The recent debate around right to privacy gives us an opportunity to review and understand several aspects of legality, liberty, rights.
The background of this debate is well known – the admittedly and supposedly well-meaning yet coercive mandating of AADHAR in multiple aspects of life, right from welfare schemes to benefits and subsidies to tax returns. AADHAR is a unique identification issued to citizens by the UIDAI based on biometric data. The GOI has recently made it mandatory to be linked with PAN numbers, mobile SIM cards etc to curtail crime and malpractice.
While there is a definite operational ease the government is trying to achieve through the UIDAI, there are several questions about the philosophy of policy and law that remain unanswered. There are also objections such as violation of right to privacy which is already in court. This is an attempt to cover some of the not-so-frequently asked aspects of this.
As such, there are several problems with enforcing AADHAR.
- It undermines the sanctity of previous government issued identities in a big way. There is a reason PAN is called permanent account number and invalidating it cannot happen at random introduction of another identity mechanism which is claimed to be voluntary from the side of citizens.
- The claim that AADHAR will be useful in de-duplication of PAN numbers appears logical but is ridden with a fundamental flaw – it willingly or unwillingly criminalizes people and puts every tax payer in a situation of being guilty unless proven innocent. This goes straight against the basic legal principle that people are innocent unless proven guilty.
- To invalidate a PAN unlinked with AADHAR, the GOI needs to admit that AADHAR is mandatory and not voluntary. Forcing a law abiding tax payer to take an AADHAR while claiming AADHAR enrollment to be voluntary is logically inconsistent, and more than that coercive and non-transparent on the part of GOI.
- The GOI has not answered yet, why should a genuine tax paying citizen have to take an AADHAR at all and why should he suffer for not taking it. The self-righteous assumption that a common man’s life can be disrupted by introduction of arbitrary schemes and policies, indicates irresponsibility of GOI.
There are also a few things to worry about the intent of GOI –
- Successive governments in India after independence kept claiming their “good intentions” to assume control over lives of people to various degrees. While there is no track record of sincere or capable governance so far, this claim keep repeating. No such claim can be truthful until the leadership shows it in action. Present GOI has not demonstrated any such sincerity or capability by introducing such a short-sighted policy.
- A single umbrella identity scheme is a royal way to a totalitarian state and government has not shown measures to prevent misuse either by government or by others. There is an FAQ put up on UIDAI website which does not address any fundamental questions about AADHAR. Just like Hind Swaraj of Gandhi, it poses a few dumb questions and answers them in style.
- The question of misuse in fact has never been even in question, which not only shows the haste and short-sightedness but an inherent self-righteousness of GOI since independence that it will itself never misuse the control. Which is why we see policies like government control over temples, ridiculous proportion of reservations in education and employment, right to education etc. Today’s AADHAR does involve similar self-righteousness and not a visionary thought.
The question also arises, from the arguments against a unique identification scheme, as to how malpractice can be contained and whether such a scheme is not an urgent requirement. This needs further examination.
For centuries, Bharat has been under inimical rulers, and after independence things have not changed drastically in favor of the nation. We continue to have an inherently inimical, proxy-colonial state by design and the state is far from trustworthy. Even though we see an apparently honest leadership now, only its acumen and executive capabilities are known. The vision, strategy and correctness are far from established. After all, the present regime given all its dominant numbers in the parliament, has not been able to make significant legislative changes to either correct the previous wrongs or to introduce new and better laws. Let alone laws, even policies enacted have largely been around convenience of people and not around correctness or fairness. So it remains yet highly inopportune for any such measure of urgency that is ridden with high risks of misuse with or without change of power.
More importantly, one of the basic principles in correcting a situation is to intimidate the wrongdoer than singling out every citizen and identifying the wrongdoers. It is neither correct nor practical as a policy to identify millions of wrongdoers. Severity of punishment has salutary effect in controlling malpractice. GOI does not have the track record of implementing this basic principle and that is the reason it resorts to measures that create an artificial emergency. Majority of the problems faced in the country today get addressed if state follows dharmic principles in making policies.
Does the present leadership have dharmic outlook? This is doubtful. Unlike early decades of independence, the nationalist movement today has surplus service mindset and is severely deficient in a governing mindset. While the language of service easily appeals to today’s people as honest, it does not serve the purpose of strong leadership.
This mindset becomes visible in most of the policy making – trying to talk correctness, not being critical or negative of the wrong, trying to eliminate the wrong not by going after it but by creating constraints on the right and so on.
Right to Privacy and the Intent
Nearly irrespective of the problems above, following an entirely different line of argument, some petitions have been filed with court challenging the way GOI has nearly forced citizens into giving their biometrics. Right to privacy is one of the major concerns raised, calling it a fundamental right that GOI is violating.
However, these objections do not really address the main problems in the scheme, nor are these objections likely to stand in a court –
The whole idea of rights involves several non-dharmic assumptions, about man and state. Right is something state gives people and people are nearly at the mercy of state for their rights. The question of whether right to privacy can be violated “under certain circumstances” is a non-starter because the circumstances can be defined the way state wants. The assumptions behind AADHAR, such as rendering people guilty until they prove their innocence through linking AADHAR to their existing identities, already posit several circumstances to violate “privacy”. Therefore a demand of right to privacy is declined automatically because the one who is demanding privacy is already a suspect and has no right to demand privacy.
The very philosophy of rendering citizens as suspects through a policy like AADHAR has not been challenged in court, because it is doubtful whether the people fighting on this matter are fighting for the ideals of a free society or are fighting simply against the GOI with other motivations and using the issue to shoot at GOI.
Challenges and Conclusion
We nearly have a bipolar democracy today and it is assumed that one is either on the side of “nationalist” govt or against it. There is no atmosphere of objective criticism or appreciation of GOI policies without a motive being associated with such criticism or appreciation. This is extremely unhealthy for an open society democracy. It is not just freedom to express that is necessary in an open society (which is also severely constrained by political correctness), but an environment where important subjects are debated objectively on content and not on intent.
In the absence of such environment, necessary debates do not happen. As a result, informed opinions do not prevail, only sloganeering and moral blackmails prevail.