Biometrics, Privacy, and Governance in India: the Unique Identity (‘Aadhaar’) Case

[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.

The Humpty-Dumpty Censorship of Television in India

In India, a cable television channel’s content has invited a government warning, which the channel has judicially challenged. The incident recasts light on India’s absurd system of television censorship, which primarily flows from the Cable Televison Act, 1995. A poorly-drafted list of prohibited content, called the Programme Code, is interpreted by a group of unaccountable bureaucrats with no specialized knowledge of television, arts, or the law. Similar to the erstwhile section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was recently judicially struck down for vagueness, the Programme Code has survived by evading judicial scrutiny. How does such arbitrary censorship subsist? Humpty Dumpty might have the best answer.

The law behind the politics of rural debt and farmers’ suicides in India

[Abstract] There is incontrovertible evidence that the inability to service agricultural debts is forcing Indian farmers to commit suicide. However there has been no serious examination of the law relevant to rural debt. In colonial India, reactionary debt relief law was enacted in tandem with the preeminent governance consideration of optimal revenue collection. Rural indebtedness was a central theme of India’s freedom movement; but, after Independence, bank loans to farmers were shielded from anti-usury law. To redress this, the States’ power to legislate in relief of rural indebtedness must also extend to bank debts. While the States’ are unable to legislate to protect farmers, the Reserve Bank of India must exercise its supervisory power to place limits on the rates of interest that may be charged on agricultural loans.

India’s ‘Anti-conversion’ Laws, the ‘Right to Propagate’, and the Mainstreaming of Chauvinism

[Abstract] With the Gujarat High Court due to decide on Gujarat’s ‘anti-conversion’ law, the issue of conversions appears poised to re-enter the national agenda. It is being accompanied by vituperative public speech questioning the basis of India’s diversity and minorities. The ‘right to propagate’ religion has had a troubled career. There were voices in the Constituent Assembly which opposed it and imposed regulatory conditions upon it. After Independence, there have been two waves of anti-conversion laws; the first wave in the 1960s culminated in the landmark Stanislaus decision which treated conversions as a matter of public disorder, thereby legitimising the claim that minorities cause disharmony. In the second wave in the 2000s, conversions have been more heavily policed. When the Supreme Court examines the Gujarat statute, it will be a historic opportunity to overturn the Stanislaus decision and return pluralism and inclusiveness to the national imagination.

Bangladeshi Migration, Political Exploitation, Judicial Overreach, and Legal Change

[Abstract] Following recent election campaign statements, migration from Bangladesh has again received national attention. For several reasons, including cultural affinity and a porous border, migration across Bengal’s borders has been constant. It fuelled ethnic conflict that prompted the Assam Accord in 1985 to bring a temporary peace. The IMDT Act, ostensibly enacted to secure fair deportations, caused more cynicism when it failed to result in mass removals. The Supreme Court struck down the IMDT Act in 2005, on questionable grounds, and then censured the government when the latter tried to replace it with executively created due process. Yet, it is precisely this due process, which is absent from the Foreigners Act, that is needed to temper the deportation power. Future legal changes, which look increasingly likely, must not lose sight of fairness and procedural safeguards.