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Dystopia & An Orwellian Concern

The Supreme Court (SC) of India appointed an Expert Technical Committee overseen by a former SC Judge, Justice R V Raveendran, on October 27 (2021) to examine allegations that the Narendra Modi Government in New Delhi had used Pegasus, an Israeli software, to spy on citizens. A three-judge SC Bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana, said that they rejected the Government’s offer to appoint an Expert Committee to investigate the allegations, as “such a course of action would violate the settled Judicial Principle against bias, i.e., that ‘justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done’”. At the same time, the Apex Court made it clear that the Power of the State to snoop into the “sacred private space” of individuals in the name of National Security is not Absolute!

Supreme Court of India

The question that arises here is: How George Orwell (original name Eric Arthur Blair, June 25, 1903 – January 21, 1950), himself, would have reacted, after hearing about the Pegasus statement of the Indian Apex Court? Once, the English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic had warned that the Modern State could be a watchdog or ‘Big Brother‘, if it wanted to (in his 1949 novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four‘). Even then, no one seems to be able to fathom how vast and penetrative the reach of an Authoritarian State could be. However, the present days have proved that Orwell was correct. The way the SC Bench pointed to the responsibility of the Government of India to monitoring citizens through Pegasus spyware, saying that no secret intrusion into the lives of citizens could be allowed on the pretext of National Security or any other excuse; it shows that a Distorted Reality or Dystopia, as explained by Orwell, has engulfed entire India.

George Orwell

Although the Judiciary has launched an investigation into the use of the Israeli spyware, it is difficult to hope that the Indians would be freed from the State Surveillance in near future. In his Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell not only talked about the State, but also about Time and Technology. Interestingly, the decision opened with a quote from Orwell’s book, as the SC Bench wrote “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself” in the beginning of the 46-page-long judgement. The Bench, comprising of CJI Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, raised “Orwellian concerns” about an all-pervasive technology, like Pegasus, stating that “the gnawing fear of being spied on affected Liberty and had a Chilling Effect”. It added: “Members of a Civilised Democratic Society have a reasonable expectation of Privacy. Privacy is not the singular concern of journalists or social activists. Every citizen of India ought to be protected against violations of Privacy. It is this expectation which enables us to exercise our Choices, Liberties, and Freedom. It is undeniable that surveillance and the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on can affect the way an individual decides to exercise his or her Rights.

No one can put a stop to technological development. However, if a Government plans to monitor citizens with the help of modern technology, then it becomes an ethical issue. In India, it has become important and necessary for the Judiciary to investigate on an urgent basis whether the Government has deliberately breached privacy of common Indian citizens and leaders in Opposition. Over the past few months, Opposition leaders or members of Civil Society have been asking the Government about its role in the Pegasus scam. However, the Modi Administration has remained tight-lipped. Despite all the evidence that India purchased the spyware from Israel, neither Prime Minister Modi, nor his Home Minister Amit Shah has acknowledged that they were the ones who ordered the purchase of Pegasus. However, what has happened cannot happen without their instructions.

PM Modi (L) & Amit Shah

It is not only unethical, but also a serious offence to create an Authoritarian Atmosphere even after coming to Power through Democracy. Without Pluralism, Democracy becomes meaningless… and if there is no Democracy, then there is no Right to Protest. How can people enjoy the Right to Protest, if they are under constant State Surveillance? Perhaps, India has already left the path of Democracy thanks to the Narendra Modi Government.

The Government of India has developed a habit of undermining the leaders in Opposition and also the Civil Society. Hence, it seems that the Government would not follow the seven instructions given by the Apex Court. Now, the Supreme Court shall have to monitor whether the Modi Administration allows the Inquiry Committee, formed by the Judiciary, to function impartially.

Meanwhile, the Indian Judiciary has made one thing clear… Just as Evil enters through a path, specified by the circumstances, the same transportation channel can also be utilised to oust the Evil. Honourable CJI Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli deserve credit for their serious effort to protect the 75-year-old Indian Democracy.

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