Right to Privacy – Now Public!

Alan Westin who defined privacy as “the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others” explained that “just as a social balance favoring disclosure and surveillance over privacy is a functional necessity for totalitarian systems, so a balance that ensures strong citadels of individual and group privacy and limits both disclosure and surveillance is a prerequisite for liberal democratic societies. The democratic society relies on publicity as a control over government, and on privacy as a shield for group and individual life.”

It was, therefore, surprising to have the former Attorney General assert that privacy is not a Fundamental Right. Privacy is a guarantee of due process providing an assurance that the government operates within the law and guarantees a fair procedure.

In fact whether the Constitution was read as a textualist would (Justice Scalia defined textulaism as an interpretation “guided by the text and not by intentions or ideals external to it, and by the original meaning of the text, not by its evolving meaning over time”) or whether it was construed as a Living Constitution that favours a broad not a conservative or mechanical approach “not condemning civilized society to remain under the regimen of its barbarous ancestors” the conclusion is inescapable that privacy is in fact guaranteed by the Constitution.

Privacy can be best understood by identifying an “intruder”. N A Moreham,Senior Lecturer in Law, Victoria University of Wellington in a scholarly article on privacy quoted Stanley Ben who described an intruder as one who “fails to show a proper respect for persons; he is treating people as objects or specimens — like “dirt” — and not as subjects with sensibilities, ends, and aspirations of their own, morally responsible for their own decisions, and capable, as mere specimens are not, of reciprocal relations with the observer. These resentments suggest a possible ground for a prima facie claim not to be watched, at any rate in the same manner as one watches a thing or an animal. For this is to “take liberties”, to act impudently, to show less than a proper regard for human dignity.”

Denial of privacy thus robs one of dignity. But the right to live with dignity has been held to be a core constitutional value by our Supreme Court and guaranteed by Article 21. And as privacy is an assurance of dignity the guarantee of privacy cannot but be implicit in the Constitution.

Even otherwise as Edward Bloustein says: “The man who is compelled to live every minute of his life among others and whose every need, thought, desire, fancy or gratification is subject to public scrutiny, has been deprived of his individuality …. Such an individual merges with the mass. His opinions, being public, tend never to be different; his aspirations, being known, tend always to be conventionally accepted ones” Visibility itself provides a powerful method of enforcing norms and as Westin tellingly puts it “naked to ridicule and shame they will be put in control of those who know their secrets.” As Moreham said freedom of expression – again guaranteed by the Constitution – would lose much of its value if people do not have the chance to learn to think for themselves and have anything unique, creative and controversial to express. Similarly freedom of action and belief – also guaranteed by the Constitution – will be lost where one is kept under the spotlight and on the stage in perpetuity robbing life of its spontaneity sparkle and exuberance, pillaging imagination of its resourcefulness, curbing individual genius and even idiosyncrasies, and enforcing conformity.

The right to privacy though unspecified is yet clearly reflected in the language of the Constitution and the existing state of law also clearly showed that the society believed that such a right existed. Merely being alive and alert to this fact even without being activist was sufficient to acknowledge the same.

The utter incongruity of the exercise of constituting a Bench of Nine Judges to decide if Privacy was a Fundamental Right at the instance of the Government which denied the proposition is apparent in the wholehearted endorsement of the decision as a vindication of its stance. What then was the need to rely upon the judgments on M.P.Sharma and Kharak Singh to insist that larger benches of the Supreme Court had held privacy not to be Fundamental Right, insisting that the framers of the Constitution had expressly excluded the right from the list of Fundamental Rights and asserting that the right was merely a common law right – an argument of the Attorney General which sat rather uncomfortably with that of the Additional Solicitor General that the right was recognized in different statutes? It could have been conceded that Sharma and Kharak Singh did not lay down the law correctly, that on a contemporaneous not historical exposition of law the want of explicit inclusion of privacy as a Fundamental Right could not be considered decisive and that a common law right was elevated to the status of a Fundamental Right and clearly emerged from the guarantee of Article 21 and other facets of freedom guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.

Split verdicts often create doubts about verdicts and are open to criticism of policy and expediency trumping law. The Supreme Court spoke in one voice in recognizing the right to privacy. The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court is a momentous moment in India’s legal history decisively showing that existence of the right to privacy as an undisputed reality and vindicating India’s position as a confident, mature and vibrant liberal democratic state.

Supreme Court & Justice Karnan – Judging the Judges!

A bench of five or more judges is constituted, under Article 145 of the Constitution of India, for the purpose of deciding a case involving substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution. In Justice Karnan’s case it is digressing into areas it need not move to.

