A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court has ruled that Indians enjoy a “fundamental right to privacy” and that it is intrinsic to the “right to life and liberty”.
The judgement was in response to a petition filed by former Karnataka high court judge Justice K.S. Puttaswamy and others. They had pointed out that the biometric data and iris scan that was being collected for issuing Aadhaar cards violated the citizen’s fundamental right to privacy as their personal data was not being protected and was vulnerable to exposure and misuse.
The petitioners had argued that right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution should include the right to privacy though it is not expressly stated in the Constitution. They also added that privacy is a broader concept and data sharing is only one aspect of privacy.
The working class and other oppressed sections cannot be complacent that this judgment will guarantee civil liberties including the right to privacy. We must step up the struggle to ensure constitutional
Among other things they felt that “Privacy is about the freedom of thought, conscience and individual autonomy and none of the fundamental rights can be exercised without assuming certain sense of privacy”.
The Supreme Court Bench observed that life and personal liberty are inalienable rights and these rights are inseparable from a dignified human existence. It also elaborated that “Life and personal liberty are not creations of the Constitution. These rights are recognised by the Constitution as inhering in each individual as an intrinsic and inseparable part of the human element which dwells within”.
The latest Supreme Court Ruling overrides earlier rulings of the Supreme Court which have declared that the Right to privacy is not a fundamental right.
Right to life, liberty and conscience, right to privacy as well as other rights which enable a dignified human existence are indeed inalienable rights. They cannot be given or taken away by the State. Furthermore, society has to ensure that these rights are guaranteed and enforceable.
The fact is that people’s rights are violated day in and day out by the Indian State and its institutions.
Basic human rights are not guaranteed by the Constitution. People die every day due to the refusal of the State to protect them from hunger, disease, and calamities such as floods and droughts. Crores of people are deprived of livelihood, education, healthcare, sanitation, safe drinking water and housing. In Kashmir and north-east people are murdered on a daily basis under the draconian AFSPA. The army and security forces routinely brutally violate people’s privacy during ‘search’ operations, in the name of counter-insurgency. Many innocent people are languishing in jails under the UAPA law. Thousands of innocent lives have been lost in state-organised communal violence.
The fact is that under the rule of the bourgeoisie, civil liberties, including the right to privacy, are openly violated. Every clause in the Constitution which appears to guarantee these civil liberties is followed by a clause which permits the state to restrict these rights. This is used by the ruling class, first and foremost against the working class and toiling masses fighting for their rights. It has also been used time and again to put down opposition from within the ranks of the bourgeoisie.
For example, clause 1 in Article 19 in the Constitution assures freedom of speech and expression (including the right to press), freedom of association, freedom to assemble, and other rights. But all the remaining clauses in the said Article put restrictions on these rights or take away these rights in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”, “security of the State”, “public order, decency or morality”, “contempt of court”, “defamation or incitement to an offence” etc.
This is the reality of the rule of the bourgeoisie, which the Constitution legitimises. For the ruling class, headed by about 150 monopoly business houses, the rights of people are subservient to their own profit motive.
While delivering its ruling, the Supreme Court itself has agreed that reasonable restrictions can be applied on this right to privacy to serve “legitimate aims” of the State. Going by past experience, the “right to privacy” will be accompanied by “permissible restrictions” by the ruling class and its State. This means that the Indian State will continue to gather information on its citizens and intrude on their privacy in order to protect the rule of the big bourgeoisie. This information and personal database will be used to terrorise and intimidate those who dare to raise their voice against the injustices of the Indian State.
The Supreme Court ruling comes in the wake of widespread opposition of broad sections of people to the attack by the state on the right to life and liberty. At the same time, it also reflects the concerns of certain sections of the bourgeoisie that their “right to privacy” should not be violated by their rivals using the state.
It may be recalled that Ratan Tata went to the Supreme Court to stop the publication of the Raadia Tapes claiming this infringed on his privacy. Those tapes exposed how the biggest monopolies controlled the government and influenced its decisions. Furthermore, the Indian state has been arguing in the Supreme Court that the demand that the names of corporates who have looted the public sector banks must not be revealed in the “national interest”.
In sum, the working class and other oppressed sections cannot be complacent that this judgment will guarantee civil liberties including the right to privacy. We must step up the struggle to ensure constitutional guarantees for fundamental rights with the understanding that only the working class is interested in and capable of expanding the scope of rights to all the people. Only the rule of the working class can guarantee the realization of rights for all the people.