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.

In awe of those fighting Russian tyranny

One year ago we all watched in horror as Putin’s Russia initiated an all out invasion of Ukraine. The people of Ukraine did nothing to initiate this war, they did not choose violence, but every family is now paying the price for this Putin’s aggression. Ukrainian families are divided, spread throughout Europe. People are traumatised, they have lost loved ones and too many live under perpetual fear of the next Russian onslaught.

The UN believes that over 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the last year, with thousands more hurt as the Russians bombard urban areas. And as they defend themselves against Russian aggression every person able to fight has joined the military - everyone is on the frontline.

I make no apologies for standing with the people of Ukraine, for supporting Nato’s efforts to support the Ukrainian military as they seek to defend their people and their homes. As US president Joe Biden made clear this week this war is now the frontline in the battle of autocrats versus democrats. And I, like you, am a democrat.

Twelve months on there are so many stories, of death, of heartbreak but also of inspirational acts from people who never expected to be on the frontline. As ever it is their stories which we should tell, it’s their pain we should mark and their losses which we share. It is their stories which should feature this week and every week - until Ukraine is free.

In the midst of war, however, it is easy to forget the dissidents, the people who are adamant that Putin doesn’t act in their name, the people whose actions will hopefully one day lead to peace. In the heat of war, whilst living under an authoritarian regime, it requires a significant level of bravery to speak out - to challenge your government, to oppose military action.  Today’s stats tally 19,586 people who have been arrested across the Russian Federation for protesting the war.

Index was founded to provide a platform for Soviet dissidents over 50 years ago at the height of the Cold War. Our raison d’etre is to provide a voice for the persecuted, a place where the brave and the disillusioned can tell their stories, to help dissidents who live in authoritarian regimes. The last year has taken my team and I full circle, reminding us of our roots and ensuring that we keep striving to promote and protect the right of freedom of expression in totalitarian regimes.

Today we remember those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country, the civilians who have been caught in the crossfire and those brave dissidents who in the direst of circumstances keep trying to speak truth to power.

Slava Ukraini

Do Chechens really support Putin’s war in Ukraine?

Immediately after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov loudly announced the active involvement of Chechen security forces in it. Units of the Russian army and the Interior Ministry for Chechnya, which de facto report to Kadyrov personally, lined the grounds of his residence in the centre of the Chechen capital. Kadyrov said at the time that 12,000 Chechen volunteers were ready to leave for any special operation in the interests of Russia.

Since then, various sources have claimed that about 200 Chechens have been killed. The figure for the number of Chechens fighting for Russia is about 10,000 according to Kadyrov. Russian human rights activists put the number at around 3,000.

In September 2022 several women decided to organise a demonstration against sending Chechens to join Russia’s war. In a voice message that circulated on social media at the time, the organisers called on people to come to the central square of the city of Grozny: "They killed us in two wars, aren't there enough dead, mutilated and crippled?" the woman in the message asks. On the same day, Kadyrov said on his Telegram channel that the women had been detained, a preventive conversation was held with them, and he promised to send their sons to fight in Ukraine.

This was something of an understatement. The human rights group Memorial has since confirmed that the women were taken to Grozny's City Hall and their husbands forced to beat them. The son of at least one of the women was sent to Ukraine and her husband died a few days later, seemingly of “a broken heart”.

This kind of harsh reaction had an effect: people became afraid to express their opinions, even in front of their long-time friends. Umar from Grozny says that recently a friend of his sent a meme about the war in Ukraine into a group chat room, and five minutes later deleted it. "This has never happened before, everyone knows everyone in this chat room and before the war everyone trusted each other," said Umar.

That said, one activist of a Russian human rights organisation believes that the situation of free speech in Chechnya has changed, but not necessarily for the worse. She confirms that people are less likely to express their discontent with the authorities in public, but among trusted circles, criticism of the Chechen authorities has become harsher. She says that even those who used to be apolitical are now speaking out against the actions of the authorities. She believes that the people who fear that their sons who survived the Chechen wars or were born later will die in a new, "alien war".

According to Marina, a 33-year-old who works at a public institution in Chechnya, "not a single lunch with friends goes by without talking about Ukraine”. She follows all the news from the front and cheers for Ukraine's victory. Most of Marina's friends also support Ukraine and want Russia to lose. When she and her friends discuss Ukraine in a café, everyone keeps asking each other to keep their voices down.

"Ukraine is going through the same thing we went through. The same rhetoric, only we were accused of being a nation of terrorists, while the Ukrainians are 'Nazis’,” Marina said. She is sure that among Chechens there is no patriotism toward Russia. "Where does it come from?" she asked rhetorically.

