We are not mere subjects of the state

In a democracy, citizens have the freedom to criticise laws that violate their idea of dignity “It has become a fashion of the day to make a hue and cry about personal liberty,” the Maharashtra government lamented before the Supreme Court in early December. The government said this in response to activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea that his arrest by the State police in the Bhima Koregaon case was without sufficient evidence. The unease of the Maharashtra government with the idea of personal liberty should have caused alarm. Political parties should have critiqued it. After all, does not our system of parliamentary democracy depend on the idea of freedom of individuals to make their own choices independently, without restrictions from any authority? But nothing of that sort happened. There was hardly a murmur in the media. It almost seems as if we agree with the Maharashtra government that individual liberty is a luxury and is at the mercy of state authorities. Problem with individual liberty The Maharashtra government is neither the first nor alone in expressing its disquiet with the idea of individual liberty in recent times. Let us recall the argument of the Indian state in the Aadhaar case. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had said in 2017 that individuals cannot have an absolute right over their bodies and that such an idea was a “myth”. He also said that even if you would like to be forgotten, the state will not be willing to forget you. This is clearly a Kafkaesque expression. Not being allowed to get away from the gaze of the state is a surreal feeling, but this is where we seem to be heading. Being remembered is very often confused with being loved. Even before the arrest of the activists and the Aadhaar case, at a joint conference of Chief Justices of High Courts in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had warned judges not to let their orders be influenced by perceptions that are often driven by “five star activists”. Why did he choose to make the idea of an activist elitist? For the state, every individual has the potential to turn into an anti-state actor. That is the premise of extraordinary laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which criminalises even the intent to indulge in what the state perceives as unlawful. This is an excuse to rob a person of his or her individual liberty. Let us be honest in our arguments as well. There is no denying the fact that some of those arrested, not to forget Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba who is at present languishing in Nagpur Central Jail, do support Maoist ideas. But that cannot become an excuse to deprive them of their individual liberty. So long as they are not involved in any violent act, they cannot be stripped of their right to entertain and express their ideas. For many, the very idea of a Hindu Rashtra is as dangerous and anti-constitutional as the idea of an Islamic democracy or a Sikh nation, but you don’t jail them for espousing these ideas. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru rejected the suggestion by R.K. Karanjia that organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh should be banned for opposing the constitutional idea of India as a secular state. Nehru said ideas need to be fought with ideas and not with the coercive power of the state. Why? Because the state is also an idea or ideology backed by not only arms but also powered by the law. All states claim to have the best notion of goodness and welfare for their subjects. They try to implement laws that are seemingly non-violent and that are framed through consensus. But we know that such consensus is always temporary and can be subject to change.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/we-are-not-mere-subjects-of-the-state/article25785544.ece

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