One more woman denied justice. Obviously there are two classes of citizens. The elite who are immune to punishment, but who can easily take offence and inflict punishment. Then there are those who patiently wait in unbearable heat, queuing to vote, sometimes risking life and limb, facing attacks by hoodlums of competing parties, often spied upon by political agents of parties lurking inside the voting booth. They will elect a government. Life will continue but not change as far as the inequality is concerned. Franchise confers political equality, each adult has one vote. But social equality — equality of status of each with all — remains elusive.
When India became independent, Indians did not win freedom. The ruling class changed colour but the accents remained pucca. The punitive laws passed by the British were preserved just in case the natives revolt. From their feudal, albeit secular socialist, perch, as far as the rulers were concerned, the mob had to be kept under control. The Indian Penal Code fashioned by Macaulay continues to rule. So do all the more punitive measures enacted by the British with only a mild change in the title. Remember the Emergency was perfectly constitutional.
Firmly founded on old British laws, warmed up for independent India.
Hence, the problem that even while a shiny package of Anglo American Freedom was gifted to the people in the Constitution, every Right bestowed is qualified in favour of the rulers and not the ruled. The people cannot be trusted with freedom. The elite can abuse each other but no outsider can. Even the abuse has to be traditional verbal one. For a millennial, a meme may be a natural way to express an opinion rather like a cartoon in a newspaper. But the guardians of the people do not have to catch up with technology. Hence the umbrage taken by the Chief Minister of West Bengal. (I would have thought to have an expensive hairstyle for the Met Gala chosen by a star mounted around your face would bring joy and mirth, but then I am not a people’s leader).
The Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Priyanka Sharma is a classic example of the half loaf (perhaps just a dried crust) of freedom. Yes you have freedom of expression but not with respect to your Leader. Every Article in Part IV of the Constitution begins by conferring a Right but then follow the qualifications in subsequent sections. It is the American Bill of Rights with post-colonial restrictions. So Sharma was free to do what she liked but had to say she was sorry for exercising her freedom.
Compare that with the case of X who complained about sexual harassment by the CJI. An internal procedure was used to examine the complaint. The in-house procedure would not have passed muster in a court had it been used by a private firm. But the elite are the elite. Case closed. She is only a citizen.
The State distrusts the citizen. She has to prove her identity at every stage, show a card, prove her residence, show her birth certificate, give father’s, husband’s name to get what should be hers by Right. It may change someday, who knows. Enjoy the final day of the festival of democracy!
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 19, 2019, under the title, ‘Waiting for freedom’.