It is indeed odd that seven judges should, sitting as such a bench, be ordering medical examination of the person being proceeded against. This is more so because his behavior is not in any manner different from what was known when proceedings against him commenced. Notwithstanding the self-evident deviance and aberrancy he was yet considered, by the very bench, as possessed of sufficient understanding and competence to be served with summons of the case, be heard in his defense and be further directed to file a reply – himself and not through a person taking responsibility for him – to the charges levied against him. If a person can be trusted with the ability to understand the nature of the proceedings and give rational testimony the basic test of his competence is satisfied as not to warrant his medical examination.

Medical tests have been ordered to resolve a lis a court is seized of to ensure, as was felicitously put, that “justice is not compromised to notions of delicacy”. The application of this principle to the case at hand can be the subject matter of serious dispute and in the circumstances of this case Justice Karnan has the right to refuse the taking of the test. More significantly the ordering of such a test suggests that the bench is having second-thoughts of the very propriety of proceedings initiated suo-moto by it. In any event “proved incapacity” – provided it is established in the manner prescribed under Article 124 – is a ground for impeachment not contempt and will, in fact, negate the charge of contempt. Proceedings will have to be kept in abeyance pending resolution of doubts about mental capacity. Inexplicably, however, the Supreme Court not only reiterates that Justice Karnan, the very person whose competence and capacity it doubts, should file a response but further records that should he “not choose” to file “it shall be presumed he has nothing to say.” How can freedom of choice be conceded to one who cannot be trusted with that responsibility and how can his failure to exercise that choice be deemed an intelligent exercise of discretion when an apprehended defective intellect is the reason for constituting the Medical Board?

The Supreme Court has, under the constitutional scheme, a special role in the administration of justice and is obligated to take steps to ensure free and fair administration of justice throughout the country. This explains the unusual step of constituting a bench of seven judges proceeding with suo moto contempt proceedings against Justice Karnan. Curiously the notice issued had not set out the charge against Justice Karnan and the contempt itself is described as “civil” though the reason for the proceedings is not violation of any order the court may have passed but letters addressed to the Supreme Court (which fact is not mentioned in the order issuing notice.)  This discrepancy, however, does not affect the proceedings in any substantial manner as Justice Karnan, on appearance, appeared aware of the reason behind the proceedings and the right to proceed in contempt inhering in a Court of Record, the Supreme Court was exercising power under Article 129 and not under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. It would however have been appropriate if the not made itself vulnerable to any criticism about the manner in which it was proceeding more so because the jurisdiction it was exercising was of contempt and that too suo moto.

Ideally Justice Karnan should have contested the proceedings and presented whatever objections he had in law to the process – which would also served as a precedent checking any future misuse of such a power. His willful refusal to participate should, nevertheless, not have deflected the court from the purpose behind the institution of proceedings to make forays into areas irrelevant to the controversy. The bench would have been better advised to immediately proceed to decide the issue whether in exercise of its powers under Article 129 notwithstanding the bar against “removal” from office except in the manner prescribed by Article 124 (4) of the Constitution the Court could yet order that Justice Karnan “refrain from all handling judicial or administrative work” that is remove his adjudicative capacity which alone could make him act as a judge. Related issue would be whether judges of courts of record could be proceeded against under contempt if they interfered with the legal process (an issue which proceeded sub-silentio in Ramaswami’s case) or exercised power illegally (which distinguished Justice Karnan’s case from Prakash Chand’s case) and the limits of public interest restriction against initiation of proceedings against a Judge of a Court of Record – an issue which will always remain key in every contempt proceedings instituted against any superior court judge. However more than two months have elapsed and Justice Karnan will retire in a few weeks from now!

Even otherwise the question would yet remain how any order passed would be executed. While a method to take action against judges, apart from the process of impeachment, an oppressively cumbersome process made worse by the intrigue and artifice of the political process would be a welcome, making the method work would be the real problem. We will eventually return to the very point from where we started – ordering the withdrawal of judicial work – and the judge remaining defiant – apart from any other punishment devised to suit the contempt – the carrying into effect of which would be fraught with rather dangerous consequences as the judiciary would be bound to take the help of the executive to make any order effective which is bound to compromise its independence.

A public spat between judges with each side ordering medical examination of the other and issuing warrants demeans the judiciary as an institution. The fact remains Justice Karnan is responsible for this situation and by choosing not to appear and contest the notice has shown he is not serious about the allegations made by him being subject to rigorous scrutiny as to show they are not fanciful and frivolous. He is, in the circumstances, clearly liable to punishment but the fact is he is about to retire and more than two months have been spent by the Supreme Court without making any substantial progress only generating adverse publicity ridiculing the judiciary. Moreover we need to proceed with caution thinking out the consequences of any action lest this case becomes a precedent that returns to haunt the judiciary later.

Justice Karnan already stands discredited. Mr K.K. Venugopal’s suggestion of letting him fade into retirement ought to be seriously considered by the Supreme Court. The existence of the power in the Supreme Court has been demonstrated. It may not be worthwhile to exercise it in the instant case.