"The Chechens we see on social networks and state channels talking about love for Russia are people who need something from the authorities. They pursue purely material goals.”

Marina personally knows Chechens who went to Ukraine for money but that was at the very beginning of the war (the minimum amount paid by the Russian government for participation in the war is 195,000 rubles monthly, about $2615),

Umar, 43, a courier from Grozny, tells of his neighbour who was sent to Ukraine recently. "He liked to drink and make noise. He was taken to prison and stayed there for several months. Then he was offered: either you go to Ukraine or we put you in jail for a long time. He agreed to Ukraine. I recently saw a picture of him standing somewhere in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, in a Russian military uniform, with a submachine gun in his hands". According to Umar, there are many such cases.

There are also those in Chechnya who think differently and support Kadyrov's army. These are mostly families of Chechens who are fighting on the side of Russia. "They are not rooting for Russia's victory, but for their family members," said Tamara, a 49-year-old housewife from a Chechen village. Those whose children have gone to fight in Ukraine sincerely want them to return home and support them. These parents need to explain to themselves that their sons are not risking their lives for nothing, and they speak "the language of television" Tamara said. Most of their rhetoric boils down to a line they've been told that Russia was forced to attack and that "the (Russian) government isn't stupid”.

For the residents of Grozny, which was rebuilt after almost total destruction in the early 2000s, today they live ordinary, peaceful lives. As in other Russian cities, there is almost no indication that the country is waging an aggressive war against its neighbour. It is almost the same war Russia waged against Chechnya in the 1990s and 2000s when it fought for independence. The graffiti on the walls that used to say "Welcome to hell", left for the Russian soldiers by Chechen fighters for independence, has been replaced by murals depicting Kadyrov and his men. But there is little faith in the sincerity of Kadyrov’s love for the Russian leadership. Marina says:

"Kadyrov has no patriotism for Russia. All he protects is his position and his stability.”

This article is written by a journalist from Chechnya. For their safety they wished to remain anonymous and excluded identifying features of those they spoke to as well

Pavel Litvinov: A dissident hero

Pavel Litvinov, who recently turned 82, is an imposing figure. When I meet him on a rainy August day, he fills the space in his compact living room in the suburban New York City garden apartment he shares with his wife, Julia Santiago. We picked the day, 22 August, for our interview out of convenience, but it happens to resonate. It was on 21 August 1968 that Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia, demolishing the “socialism with a human face” of its leader, Alexander Dubček.

Days later, at noon on 25 August, the then 28-year-old physicist Litvinov, with seven comrades – including the group’s organiser, poet Natalya Gorbanevskaya (and her baby in a pram) – met in Moscow’s Red Square to unfurl a banner that turned out to be life-changing. Its message was plain: “Hands off the CSSR [Czechoslovak Socialist Republic].” Within minutes, the KGB arrived to forcibly take them away to camps or psychiatric hospitals. Litvinov, hit hard in the face, was arrested and sent to internal exile in a Siberian mining town for five years with his then wife. His daughter was born there.

“I was in prison for several months and then in exile and had to work in the mines. I couldn’t leave the village; I couldn’t get permission to travel,” Litvinov said. Recalling his motivation for the action, he added: “It felt internally necessary. I had a very strong feeling of what is fair and unfair, and that people have to treat each other gently and with respect.”

The Litvinov family was well known in both dissident and Soviet ruling circles. His grandfather was Maxim Litvinov, once Joseph Stalin’s people’s commissar for foreign affairs until he was deposed in 1939 because, as a Jew, he became an obstacle to warmer ties with Adolf Hitler. “I was 11 when my grandfather died; we were good friends,” he explained. “He was already disappointed in the Russian revolution and the Bolsheviks.” His parents’ home was a gathering place for dissidents. Literature also inspired him. “Most important was Russian literature from the 19th century –Pushkin, Tolstoy, Lermontov... They expressed a feeling of compassion toward helping others under the autocratic state,” he said.

Indeed, books and literature, in the form of samizdat, were crucial – not only the literary classics but also records of the dissidents’ trials in real time. Litvinov deconstructs the samizdat publication process for me, explaining how, during these trials, somebody would gain access to the court and bring the information home. “They would write the transcript by hand; then we would find someone who had a typewriter,” he said. “I would print pages on very thick photographic paper. The book would be photographed and developed in a darkroom. Sometimes we would have a party to read the book. I would read the first page, give [someone else] the second page, who would give it to the next one. We would read Doctor Zhivago in half a night, then have tea or vodka. Then I would give a film to a friend from Leningrad, and someone would come from Kyiv – same procedure.”

