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Hindutva seems to have got new vigour now. The Advisory Board constituted to examine Varun Gandhi’s hate speech and booking under the National Security Act has recommended the withdrawal of the said Act against Vaun Gandhi. (news item here)

The three member panel comprising two retired HC judges Justices S N Sahai and P K Sareen, was understood to have stated in no uncertain terms that the inflammatory speeches made by Varun were not enough to attract the deterrent provisions of the NSA and the action takes was disproportionate to the nature of the alleged crime committed by Varun Gandhi.

But what exactly is this Advisory Board? Who constitutes it ?

Under the National Security Act, Sections 9, 10 and 11 govern the formation of the Advisory Board. Once a person is booked under the NSA, the appropriate government forms the Advisory Board and transfers the case to it. The main function of the Board is to look into the alleged acts and opine if there was sufficient cause for the person to be detained and booked under the NSA. If the Advisory Board opines that there wasn’t any sufficient cause for the detention of such person, the Appropriate government must revoke the order of detention.

The National Security Act governs the arrest and detention of persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the defence of India, relations of India with foreign powers, or the security of India.In Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab, the phrase ‘defence of India’ was construed to mean not only external sovereignty but also internal sovereignty. This, added to the phrase ‘security of India’ might have seemed appropriate to book Varun Gandhi to say that his hate speech might have instigated a riot or harmed the security of the state. The hate speech of Varun can be viewed below,

 

Well, he might want to cut the hands of people from another religion, But surely Varun Gandhi has had the laugh now. The question remained as to whether this speech was sufficient to harm the security of the state or ‘defence of India’. The Advisory Board found otherwise and thus the booking against him under the Act has been revoked against him. He may however, still be booked under the Indian Penal Code for incitement to violence and religious hatred. 

Readers might also want to read earlier news items and posts on this here;

– Varun Gandhi’s Hate Speech and the Law 

– Frame by Frame

– V is for Varun Gandhi…

– Beyond the Law 

 

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Camus idea that dissent must never be confused be disloyalty may find new vigour with the events unfolding in Pakistan. President Zardari has applied Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the country thus giving a free hand to the security officials to make arrests of those protesting against the state of that nation.

 

The Section 144 of Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure Code is similar to the Indian legislation giving the power to a magistrate to issue an order in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger. Mustafa Quadri in The Guardian gives an interesting history of this legislation in India and Pakistan with its British Origins and critiques it with reference to the current state of affairs. To quote him,

“But the provision, sadly, has a much older history than that. Section 144 traces its origins to a British criminal code enacted in India as far back as 1860, just three years after the subcontinent’s first modern independence movement rocked British rule throughout north and central India. The provision was subsequently used routinely by British authorities well up to Partition in 1947. Many of the most celebrated leaders of the great civil disobedience project that eventually unseated the British were imprisoned using this most colonial of enforcement mechanisms.

The 1860 criminal code was adopted by Indian and Pakistani authorities after independence, and section 144 has been used to prevent civil disobedience in both countries for successive decades.

Pakistan‘s latest string of protests is no different.”

 

Perhaps when all forms of expressing dissent fail, civil disobedience may be pursued. The situation in Pakistan is tense with the Government in shambles. It is evident that there is no rule of law prevalent in that State and a movement towards its preservation in the manner of protests may then be justified.

With pressure being put across from all corners; national and international, if President Zardari does not cede to the demands of his adversaries, then probably Marital law may be the best alternative. Not unnatural in a supposed Constitutional democracy where the Army has ruled more than democratically elected governments combined. Truly history repeating itself.

At a time when questions of moral turpitude are being raised all over the country due to the assault on women at pubs in Mangalore, there comes a judgment, that stands out. While defining the contours of law and morality, the Delhi High Court has ruled that there is nothing wrong with a couple kissing in a park and that doing so would not be violative of Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code.

Noting that a public display of affection in the form of kissing does not in any way constitute obscenity and violative of public order, Justice Muralidhar dismissed the charges against the couple as laid down by the police.

Now the question of morality and what kind of perverse acts should be permitted by law has always been a debate. Those in favour of the public display of affection (like myself) turn to Dworkin’s “Do we have a Right to Pornography?” written in his book A Matter of Principle. In the article Dworkin makes a case for the open publishing and distribution of pornographic magazines and states that such an action is based on the society’s conception of individual liberty and privacy. Arguing that there is no harm to the individual himself/ herself with the expression of feelings in such a manner, Dworkin adds that there is no right of the State to tell the individual what to do, especially if it blatantly violates his liberty.

He however adds, that this isn’t the main concern. He states that it is not the expression of such feelings that matter, but the disgust caused to the public at large that is the main cause for concern in regulating such expression. He adds;

“Of course individual liberty would be very restricted if no one was allowed to do anything that any single other person found offensive. … The question is whether the harm to those who find offense would outweigh the desire for all those who wish to do what would offend them ?”