UNIFORM CIVIL CODE, A PERSPECTIVE

While I do not feel there is any legal bar to the enactment of the Uniform Civil Code I yet think the exercise is undesirable in the manner it is sought to be implemented. The undesirability, however, has nothing to do with the “fears” of any section opposing the Code nor with any inherent illegality in the exercise and is based only on what Karl Popper referred to in The Open Society and Its Enemies as the need to fight the more urgent evils in society than the greatest ultimate good.

Uniform Civil Code will not violate any law nor transgress any bar on its enactment. Under Article 372 “existing laws” can be “altered” or “amended” by competent legislatures. I am aware of some judgments to the contrary but Personal Law cannot but be “existing law” as term “law”cannot be confined to statutory enactments and will encompass “everything acceptable as law to modern jurisprudence.” As existing laws, Personal Laws would not only be “subject to the Constitution” (even if Article 13 does not apply although I feel it does) but both the central and state legislatures would be competent to legislate on them in terms of Entry 5 of List III of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. Such legislation can effectuate the mandate of Article 44 of the Constitution. This exercise will achieve the objectives both of cohesion and equality which are the basic attributes of constitutional polity and are also concepts underpinning to every religion. In fact the Supreme Court itself (even while holding Part III does not touch upon Personal Laws – an observation which passed sub-silentio) recognized that Personal Law could be “altered or modified” by statute. Article 26 will not be a bar because Article 44 is as much an integral part of the Constitution and enacted along with the former. In any event freedom of religion under Article 25 itself contemplates the State “making law providing for social welfare and reform” – the professed objective behind Uniform Civil Code. In fact there is historical precedent for such enactments even under the British Rule with statutes enforcing reform applied to different religious communities. While admittedly no religion can be reformed out of existence, its practices are “subject to public order and morality”. No religion can sanction anything inherently unjust and that which is unjust is not immune from scrutiny and modification. This will conform to the mandate of Part III (Article 15(3) of the Constitution requires the State to make special provision for women and children ) and also fulfil the objectives of Part IV of the Constitution which requires the creation of a just social order. The substance of such action would have nothing to do with religion even if it may be incidentally affected. Any step to alleviate and improve their condition will only create a just social order with which no religion can have any objection.

I, however, do not feel Uniform Civil Code is necessary to enhance unity. This argument itself will disenchant a sizeable section of the population against the Code for reasons having nothing to do with the Code itself. Differences coexisting in a society is a more mature sign of unity of the society than uniformity in it. An enforced uniformity will be dangerous to unity as rejection of volition (which such enforcement will entail) will generate aversion not cohesion moving towards rejection of the compact itself. A mosaic of people can be as cohesive as a melting-pot and a vibrant pluralism of a multi-cultural society  will enhance the resilience of unity not diminish it. In any event we have uniform penal laws. Matters concerning contract, securities, banking, labour, electricity, acquisition, intellectual property, environment, consumers and transfer of property are also uniform. The procedural laws are uniform too. Almost every aspect of inter-personal relationship in the country is governed by uniform laws. In fact there is an option for uniform law even for marriage, divorce and maintenance under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The use of this Act can be popularised and the recommendation of the Law Commission that “Special” be deleted from its title to read “Marriage Act” and all inter-religious marriages be mandatorily performed under the said Act will facilitate national integration even without a Uniform Civil Code. We definitely do not need Uniform Civil Code for our unity.

But unity is not the only objective of Uniform Civil Code. It deals also with liberty and with equality. I am surprised objection is being taken to the enactment of Uniform Civil Code as there is already much uniformity in the enforcement of laws across all religious communities. Dowry, a social evil and prevalent across communities, is punishable under a statute which applies to all. The Supreme Court has granted maintenance even to a divorced Muslim woman under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Domestic violence, a problem across all religious communities, is again governed by a statute which makes no distinction on the basis of religion. And recently the Gujarat High Court applied the Child Marriage Restraint Act to a Muslim. Building on the consensus around that which prevails we can move incrementally in this direction by supplementing them on subjects of pressing importance like adoption and succession. The Adoption Bill was opposed by Muslims but adoption is a voluntary act of the parents and as child can only be benefited from the care and affection any law facilitating the same cannot be condemned by any reasonable individual recognising as it does freedom of choice and compassion for life. Similarly succession to property is more a means of gender empowerment than a mere religious edict. Once consensus is built on such issues the laws can be consolidated into a Code.

It will be prudent to keep in mind what Karl Popper said was “the difference between a method which can be applied at any moment, and a method whose advocacy may easily become a means of continually postponing action until a later date.” We have to ensure that insistence on Uniform Civil Code does not lead to the abandonment of such a Code altogether.

AZADI!!!!! Really???

