I am writing in response to the very important article entitled `Arresting persons for their ideology is an attack on the Right to Conscience’, carried in the April 1-15, 2020 collection on the CGPI web-site under MEL.
A google search for the Right to Conscience takes as the first hit to the web-site of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 10 — Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and contains two clauses, of which the first reads “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
Recalling here that conscience itself is defined as a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour. Corresponding expressions are found in the Indian Constitution in the Preamble as well as in, e.g., Article 25 which on the one hand guarantee such rights, while there are enough provisions in the Constitution that can simply violate every one of these guarantees! In practice, therefore, one can conclude that in India there really is no Right to Conscience.
A lot of the obfuscation arises from the various theories emanating from the Indian ruling circles about anti-national activities, unity and integrity, terrorism, unlawful activities and so on, all of which provide the basis for extreme anti-democratic activities of the Indian State. Many examples abound of such violations, right from the use of draconian laws such as the AFSPA, UAPA, NSA and so on.
People are locked away for merely having copies of books on Marxism, or having literature that could somehow be considered `seditious’. Egregious examples in the recent past has been the detention or first 9 persons and more recently of 2 others, in the so-called `Bheema-Koregaon’ case. These persons have been arrested under the pretext of stoking violence between communities because of their beliefs about the nature of the war that took place over 200 years ago! It is totally absurd to consider that one’s views on a historical event can in any way be a reason for the arrest of a person or persons. While cloaking the arrest under the garb that they made provocative speeches, the persons have also been accused of hatching a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. Nothing could be more absurd than this claim, and yet these persons have been locked away and have been remanded to custody time and again, and denied bail.
Numerous other cases abound as regards the violation rights in the context of the CAA/NCR/NPR protests. In other words, the Government will not tolerate any challenge to its policies. For a democracy to be healthy there has to be vigorous debate and an atmosphere where these debates can take place fearlessly. In India today the precise opposite prevails. This is a block to the progress of the people of India and must be opposed to any cost. It is important to get to the heart of the matter and ask how the Constitution permits such a state of affairs.
This article is a valuable contribution in this direction.
S. Nair, Kochi