Is asking for right to privacy too much in a nation where we can’t eat, pray, love freely?
New Delhi, August 24: It is heartening to see people on social media talking about "privacy" with such gusto. The word privacy is a loaded one and most often we are confused about it.
Is privacy all about maintaining secrecy around our lives? Is it all about protecting our data from government's surveillance (as in the case of Aadhaar card) or family secrets from prying neighbours? Or, is it all about being left alone and do what we want to do unless and until it does not harm others?
The right to privacy--the landmark judgement on which was pronounced by the Supreme Court, declaring it a fundamental right under the Constitution, on Thursday--is all these and much more.
A nine-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar ruled that "right to privacy is an intrinsic part of right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and entire part III of the Constitution".
While we all focused on whether protection of our personal information and data are of utmost importance or not, as the whole matter on the right to privacy as a fundamental right has been taken up by the apex court after a slew of petitions were filed against the government's rule on mandatory use of Aadhaar card, we somehow are ignoring basic facts relating to our personal choices, beliefs and freedoms, which again are a part of the larger subject of the right to privacy.
What about our right to eat what we want to eat? What about our right to love and marry a person of our choice? What about our right to pray or not to pray? Or, what about our right to defecate in the open, as there is a massive shortage of toilets in India, without fearing about any policing?
When we talk about the right to privacy, we simply can't forget all these rights. Since the Supreme Court has declared the right to privacy as a fundamental right, now, the state should have no business in telling us what we can eat or not (read beef ban) or whom we can love or not (read the paranoia surrounding love jihad, a term coined by the Hindus to suggest that Muslim men in the garb of marrying Hindu women are converting them to Islam or Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexual relationships) or our right to convert into any religion (read how the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological wing of the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime, is systemically conducting ghar wapsi (converting people to Hinduism who had earlier adopted Islam or Christianity as their faith).
Similarly, the government now has no right to name and shame those people who are yet to have a toilet in their houses and still defecate in the open.
Perhaps, the Narendra Modi government will find it hard to adapt to the basic tenets of right to privacy as the Centre opposed the arguments of petitioners in the Supreme Court that the right to privacy is a fundamental right.
Without ever explicitly stating, the BJP government tried to tell its citizens that individuals must surrender everything to those who govern them.
In July, the Centre told the Supreme Court that since privacy is multifaceted, it cannot be treated as a fundamental right.
"There is no fundamental right to privacy and even if it is assumed as a fundamental right, it is multifaceted. Every facet can't be ipso facto considered a fundamental right," said Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal before the nine-judge bench of the apex court.
Now, until and unless the state does not stop prying into the private lives of individuals and introducing bans after bans curtailing individual freedoms, the historic judgement of the Supreme Court will hold no meaning at all.
Moreover, society at large should also stop itself from constantly monitoring private lives of its citizens. Till then, freedom remains only on paper.