The historic ruling on Thursday, pushing India into a more just, equal and fair world,must be enthusiastically hailed by all. Thank you, CJI J.S. Khehar and eight other erudite colleagues, who unanimously freed India from the shackles of control and repression. Once again our judiciary has stepped in... and stepped up, to save us from an oppressive atmosphere. For that, citizens shall remain eternally grateful. While I don’t want to be a damp squib and question the euphoria, a certain distance needs to be maintained to give us, the ordinary folks, the required time and space for reflection and absorption of what privacy as a fundamental right, actually means.
On a morning, when most newspaper headlines were gloating and crowing over the ruling, there were also a few bleats and blimps worth noting. Forget Amit Shah’s petulant rant in his blog blaming the Congress for India “not having a robust privacy law for decades.” Forget the rather puerile efforts of political parties to appropriate the ruling and convert it into a win for their individual parties. This is not another BJP vs Congress dangal. It is a major victory for the people of India. We have run three legs of the 400 metre privacy relay very impressively. But the last and crucial leg remains.
I read a straightforward, no frills account of Neha Dhupia a day later, where she recounts being filmed by a co-passenger while she slept soundly on a flight. She also talked about random “fans” pulling her arms and demanding “selfies”. She is not the only known person at the receiving end of such attacks on her privacy. What does someone like her do? Her co-passenger happened to be a woman and Neha was upfront enough to take away the phone and delete the video. Not everyone is Neha. For most working women, an aggressive invasion of their privacy on a daily basis is an inescapable fact of life. They can’t fight it effectively, without acquiring Neha’s spirit and calling out the sadists. In India, we don’t really know the difference between a “private life” forget “private space”, and the broader idea of “privacy”. Women are not entitled to a “private life”.
A woman who seeks it or — heaven help her — demands it, is considered “forward”, and asked why she needs a private life in the first place! What is she hiding? A married woman surrenders her rights to even a modicum of privacy when she sets foot in her marital home. I have heard enraged in-laws suspecting the bride’s character for not sharing her various codes and passwords — the ones needed to unlock her phone, access her bank lockers, operate her ATM account, not to forget her Facebook and other social media platforms. They say in sanctimonious terms, “In our family, we don’t believe in keeping secrets.” What that actually means is that they want to openly pry and spy on their daughter-in-law.
The wider implications of the ruling have been thoroughly and comprehensively documented by legal luminaries and opinionated pundits from various disciplines. For me, the line that most impressed is this one: “Criticism and critique lie at the core of democratic governance. Tolerance of dissent is equally a cherished value.” Fantastic! Take that, you self-styled “rakhshaks” of our collective conscience. The point is, do these goons even know such a crucial-to-democracy ruling has been passed? I doubt it. And their political bosses will make sure the message doesn’t go out, either. Which means, the lynchings, murders, kidnappings, threats and disappearances of those who dare to “dissent”, will continue. The lumpen don’t care about this precious fundamental right, nor do they respect it. They are aware the worst than can happen is a short jail term if they violate it. Bas. Aur kuch nahi. They will continue to stalk, rape and blackmail victims. Simply because they can! How many villagers are know what took place on August 23, 2017? How many will act on it?
Most Indians believe there is no such thing as “too much intrusion” in the lives of citizens. I am hoping the dreaded Aadhaar card is declared optional. While it has its uses, it is also an instrument of control and manipulation. Citizens are not entirely aware of its far-reaching implications. Most uneducated Indians regard the Aadhaar card as some sort of insurance against official harassment. It could be the exact opposite! Personal freedoms and personal rights are given enormous importance in more developed countries. India is getting there. We need a frank and free discourse to educate those who cannot read this vital ruling in the right context, and may think of it as a “rich man’s privilege”. Whether it is a debate on the virtues and pitfalls of the Aadhaar card or the long-term impact of privacy as a fundamental right, we cannot afford to exclude the vast majority of rural Indians, struggling to keep body and soul together in these very challenging times.
Thursday’s ruling permits the government to collate data if it is done for national security or for effective distribution of scare national resources, food and other essential items. The validity of Aadhaar will be examined by a three-member bench. This is an overdue examination. For 63 years, Indians have meekly accepted an outdated, regressive way of life. Let’s whole- heartedly congratulate the nine-judge bench headed by CJI J.S. Khehar, for saving us from an existence defined by indignity and emotional bondage....