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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Part 2 of Some Implications of Punjab Civil Services (Rationalisation of Certain Conditions of Services) Act 2011
Shadow over democracy
By Rajesh Kumar Sharma
In his written statement submitted to the court in the trial of 1922, Gandhi famously stated the following:
They do not know [that] a subtle but effective system of terrorism and an organized display of force on the one hand, and the deprivation of all powers of retaliation or self-defense on the other, have emasculated the people . . . .
He was referring to the characteristic British method of subjugating the Indians: terrorise them through use of force and, at the same time, weaken them so much that they will not be able to even stand on their feet. Gandhi chose to use a word that might have for some today sexist connotations but that implied the extraction of the nerve that makes a man a man, a human being a human being - the nerve that flashes in the eyes of a woman too when she refuses to be treated like refuse, the nerve of resistance against insults to our sense of self-respect and dignity. In the Gita, Krishna touches the same nerve in Arjuna when he tells him, Do not act like one emasculated!
We need to read the shadowy Punjab Civil Services Act of 2011 with the two Acts that preceded it in 2010. Together these will explain how the British spectre continues to feed on our souls through those who replaced the British after independence. Power continues to be deployed the way the British, in Gandhi’s analysis, deployed it. These two Acts, mentioned already, are the Punjab Special Security Group Act 2010 and the Punjab (Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property) Act 2010.
Significantly, the first of these is motivated by a ‘felt’ need. Felt by whom? Huh! Anyway, is it fair to let ‘feelings’ spawn laws that will affect millions of lives? Are governments really so short of rational and empirical validations of proposed legislative measures?
I am struck by the unspecified connections the Punjab Special Security Group Act makes between law (and unlawful activities), the need to provide security to ‘highly threatened persons’ and their families and the idea of nationalism. The mandate to combat anti-national forces is curiously linked to securing the lives of some persons and their families, thus indirectly mixing up the nation with certain persons and families. As if the nation were some patrimonial heirloom! And the term ‘anti-national forces’ is invested with a sinisterly hazy meaning that embraces practically any activity that may be termed as ‘unlawful’. This is what the Act states:
‘Anti-national force’ means any person, or organization or association of persons, which for its object, does any unlawful activity, or of which the members undertake such activity.
The act of pissing on someone’s garden wall, being an unlawful act, would be – on this account – as heinous as aiming an assault rifle on someone. Protesting, even as a lone individual demonstrator, against a corrupt patwari without obtaining the district magistrate’s permission to do so can invite the tag of an ‘anti-national force’, for you will not have followed the law as implied in the Punjab (Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property) Act 2010 but indulged in an unlawful activity by protesting without permission.
Not stopping here, the Act goes on to secure the Special Security Group and its members from any accountability to law:
No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against the Group or any member thereof on whom powers have been conferred or duties have been imposed under this Act, or any order issued or any rule or regulation made thereunder for anything which is in good faith done or purported to be done or omitted to be done in pursuance of this Act or any order issued or any rule or regulation made thereunder or any order issued under any such rule or regulation, as the case may be.
Is this not an almost otherworldly, fairytale situation of law being enacted to keep a force and its officers and men outside the ambit of law? Giorgio Agamben calls it ‘the state of exception’ – the carving out, by the instrument of law, of a space in which the law does not apply; the space which is an exception to the rule of law for the stated purpose of upholding the law. What an idea, sir ji! And do not forget to note the happy wedding of ‘felt need’ elsewhere with ‘good faith’ here. ‘Subjectivity is truth,’ Kierkegaard said. ‘Law is subjectivity,’ we are being told.
Against such an overwhelming display of force you have, placed vulnerably and helplessly, the common citizen of the country (in this case, the proud Punjabi) who must stand outside a faceless bureaucrat’s office, in Kafkaesque fashion, to beg for permission to protest against injustice, misrule, or plain incompetence. Should he proceed to protest, he can be jailed and fined. This is precisely what the Act complementary to the Punjab Special Security Group Act, known as the Punjab (Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property) Act 2010 seeks, among other things, to ensure. For the Act states:
Whoever holds a protest, march or demonstration, without obtaining permission under section 3, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to two years, and shall also be liable to fine, which may extend to twenty thousand rupees.
History moves. It has moved far since the days of Emergency. Those who then fought and suffered in the name of Constitutional freedoms are today’s architects of another, undeclared state of emergency.