses, and into 1,172 primary and secondary school classrooms around the world. According to the New York Times, “The carefully selected label [of Confucius Institutes] speaks volumes about the country’s soft-power ambitions.”

In the West, the largest number of Confucius Institutes are found in English-speaking countries. Why? “The Chinese government is minimalist,” Ohlberg replied. “If you have the government in your pocket, why do you need a Confucius Institute?” The UK has approximately 30 Confucius Institutes, five in Scotland. France has 21, Germany has 19, and Italy has 16. There are 103 in the EU.

By operating primarily on campuses, Confucius Institutes are unlike other countries’ cultural organisations, like the British Council, Alliance Française, or Goethe Institutes. Tao Zhang of Nottingham Trent University believes this enables the Chinese authorities “to gain a foot-hold for the exercise of control over the study of China and the Chinese language.”

Confucius Institutes are also unlike European institutes in that they are directly managed by the Chinese government. According to the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, “[t]his offers Confucius Institutes the possibility to unilaterally promote Chinese policy and ideas in a one-sided way, to commit censorship, or to stimulate self-censorship about China among students, pupils and the wider public”.

This report looks the rise of the Institutes and whether those fighting for freedom of expression should be worried.

Fear and confusion over China’s Confucius Institutes

As the number of Confucius Institutes continues to increase, there have been renewed concerns about how these organisations restrict free expression, particularly from among the international community.

The centres, which are dedicated to Chinese language and culture, education and research, are funded by the Chinese government  --- just as the UK has its British Council, Germany its Goethe Institut and France its Alliance Française. These European organisations don't shy away from their purpose: to promote their nation's culture and win allies. As the British Council states: "Put simply, the British Council exists to build trust between the UK and other countries and people and thereby win lifelong friends for Britain." So why is it wrong when China tries to do it?

By last August, in just over six years, China had set up over 350 Confucius Institutes and 473 Confucius Classrooms in over 104 different countries, according to the Institute’s website. No small feat, as the British Council, set up in 1934, has only 220 offices in 110 countries and territories.

These organisations, which spread the teaching of Chinese language and culture (including activities as harmless as cooking classes) and provides advice to people looking to do business on the mainland, are overseen by Hanban, ostensibly an NGO but broadly controlled by the Chinese Ministry of Education. In some more prestigious universities the institutes also sponsor research programmes into sinology.

According to a USA Today story last week, some academics have voiced concerns that the money and resources that Confucius Institutes bring in can also help stifle what can be  discussed, researched and taught in western universities where the institutes are located.

The article says that in the US, a partnership with a Confucius Institute typically brings in funds “in the range of $100,000 to $150,000”.

It quotes Anne-Marie Brady, associate professor of political science at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand as saying that Confucius Institutes will “ always [have] no-go zones, and the no-go zones are obvious: Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong.”

But academics at some American universities that have collaborated with Hanban vehemently deny these claims.

Richard Saller, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University told USA Today: “I said what I always say, which is we don't restrict the freedom of speech of our faculty, and that was the end of the discussion. I've had domestic donors walk away because of that, and in this case Hanban did not walk away.”

Other academics interviewed by the paper also said that having a Confucius Institute on campus had not restricted their freedom to hold talks on Taiwan, Tibet or any other sensitive issue. Yet.

While the western press were busying querying the Confucius Institutes, as reported by The New York Times, Chinese president Hu Jintao was bitterly critical of western culture: “We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of westernising and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration”. He also urged the country to put more energy into spreading Chinese culture and ideas, precisely through organs such as the Confucius Institutes.

Hu did not address the issue of just what is Chinese culture. Just 30 years ago under Mao, Confucius was a dirty word and his ideas were vigorously opposed. Today, he is the Communist Party’s golden boy, representing historical greatness, culture, and stability.