Freedom to do what we have reason to value

Aheli Moitra

Of late, the judiciary in the Indian Union has pronounced several significant judgments.

With the help of submissions from several states in the Indian Union that raised objection to the Central government claiming rights over the citizen’s body, the Supreme Court held privacy as a fundamental right.

On August 24, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously delivered its 547-pages judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India that the right to privacy would come under the right to life and liberty (Article 21) and part III of the Constitution.

The pursuit of happiness, noted the judgment, is founded upon autonomy and dignity.

This means that the Central government in New Delhi can no more claim rights over the leg and limb, iris and fingerprint, of citizens as it has attempted with the Aadhaar scheme. Strangely, even though the Naga people are in political negotiations with the Government of India, the Government of Nagaland had raised no known objection to Aadhaar. Contrarily, the latter attempted to fulfill its own bureaucratic needs through the system instead of protecting its citizens from encroachment of the government into their lives. It is a good time for citizens of Nagaland to start checking the government and a time for the judiciary here to play an assertive role.

Elsewhere, on August 23, the Delhi High Court gave a momentous order. Bringing them back from the “Kafkaesque world of statelessness” (as described in a synopsis of the writ petition), the Court restored the citizenship of human rights activist Luingam Luithui and his wife Peingamla.

Again, through this order, the judiciary stepped in to guard the state’s citizen from the excesses of the government. While Luingam’s passport was impounded by the Government of India, Peingamla was denied fresh travel documents after she lost her papers. In effect, they were banished from their home and forced to live in exile for 22 years.

Over the years, as the two fought back (alongside their family and community) by putting their faith in the judiciary, the Government of India refused to cite valid reasons for the breach of the citizenship rights of the couple. Did the government banish citizens of the state based on whims and biases of the day undermining a citizen’s rights?

Luingam Luithui has a remarkable record of human rights advocacy work that has set precedents for all people(s) struggling to uphold their civil and political rights in the Indian Union. Now, he recently told CatchNews, “..what is more important is to be able to realize the potential that you and I should have to start building a society that we should have and we deserve.”

If his human rights activism was the reason for their unfair persecution, it would do well to read the restoration of the citizenship rights of Luingam and Peingamla with a crucial part of the Supreme Court of India’s judgment on the right to privacy that quotes Amartya Sen:

For adult human beings, with responsibility for choice, the focus must ultimately be on whether they have the freedom to do what they have reason to value.

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