Should those clamouring for “Azadi” become free I will not be able to comment. But I am free today to conjecture the consequences…
Freedom to disfigure the country- Azadi for Kashmir
Freedom to disable the law – Azadi from Sedition
Freedom to distort the facts – “Murder” of Rohith
Freedom to disparage the critics – “Persecution” of Nivedita Menon
Freedom to debase the opponents – “Half Pants”, “Hit Jobs” & “Reactionaries”
Freedom from discipline – “Curbs” on Universities
Freedom to disenfranchise difference – Its “fascism”
Freedom to dominate, dissimulating enslavement – Invoking “minorities” & “dalits”
Freedom to deliver the last word – we “think” you “hate”
Freedom to dismantle while pretending defense – In the name of Constitution
Freedom to Doublethink freedom
Freedom to end all freedom itself!

 

AZADI AZADI AZADI….

 

KASHMIR & MYTH OF “OCCUPATION”

“After Independence, the accession of Kashmir was done following the India-Pakistan war on the pretext that a plebiscite will be conducted when the situation gets back to normal and since then it (janmat sangrah) has not happened.” Thus spoke one Nivedita Menon who is a JNU Professor. She also said that India, an “imperialist” country is “illegally occupying Kashmir”.

Mark Twain famously remarked, “Get your facts first then you can distort them as you please.” In the instant case distortion is being paraded as facts.

The India Independence Act, 1947 created a sovereign Dominion of India which came into existence on August, 15, 1947. Under the said Act the suzerainty of the British Crown over the Indian States (including Jammu &Kashmir) also lapsed and they consequently regained there sovereignty. In exercise of this sovereignty the Indian States were competent to succeed to either of the two Dominions.

On October 26, 1947 The Maharaja signed Instrument of Accession with India thus recognising the fact that his State was part of the Dominion of IndiaThe Instrument of Accession was in the same form as was executed by Rulers of other states which had acceded to India and the legal consequences cannot be any different. The requirement of a plebiscite was not part of the Instrument of Accession. The acceptance of the Instrument of Accession was unconditional.

This position was reflected in the Constitution of India when it was made in 1949 and declared Jammu & Kashmir as part of the territory of India in Article 1. Article 370 itself states that Article 1 applies to the State.

The Constituent Assembly of Jammu &Kashmir ratified the accession to India in February 1954 and the President of India issued Constitution (Application to Jammu & Kashmir) Order, 1954 which added all Union subjects under the Constitution of India (not the three subjects of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications).

The Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir adopted on November 17, 1957 with effect from January 26, 1957 declares the State of Jammu & Kashmir to be “an integral part of the Union of India”. The choice of January 26th as the date from which the constitution was to take effect is significant as it was on this day that the Declaration of Indian Independence (Purna Swaraj) was proclaimed by the Indian National Congress as opposed to the Dominion status offered by the British Regime and it was chosen as the day when the Constitution of India came into force.

Where then is the “pretext of a plebiscite”? A sovereign Princely State acceded to the Dominion of India which accession  was unconditionally accepted by it and the same was incorporated in the Constitution framed declaring India to be a Republic to be ratified subsequently by the Constituent Assembly of the State and eventually acknowledged in the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir itself. 

The UNCIP resolution talked of a plebiscite but even that mandated the withdrawal of Pakistani troops and tribals which never took place. And Mountbatten’s letter, apart from being a unilateral and ultra-vires act without the approval of the Council of Ministers could not only not alter a completed accession but at best was statement of intent which was fulfilled by subsequent developments.

Admittedly, elections to the Constituent Assembly were held in August-September, 1951 and all 75 seats were won by the National Conference. This itself is popular affirmation of the State’s accession to India.

Significantly the first official act which the Constituent Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir did was to end the princely rule of the Maharaja. His son was elected by the Constituent assembly itself. If what the Maharaja did was unacceptable would the Constituent assembly have elected his son as Sadar-i-Riyasat of Jammu & Kashmir?

Elections were held to the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly after the Constituent assembly was dissolved in 1957 and again in 1962 wherein 65% of the voters cast their ballot. Is this not vindication of the integration of the State into India? In fact in later elections in excess of 75% of the voters cast their votes! Presuming that any assurance of taking “people’s will” into account was given, this “will” has been repeatedly expressed by the people.

Jammu & Kashmir is India’s and will remain so and not because India is an imperialist country forcibly occupying it. Kashmir has not been colonised but has been constitutionally integrated into India. It was not for expanding investment, nor for acquiring material resources nor even to look for man-power that India sought to “occupy” Kashmir. The integration followed a legal process and in the very making of special provisions for it there is an absence of both dominance as also an enforced inequality in the relationship. There has been an engagement not conquest. And force is being used not to extend territory but only to preserve that which is its own.

India’s breakup is the agenda not the so called “occupation”.