From his earliest dissident days, Litvinov’s strategy was to appeal to allies outside the Soviet Union. And that’s the connection to Index on Censorship. In 1968, he co-wrote with dissident Larisa Bogoraz an Appeal to World Public Opinion, about dissident trials. “I wrote the appeal in Russian. Some of the foreign correspondents translated it to English. In the evening we would always listen to the BBC. They started to speak about the letter. They said Stephen Spender read about it... and Spender called Igor Stravinsky, Mary McCarthy[and] famous American and English writers and composers. They started to interview them. It was so touching when they interviewed Stravinsky. He was 90. He said – in Russian – ‘My teacher[Nikolai] Rimsky-Korsakov suffered from Russian censorship and that’s why I signed this letter, because these people protested against censorship’.”

The appeal didn’t keep Litvinov and his group out of prison, but it did have global political impact, opening a path between Litvinov and Spender. And it led to the creation of Index on Censorship. “Mary McCarthy said that the letter had more influence than napalm did in Vietnam,” he said proudly. “Our fight was a fight for freedom of speech, a protest against censorship. Censorship could be when they don’t let you publish a book, or when you lose a job, or when you get kicked out of the country, or when you get put in prison. All that means censorship.”

Just before the Red Square demonstration, Litvinov sent a letter to Spender suggesting an international council to support democracy in the Soviet Union, along with a publication to promote the situation there. “When I returned [from Siberia],there was a young man – now I realise that he was 10 years older than I, but he looked younger. He said: ‘I am Michael Scammell. I am a Russian specialist’.”

Scammell asked Litvinov if he knew more about what Scammell was doing now. “I said ‘No’,” he recalled, with a smile appearing after all these decades. Scammell said: “You gave me my first job. I was a writer and journalist. Now I have a job at a magazine as editor of Index on Censorship.” The idea that Litvinov had broached with Spender had come to fruition in his absence thanks to him, Stuart Hampshire, Scammell and others. “We became friends and Scammell was eventually kicked out of Russia,” Litvinov remembered.

Scammell organised lectures for Litvinov at British universities and invited him to join the Index editorial board, which he did for a while. I wonder whether Litvinov thought that repression could return to Russia after all this time. Indeed, today, he sees a direct line to what’s happening there. “It is a continuation of the kind of thing that happened with Russia and Czechoslovakia. Ukraine was [always]a threat to the Soviet empire. It was clear for all of us that if Ukraine would survive on its own there would be no more Soviet Union. So, there was always tension. In the Stalinist labour camps, half of the political prisoners in the Gulag after World War I were Ukrainian... people strongly felt their national identity and culture. A lot of dissidents became our friends.” But he didn’t consider war. “I really didn’t expect it until the last minute. Russia really has to lose badly or Russia will start another imperialist adventure,” he said.

I wonder, too, about his assessment of Vladimir Putin. He is quick to respond. “In the 1930s, there were very terrible KGB people but among them there were at least people who were ideological communists. In Putin’s generation they didn’t believe in communism or Marxism. They believed in secret police and dirty tricks and spying.” He describes his surprise at how so many people find Putin palatable. “I always thought that because he was KGB, he was bad. He said he was proud of the KGB. The KGB executed millions of people and he is still proud. If he would say they did some good things and some bad things... but nothing.”

In 2006 he retired from his 30-year job as a science teacher at a Westchester school and today he stays in close touch with those who have left, and continue to leave, Russia. He does what he can to support dissent inside the country, especially backing a new generation with fundraising and encouragement. “There is a group to whom I am very close – OVD-Info. The guy who started it is in Germany and they are available 24/7. If someone is arrested anywhere in Russia, they can call them and, in an hour, there will be a lawyer at the police station. They are the next generation of dissidents.”

Does Litvinov have any regrets, having performed heroic actions that exiled him from his birth country? “This was the whole fun of it,” he said. “I enjoyed my life. I was not afraid. I was ready for much worse conditions than I had in Siberia. Then I emigrated and saw America and Europe. I feel like I am more American than Russian.”

Before leaving, I ask him if he has hope. He sighs and at first responds: “Oh, hope.” I think he will say “No”, but instead he says: “Now, with the war, strangely enough there is more hope. Because it looked like Putin had a good chance, he had so much control, but now because of the crazy war that makes no sense, he probably won’t survive for long. What will happen I don’t know. [But] I think the war will kick him out. If the war is over, practically Russia cannot win.

This article is from the winter issue of Index on Censorship, which will be published shortly. Click here more information on the issue.