 

Dworkin says that the answer would lie in as to how such acts are perceived in the society at large and the level of maturity that is attributed to it. Regulation must not be such as to hamper the ideal of individual liberty that we hold so dear to ourselves.

Muthalik’s actions in Mangalore, Shilpa Shetty kissing Richard Gere and many other must be looked in the context of individual liberty and not what a third person would perceive of them. There should be nothing wrong with girls drinking in a bar and we must attribute to them that level of freedom. Not doing so, would make citizens lose their respects for Government (Dworkin, ‘Taking Rights Seriously’).

Justice Muralidhar’s decision I would say throws light on this issue and could be compared to Dworkin’s argument.

 

P.S. : I had the good fortune of clerking with Justice Muralidhar in 2007. Ranks amongst my best internship experiences. The judgment can be viewed at the Delhi High Court website. 

 

 

The Supreme Court has now stated in an Order that strikes and bandhas are a part of the freedom of expression. As reported by the Times of India, this despite a Supreme Court ruling in 1998 that the calling of a bandh is not permitted by the Constitution. This post may be treated as explaining the nature and history of this right under the Constitution.

The right to strike as such is held to be sacred to the history of labour movements and unfolds with the idea of socialism and industrial disputes in our Country. While the Industrial Dispute Act has appropriate provisions to regulate the calling of strikes, in Kameshwar Prasad v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 1166. the Court held that there is no right to resort to a strike under the Indian Constitution and doing so would be violative of the fundamental rights of the citizens who would be affected by it. In TK Rangarajan v. Gov. of Tamilnadu, the Court while deciding on Jayalalitha’s sacking of service officers for striking held that;

“law on this subject is well settled and it has been repeatedly held that the employees have no fundamental right to resort to a strike. Take strike in any field, it can easily be realized that the weapon does more harm than any justice. The sufferer is the society- the public at large”.

 As regards bandhs, the case referred to by the Times of India is that of Communist Party of India v. Bharat Kumar, (1998 ) 1 SCC 201. The court held here that there cannot be any right to call or enforce a bandh which interferes with the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of other citizen, in addition to causing national loss in many ways. Under no circumstances, does the Constitution give sanction to such a right. Interestingly, this case was an appeal from the kerala HC on a decision that the present Chief justice Balakrishnan (then as a HC judge) had ruled.

 So day before yesterday when the Court was asked to issue a stay on the bandh issued by the DMK as a protest for the treatment of the tamils in Srilanka; there was clear precedence that the Court should have done so. However, what the Court did do was to state;

“What has this Court to do with stopping strikes? India is a democratic state where everyone has a right to express their feelings”

In one sitting, taking not more than an hour I am told, the Court deviated from years of precedence and ruled otherwise. This is outrageous in my personal opinion. Writing on the Indian judiciary, one foreign author wrote that what is fascinating about the Indian Supreme Court is how serious questions of policy and law are decided by an unelected elite in just a few minutes of argument in Court. This departing from a formal process of lawmaking which takes months of thinking in that area.

The author has made a right comment and it has a great bearing in the present situation. The Court should not have stated something like this. When the case comes up for hearing again on the 15th of feb., it is hoped that it would realize its folly and make amendments to its order.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 

Thursday night saw an incensed debate over Israel’s attack on the Gaza strip with Israeli PM Shimon Peres defending his nation’s actions. The video for the same may be viewed below,

This open session involved UN Sec General Ban Ki Moon, Arab League Sec General Amr Moussa, Mr. Shimon Peres and Turkish PM Erdogan in what has been termed a very lively discussion. Peres came out strongly on Israel’s right to self defence and brought out the threats that the hamas posed to the jewish nation. He was however alone in his defence as the remaining leaders were vehement in their opposition to the offensive and Israel’s treatment of civilians during the attack of which Mr. Peres offered no apologies or explanation.

The Israeli president unleashed a harsh, unyielding rant that was full of strange statements, truncated arguments and meandering rhetoric. Clearly, he is feeling the effects of his age as his remarks bordered on the incoherent at times. But what was most evident was the choleric tone.

Here are a few of the stranger statements: he claimed that Israel could not accept the Saudi 2002 initiative because “there was a small problem of Iran” which wishes to rule the Middle East. Peres also claimed that Hamas did not win a democratic election. Rather Mahmoud Abbas DID win an election as president of the Palestinians. Peres also claimed there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza; that Israel supplies all the water, fuel and electricity that Gaza needs; and that if there is a problem he would personally intervene to correct it.

Also, during the debate the Turkish PM was not given a chance to reply to Mr. Peres by the Moderator at which he got up and walked out of the room. News items here.

The Webcast of the whole session may be seen here.