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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.

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The previous post correctly states my view on this subject. However, no critique of an issue would be justified without putting forth the arguments for the other side. In this post, I try to look at the possible justifications at the sanction against conduct levied by non- state actors in what seems to be immoral according to them.

A year ago, when that actress Shilpa Shetty kissed Richard Gere, the Supreme Court stepped in to quash the charges against her. About a week ago, Justice Muralidhar gave a landmark judgment quashing the charges against a couple kissing in public. The law now seems to be becoming more and more clear as to what kind of conduct is morally permissible, an aspect that is laudatory of the Court.

However, leaving the harm principle as dealt with in the last post aside, is it that the Court is only speaking for the ‘socially elite’ in this circumstance while a major portion of the society still thinks women going to pubs is bad and that public display of affection (PDA) should not be permitted. Are we seeing a difference of opinion between the Court and the society as to what constitutes morally permissible behavior ?

A pub going woman would argue that she has a right to do whatever she wants with her life and that neither the state nor the other members of the society should interfere in this right of hers. Quite true and I agree with her.

But she hardly represents 1 % of the Indian woman population and in a country of more than a billion, she’s a minority. What might constitute moral to her and people like us sitting and surfing the net everyday might not be so to the millions at other places.

Counter questions arise; is the idea of morality to be determined by what a majority of the society think to be so ? Whose morality comes into play when we talk of Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code ? To what extent can the Indian public honor the right to privacy ?

About 3 decades ago when the ‘social elite’ longed to read DH lawerence’s ‘Lady Chatterlee’s Lover’, the Court in Ranjit Udeshi v. Union of India, stepped in and declared the banning of the book constitutionally permissible. Then it was representing the will of the majority that thought such conduct to be immoral. The perceptions of morality keep changing in a dynamic society like ours and perhaps the Ram Sene people should understand that too. But a movement to counter it cannot be successful by sending him ‘pink undergarments’ but only by making a serious effort to develop the perceptions of others as to what can be morally right according to our views.

It is a futile attempt for an English medium student living in an urban town like myself to even try to argue for Muthalik and his activities. I wouldn’t either because I think that he is wrong in all aspects. But the point that I am trying to get across is the idea of moral permissibility that is now creating differing opinions with the Court and the social pub going elite on one side and a majority of the Indian population on the other. Apart from Dworkin’s reasoning, what possible could be a justification for such acts when a vast majority think such conduct is bad ?

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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 

Amidst all the hype and hoopla that surrounds Obama’s first days in Office, it maybe worthwhile to take a step back and evaluate the implications of the Bush Presidency. Seldom has the post-Cold War world seen such tectonic shifts in many matters of global concern. These eight years, starting right from the doorstep of the new millennium, have dictated our thought, outlook and course of action. From January 20, 2000 to 2009, the most powerful political position of responsibility today was held by a mercurial personality, who managed to emerge both as the most and least popular President of the United States of America. Whether you adored him (like the corporate and industrial lobbies of the US) or loathed him (pretty much like the rest of the World), you just could not ignore George Walker Bush Jr. Here’s our take on what the Bush Era has meant for tomorrow.

1. Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and the War on Terror.

Within one year of his taking over the US Presidency, George Bush witnessed the first major terrorist attack on an American metropolis in decades. 9/11, hence immortalized through its suffering and consequence, was pivotal in influencing the Bush administration’s foreign policy outlook towards West Asia and the Middle East. Following the launch of a global ‘War on Terror’, a belligerent Bush pursued the Al-Qaeda to the footsteps of the Taleban. Months later, Afghanistan was left in tatters, besieged by the armies of the West in a futile attempt to capture the masterminds behind the WTO strikes.

The President then trained his guns further East, onto Iraq, where the ‘outrageous’ and ‘tyrannical’ regime of Saddam Hussein had allegedly held Weapons of Mass Destruction. Portraying Iraq to be a threat to the precarious stability of the Middle East, the US assumed the patriarchal role of a superpower to chastise the rogue nation. The extant situation in Iraq is left for everyone to see; while the US is fighting a trillion-dollar war, Iraqis are struggling to find a foothold on the world map.

As the Bush Presidency is all set to be a bygone era, the world has been left reeling from an increased spate of terrorist attacks, raising incisive questions of the efficacy of a costly ‘War’.

2. The Environment and Climate Change

As a presidential candidate, Bush began his campaign with a pledge to clean up power plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During the initial months of his first Presidency, he even sought to commit billions of dollars to fund ‘clean-energy’ technology. The President also assured the Congress, environmental groups and the energy industry of his full co-operation to secure a reduction in emission rates within a reasonable period of time. However, his subsequent volte-face on the matter, terming greenhouse gas reduction to be adversely affecting energy prices, shocked the environment-conscious community.

The Bush Administration also refused to implement the substantive content of the Kyoto Protocol, stating that “ratifying the treaty would create economic setbacks in the U.S. and does not put enough pressure to limit emissions from developing nations”. After years of subservience to the powerful oil and energy lobbies, environmental surveys at the end of Bush’s tenure indicated a marked increase in the US’ contribution to global warming and sustained ecological recklessness.

3. Human Rights and Guantanamo.

Guantanamo merits a separate post. The connecting link will be uploaded in a day’s time.

4. The State of the Economy.

The fag end of George Bush’s stint as the President witnessed the implosion of the mighty US financial sector, triggering a global economic meltdown. A consequence of hasty and often unmonitored actions of the corporate lobby, the financial downturn meant a loss of jobs for millions of people around the world in professional services. The chain-reaction of such a collapse is yet to cease, and major banks and industries continue to be bailed out by the day.

While we may have to dig deep to find positive lessons from the Bush regime, it is suffice to say that the period is dead and gone. May the Bush Presidency rest in peace.