Your bodies are not your bodies—this was the logically erroneous and politically dangerous message that the Narendra Modi government delivered to the citizens of India.
Of course, the message did not have Kahlil Gibran-like eloquence, delivered as it was by a lawyer, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi. In a case pertaining to making Aadhaar compulsory, he told a Supreme Court bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, “The concept of absolute right over one’s body was a myth and there were various laws which put restrictions on such a right.”
While the second part of the statement is true, or rather an accurate description of facts, the first part is not just grossly wrong but also symptomatic of the sick, totalitarian impulses entrenched in the institutional mindset. I use the term ‘institutional mindset’ carefully, for it represents, instead of Modi’s fascism, the ingrained statist postulates and principles that have accumulated in a putrid heap; the pestilential germs emanating from this heap go on to infect every government department and functionary. Whether the folks manning ministries are ‘secularists’ in the Congress mold or ‘nationalists’ like Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, the rancidity of the decades-old trash remains there. Governments come and go; the pestilence persists.
The foul odor is all-pervading. Consider the Attorney General’s submission in the apex court: “There is no absolute right over the body. If such a right existed then committing suicide would have been permitted and people would have been allowed to do whatever they wanted with their bodies. The right not to have bodily intrusion is not absolute, and the life of a person can also be taken away by following a due procedure of law. People cannot commit suicide and take drugs.”
He also cited the case of people made to breath for alcohol content in drunken driving cases by police. “We are not a society of angels. We have a real problem, people don’t pay taxes, make fake PAN cards,” Rohtagi said.
This is the voice of a strict, intrusively watchful, infinitely wise (in its own reckoning), paternalistic government. It doesn’t treat citizens as human beings who are bestowed with inalienable rights to life and liberty by God or nature, as individuals who can take care of their own affairs and wellbeing; it regards them instead as serfs who are in constant need of the benevolence and punishment of their feudal lord (government, in this case); individuals, according to this line of thinking, are deeply flawed, incapable of improving their own lot, even potentially felonious—“people don’t pay taxes, make fake PAN cards.”
For Left-liberals, this is also a moment of déjà vu: didn’t we say a zillion times that Modi is about totalitarianism? Hindutva, they have always asserted, is just like Nazism. Now you can see it in action. We have been proved correct, parlor pinks would say. QED.
This reminds me of a ghazal, beautifully sung by Mehdi Hasan: “Jo zeher pee chuka hun, tumhi ne mujhe dia hai/Ab tum to zindagi ki duain mujhe na do” (You gave me the poison that I drank/At least you don’t bless me with a long life).
For it was the statist paradigm of Nehruvian socialism that Left-liberals in our country promoted for decades, the paradigm that has been appropriated by the Modi dispensation. It is not the first time that the absurdities and abominations of the statism that have found an expression in the individuals-have-no-absolute-right-over-their-bodies rhetoric; it is the product and function of the policies that successive governments have adopted and executed since Independence.
In the name of zamindari abolition and for the supposedly noble cause of socialism, property rights were severely curtailed, resulting in the abolition of the Fundamental Right to Property in 1978. In the name of population control, millions of people were coaxed and coerced into undergoing vasectomy. In the name of helping the poor get institutional credit, banks were nationalized—the biggest economic crime in the history of modern India, as it made banks’ money the property of politicians and the harlot of industrialists.
As recent as 10 years ago, the government wanted to create a registry of all pregnancies to help check female feticide. “With this, mysterious abortions will become difficult,” the then women & child development minister Renuka Chowdhury told a newspaper. “This will help to check both feticide and infant mortality.”
The resultant outcry against the Orwellian move forced the government, which was of Left-liberal orientation, to shelve the plan.
In other words, Modi or his regime is not the originator of statist moves that want to control citizens, their financial transactions, their culinary and sexual preferences, even their bodies. He is just following in the footsteps of its inglorious predecessors.