Fab Things I Learnt From The Privacy Judgement

Published: August 26, 2017 10:50 IST
Over the next few days you are going to hear a lot about the landmark privacy judgement delivered by nine top judges of the Supreme Court. There will be analysis and even more analysis by lawyers, ex-judges, and egg-heads about why this 500-odd page document is pathbreaking or where it falls short. I'm certainly not even half qualified as any one of them. However, as someone who's had a ring side view of legal proceedings for almost two decades, here's what I as an aam-aadmi find fascinating:

1) THE MANEKA FACTOR -- Did you know that in 1977, Maneka Gandhi's passport got taken away by the Janata government and the battle she fought to get it back is now one of our most referred to judgements when it comes to fundamental rights? It's confusing because of her current status as minister, but you'll keep reading Maneka Gandhi Vs the Union of India (and you may think that can be true too at another level) throughout the judgement. What did that landmark case establish? What's wonderful is that one of the things it decided is the right to travel abroad because quite simply "travel makes liberty worthwhile."

2) FEMINIST CONCERN ABOUT PRIVACY -- It's so great to know that when Justice Chandrachud had his doubts about the right to privacy being a fundamental right, he thought about feminist concerns. The concern is if a woman is a victim of domestic violence, then can privacy be used as an excuse to not let anyone intervene? The judges concluded: "Privacy must not be utilised as a cover to conceal and assert patriarchal mindsets."

3) MAJORITY CAN'T GET YOU EVERYTHING -- If you have an opinion that is unpopular, then one of the things that you are told is - "Don't say this, because the majority feels otherwise" or "You are hurting the sentiments of the masses". Well, guess what the honourable judges said to me and to everyone who's felt alone: "The guarantee of constitutional rights does not depend upon their exercise being favourably regarded by majoritarian opinion." Thank you, your honour, for telling us that it's okay to be different. Thank you for telling us that it's okay to have an opinion that doesn't match everybody else's. Thank you for again validating the idea of an individual.

4) BEEF CHILLI FRY, PLEASE -- Ever since Akhlaq was hunted down and killed because there were rumours he had beef stashed in his home, things have been uneasy for all of us who order beef chilli fry at Kerala restaurants. We've all heard the paranoid stories of those who travel by trains avoiding taking any non-veg in their tiffins for fear that they may be attacked fatally like Junaid was killed during Eid. Well, take heart from these words of Justice Chemeleswar: "I do not think that anybody would like to be told by the State as to what they should eat or how they should dress or whom they should be associated with either in their personal, social or political life." The government, after the verdict, said they supported and welcomed the court's stand. Are they supporting this too? Will they give a strong affidavit for this too, like they did in the triple talaq case?

5) THE AMAZING LEGAL FIGHTS WE FIGHT -- The judgement is full of references to amazing cases which were privacy battles long before it became such a national fight. The fight that a blood donor fought when the hospital revealed that he was actually HIV positive and endangering the patient. The litigant claimed that his engagement broke because of the hospital going public; however, the consumer forum said it was public interest to reveal his medical status. The fight that an ex-con fought decades ago to keep the details of his crimes a secret. He claimed it was an invasion of his privacy that the police prepared his history sheet. These and other such amazing cases formed the bedrock of the amazing judgement we got on Thursday.

6) WE THE PEOPLE HAVE RIGHTS -- And finally, reading the judgement just reminds us of the amazing rights the courts and the constitution have bestowed upon us. We have the right to go abroad, the right to not be in fetters or chains (fought by Charles Sobhraj, no less), the right to not be beaten up in custody, the right to not have a public hanging and we also have the right to compensation if unlawfully arrested. Here's what I suggest -- let's read up on all this, let's print it out and frame them or keep them in little pocket cards or screenshots on our phones. The next time someone infringes upon any of these rights, let's go all constitutional on them. It's a wonderful judgement, I rest my case.

(Sunetra Choudhury is Political Editor, NDTV. She's author of 'Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India's Most Famous'.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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