India’s Supreme Court is becoming a national embarrassment. One of its judges, Justice Dipak Misra, has forced cinemas to play the national anthem at the start of every film, ordered people to stand, and banned dramatisations of the anthem. The judge’s order, which is very poorly written, is bad in law and damages the credibility of the court.
The one-day ban of news channel NDTV India is a significant escalation against India’s free press. The government has long monopolised the carriage of speech, particularly radio and television, a stranglehold broken only by the rise of private cable TV in the mid-1990s. All channels are forced to obey the Programme Code, a bizarre, poorly-drafted censorship law which is clearly unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to strike down the anachronistic colonial offence of criminal defamation is wrong. Criminalising defamation serves no legitimate public purpose; the vehicle of criminalisation – sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) – is unconstitutional; and the court’s reasoning is woolly at best.
[Excerpt] Sedition lingers on in India, refusing to go away, silencing students, doctors and writers today as it did nationalist leaders a century ago. The increasing use of sedition in the twenty-first century, no matter the government in power, has set India upon a dangerous, backwards-facing trajectory.
[Excerpt] Aadhaar’s vast database of biometric information is another pillar of India’s national security state. India is currently engaged in technological projects of astonishing dimensions, a colossally wide array of information collection, communications monitoring, and identity profiling. Biometrics have long been associated with biopower, a Foucauldian concept that is being frequently revisited as the world negotiates pervasive surveillance. The Aadhaar project is a new frontier in biopower: unparalleled in scale and unchecked by law, it is obliterating privacy.