The Indian Express speaks to some of the citizens whose petitions challenging Aadhaar led to Supreme Court examining the right to privacy and ruling it is a fundamental one
Kalyani Menon-Sen, Gurgaon
‘Because I don’t reveal, how can you deny me access to my own bank account?’
“For me it was a case of ensuring that nobody vulnerable, whether old, a child or disabled, is denied welfare benefits, because of a technology fetish and the state’s desire to intrude into my privacy. We cited lots of data to show where technology was not working, and large parts of the population were vulnerable to losing benefits. The arguments of government that coercing everyone to reveal date would “reduce leakages” and ensure “100% access” are both [expletive]. There is such a high failure rate on the ground. The government is an arm of the state, whose duty is to protect the Constitution and ensure this right. Because I don’t reveal everything, how can you deny me access to my own hard-earned money, my own bank account? So the recognition of the right to privacy as an intrinsic and inviolable right is brilliant. The government arguing that only the rich need the right to privacy and that it is a luxury is so wrong. This judgment now ensures that each citizen is born with this right, and it is there till his/her life ends.
Bezwada Wilson, Delhi
Magsaysay Award winner & head, Safai Karamchari Aandolan
‘To reveal identity or not to do so is my choice’
“For me, working with Safari Karamcharis, I know that we regard the right to privacy to reveal or not to reveal identity as central to who we are. It is my choice. The state cannot use this information in its hand and own it, using it when and how it wants to. No one can enter my privacy. On the one hand, you say end the caste system; on the other hand, you have devices saying ‘no privacy’ when you use identity information to brand and typecast me. I must have a choice not to reveal it. Humans are not toilets or a car, cannot be reduced to just one number. Humans are citizens and must enjoy full sovereignty. If citizens are not sovereign, how can the country be sovereign? “My deepest concern is this cleavage between citizen and the state, this split between the two. In a modern democracy, we must see ourselves as one. But now, the state is coercing — ‘have to’ do this or that. This worries me.”
Nikhil De, Rajasthan
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
‘Govt wanted unbridled powers to collect, use data’
This historic, unanimous judgment was triggered by the preposterous claim by the government that the “right to privacy” was not a fundamental right. This claim was made and used because the government wanted to claim unbridled powers to collect and use data for its Aadhaar project. Our work with the poor has shown its mandatory use has led to massive exclusions of the poor and vulnerable. We hope this chapter of enormous distress, caused by coercive state requirements of authentication, will come to an end. There are far greater implications on the commercial and surveillance use to which data can be put. Many parts of this judgment will become part of interpretation in subsequent cases, but after this judgment establishing the fundamental right to privacy, the state cannot gather mass data and information through coercive means, or enable the use of citizens data for purposes of mass surveillance or commerce. Mandatory Aadhaar should come to an end.
Sudhir Vombatkere, Mysuru
Retired major general, Army
‘If they had their way, India would have turned into a surveillance state’
“For me, it is personal. The judgment affirms our Constitution and fundamental rights. I have had great respect for both as a child, and an intimate connection. My father, V G Row [vs State of Madras], won in 1952 when the Supreme Court affirmed the right to association and expression. My father was detained for his Society for People’s Education, a forum for educating people. The court upheld his right and reversed his incarceration. If he had been jailed — I was just 10-11 — my life would have been different. “The government made truly ludicrous arguments. The A-G said we don’t have rights to bodily privacy. If they had their way, India would have turned into a surveillance state. The court has unanimously upheld this right as fundamental. This is what B R Ambedkar meant when he said Indian citizens within We the People need dignity, freedom and liberty. This has now come into its own, finally. “This judgment has implications for India and the world. The Supreme Court has made international history.”
Shantha Sinha, Hyderabad
Former head, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
‘Safeguard against state invasion of self-hood’
“The right to privacy is of each Indian. The Supreme Court declaring this as a fundamental right, integral to life and liberty is historic. It provides safeguards against state invasion of self-hood and risks thereof. “It strengthens our democracy. It is not only of the rich but all citizens can claim this right and also to get entitlements.”
Dr Anupam Saraph, Pune
Rashtriya Chetna Manch
‘It will help us be more respectful society’
“Respect for others is enshrined in a society that protects privacy as a fundamental right. Indians can be proud that this respect has been upheld by the highest court. I am sure this should help all of us with the cause to build a culture that will value dignity, liberty, justice and equality. It will help us be a society that is more humane and respectful.
“I became a petitioner as Aadhaar has removed identification and consent from business processes. It has removed liability and traceability of fraud from business processes. Aadhaar has removed identification and consent from business processes and replaced it with an outsourced process it calls authentication. It has outsourced authentication and replaced responsible parties with those without legal liability or responsibility. This not only results in legal and real confusion but enables crime and corruption. It destroys business processes, governance and national security.
“Aadhaar is a project that doesn’t understand governance or business processes. It is merely technology in search of applications and business. It neither adds any value nor serves any useful purpose to the user of a business processes. That is why it has had to be coercive and exclusionary.”
“Despite serious concerns and consistent opposition from RBI that Aadhaar serves no use for banking and in fact destroys banking, Aadhaar is being forced on all bank customers. Aadhaar-enabled payment systems are run by a non-government company and cause the money trail to be destroyed. Anyone who wants to protect the country and its people from all of this would challenge the use of Aadhaar. Anyone who believes in the promise of the Preamble would oppose Aadhaar. Anyone wishing to ensure that India is not digitally colonised by private interests driving Aadhaar would oppose it.”