SC rebukes Centre's collectivism in landmark judgment on privacy: State hopefully will now leave us alone

There is a kind of hush in the government after the Supreme Court's decision that privacy is a fundamental right.

Sandipan Sharma August 24, 2017 15:42:04 IST
SC rebukes Centre's collectivism in landmark judgment on privacy: State hopefully will now leave us alone

There is a kind of hush in the government after the Supreme Court's decision that privacy is a fundamental right. The NDA government had gone out of its way to argue, to quote attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, "the concept of absolute right over one's body was a myth." Now, that the apex court has rejected this Stalinist argument, the government has receded to a private corner, to introspect in private.

Rohtagi's odious argument that the state can requisition an individual's body, enlist it as a sort of national property for a national project, was flawed from the very beginning. It had a ring of the Nazi-and-Stalin era philosophy when the state argued that the sole purpose of life of its citizens was to serve the state with their mind, body and soul; that individuals were subservient to the cause of the government and their privacy, ambitions, dreams were secondary or even non-existent.

Rohatgi, and by extension the Narendra Modi government, fatuously argued for what author Ayn Rand famously described as collectivism in the Communist-Nazi era. "Collectivism is the theory that the group (the collective) has primacy over the individual. Collectivism holds that, in human affairs, the collective-society, the community, the nation, the proletariat, the race, etc.-is the unit of reality and the standard of value. On this view, the individual has reality only as part of the group, and value only insofar as he serves it; on his own he has no political rights; he is to be sacrificed for the group whenever it-or its representative, the state-deems this desirable," Rand argued.

SC rebukes Centres collectivism in landmark judgment on privacy State hopefully will now leave us alone

Representational image.

The apex court's unanimous verdict upholding the fundamental right to privacy, in many ways, is a rebuke to the collectivism that the government has been trying to impose on Indian citizens. Since its inauguration, this government has communicated with Indians through slogans and agendas that make Indians look like cogs in a giant wheel being spun by the government. It has expected them to think and act in a certain way--don't critique the nation, dissent is anti-national, don't question the army, tweak your diet in accordance with the will of the majority, stand up for India, this, that, etc. The form and content of the Modi-era narrative has been aimed at erasing the individual, making him part of a larger group, mostly in the name of nation-building, Hindutva and pop nationalism. The Supreme Court decision has allowed the citizen to fight back against this attempt to turn him into just another brick in the wall.

Why should the state — currently a euphemism for the government — deny an individual right to privacy?

In May, when Rohatgi had proferred the specious argument, he had sounded amateurish by equating fundamentals of civil society with procedures of law. His argument was since citizens can be forced to give blood samples for testing alcohol levels while driving or in criminal cases, they should be ready to surrender their iris and finger print scans too to the government (for Aadhar.) With this outrageous argument, he had in one statement equated every citizen with a suspect in criminal investigation. There was no way the apex court could have been swayed by the government's irrational, illogical and puerile argument.

Poet Ibrahim Zauq had famously said, an individual didn't come to this world on his volition, neither did he go by choice. "Layee hayat aaye, qaza le chali chale, apni khushi na aaye apni khushi na chale." If the wise heads in the government had read Zauq, his philosophical shayari would have reminded that the state has no claim over an individual's body. It plays no role in its creation or survival. All of it is the exclusive preserve of nature and the cycle of hayat (existence) and qaza (death).

This is more true for the Indian state which plays a limited role in shaping the life of an individual. In India, almost every individual is on their own, devoid of any substantial help from the state or the collective for sustenance, education, health care or welfare. Considering its total lack of responsibility for individual life, the government's claim over the right to its citizen's body was both selfish and unjust. The apex court has rightly pushed it back from encroaching on privacy.

The verdict, obviously, would have far-reaching consequences. In the age of digitisation, offering individual privacy as a property to the government and its agencies would have had devastating consequences. It would have slowly turned the lives of each one of us into a Truman Show, making India resemble the Matrix imagined by the Wachowski Brothers, where every individual lives a simulated reality controlled by the state.

No wonder, the rebuke to collectivism and authoritarianism, the triumph of democracy and the inviolable idea of the self being supreme, the vindication of our age-old belief in aham brahasmi, has silenced those who were taking the credit for abolition of talaq-e-bidat (instantaneous triple talaq) by the Supreme Court.

The state would now hopefully leave us alone.⁠⁠⁠⁠

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