IASbhai Editorial Hunt
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.– Alice Walker
EDITORIAL 46:“Democracy should not permit a trade-off“
SOURCES: THE HINDU EDITORIAL/EDITORIALS FOR UPSC CSE MAINS 2020
Democracy should not permit a trade-off
Measures taken during emergencies cannot come at the cost of institutional checks and balances
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 2:Balance of Power
- Independent India inherited a legal system which was designed to control the colonised.
- The government was given enormous powers to control public opinion.
- The Act prohibited public gatherings, and regulated travel, routine screening, segregation, and quarantine.
BACK TO TIME MACHINE :
- Bal Gangadhar Tilak, described as the ‘father of Indian unrest’ by Valentine Chirol of The Times (London) was imprisoned for 18 months.
- His newspaper, Kesari, had criticised measures adopted by the government to tackle the epidemic.
- The law was stark. It did not establish the right of affected populations to medical treatment, or to care and consideration in times of great stress, anxiety and panic.
- In June 1897, the brothers, Damodar Hari Chapekar and Balkrishna Hari Chapekar, assassinated W.C. Rand, the plague commissioner of Poona, and Lieutenant Charles Egerton Ayerst, an officer of the administration.
- The two brothers were hanged in the summer of 1899.
- The assassination heralded a storm of revolutionary violence that shook the country at the turn of the twentieth century.
BIAS IN SOCIAL CLASSES:
- Today our world should have been different. The government could have paid attention to migrant labour when it declared a lockdown on economic activities, roads, public spaces, transport, neighbourhoods and zones in which the unorganised working class ekes out bare subsistence.
- Thousands of workers and their families were forced to exit the city, and begin an onerous trek to their villages.
- The unnerving spectacle of a mass of people trudging across State borders carrying pitiful bundles on their heads and little babies in their arms, without food or money, shocked the conscience of humankind.
- The neglect of workers upon whose shoulders the Indian economy rests, exposed the class bias of regulations
DISPENSING WITH RIGHTS
On March 31, at a hearing of the Supreme Court of India on two petitions relating to the welfare of migrants, the Central government demanded that the Court should allow the imposition of censorship over media reports on measures adopted by the state.
- The government claimed that panic over the migration of thousands of bare-footed people was based on fake news, and that the scale of migration was over-estimated.
- Therefore, the Court should support rules that no news will be published or telecast without checking with the Central government.
- The plea was rejected, and the Court suggested that responsible journalism should rely on daily official bulletins. Witness the irony.
- The government is concerned about reports of involuntary migrations.
- It is not concerned with the reason why people were forced to walk out of the city in the first place.
- We recognise with great unease that governments easily dispense with basic human rights in the name of managing pandemics.
- We bear witness to the fact that a group of helpless workers were hosed down with chemical solutions in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.
- The decision to close down an entire country without simultaneously recognising the specificities of Indian society has resulted in brutality and violence.
Consider scenes of the police swinging their lathis indiscriminately to punish individuals who are forced to defy the lockdown.
‘OVERREACH’ OF POWER
- There is another cause for unease. Admittedly in emergencies governments have to adopt extraordinary measures.
- Yet, reports of authoritarian leaders across the world, giving to themselves unprecedented power at the expense of legislatures, judiciaries, the media, civil society, and civil liberties have set off ripples of doubt.
- On March 16, United Nations human rights experts issued a statement expressing deep concern with the way leaders were amassing power ostensibly for dealing with the pandemic.
- The statement urged governments to avoid an ‘overreach’ of security measures when they respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
- Emergency powers, the experts insisted, should not be used to quash dissent.
- Some states and security institutions, continued the statement, will find the use of emergency powers attractive because it offers shortcuts.
- There is need to ensure that excessive powers are not hardwired into legal and political systems.
- Care should be taken to see that restrictions are narrowly tailored.
- Governments should deploy the least intrusive method to protects public health.
- “We encourage States,” concluded the statement, “to remain steadfast in maintaining a human rights-based approach to regulating this pandemic, in order to facilitate the emergence of healthy societies with rule of law and human rights protections.”
- The rights experts have good reasons to issue this warning. Around the world, we witness the sorry spectacle of leaders — not precisely known for their commitment to democracy or human rights — steadily unravelling every check on the use of unmitigated power by the executive.
- In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing court cases for corruption and breach of trust, has closed the judiciary and postponed his own trial.
- The government has been given immense powers of surveillance. And a newly constituted Parliament, or Knesset, is not allowed to meet.
- In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, notorious for his anti-migrant tirades, has personalised immense power. He now rules by decree. Existing laws and parliamentary oversight have been suspended.
- In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has appropriated broad emergency powers in order to take effective decisions to tackle the virus.
NO COUNTER-BALANCING STEPS
States are the product of history, composed of layers of meaning some of which have been fashioned for another time.
- The nature of the state is historically specific.
- Yet modern states share a common determination; a ruthless ambition to control the minds and bodies of citizens.
- Epidemics provide an opportunity to accomplish precisely this, to do away with inconvenient checks and balances institutionalised in the media, the judiciary, and civil society.
- The dismantling of constitutions and institutions will have a major impact on societies.
- Do decisions to control the pandemic have to be at the expense of human rights and democracy?
- On March 6, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, advised governments to ensure that the measures they adopt to control the virus do not adversely impact people’s lives.
- “The most vulnerable and neglected people in society,” she recommended, “must be protected both medically and economically.”
- She gave sage advice, democracy does not permit trade-offs.