This article has been written by Diya Banerjee, Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article talks of the growing need to secure each and every movement and action of the people by the respective governments, thus violating basic human rights and the need to find a balance between these two.
For any Government in a true democracy, national security or national defence is its top priority. National security is not only about the country’s military, but it is also primarily about the security and stability of its citizens and the economy. It was originally perceived to be only a requirement for military superiority but has now become a wider notion which includes a sound economy, stability in the law and order of the society, distinguished relations with foreign countries especially beneficial relations, etc.
However, in the contemporary society, we hear a lot of cases of how the security measures taken by the government for the safety of the country are ironically violating the very basic, fundamental, and human rights of their very own citizens. While some cases of such gross violations get to be taken up before the courts of jurisdiction, many of these cases are either high-profile in nature or affecting a greater section of the society, hence the reason why they gain such attention, but a larger number of cases of human rights or fundamental rights violations do not even get reported or taken up because the ones who are affected are the common people. Among them, many don’t even know that their rights are being violated!
Why is there such a disparity between a case of the same nature but with different aggrieved parties? How can a line be drawn between what is needed for national security and what violates an individual’s rights? Is there any way to balance both these elements and if yes, how? These questions have become hot topics for debates, not only on the televisions but also in everyday reality.
Multiple facets of national security: Indian view
Just like India is a huge country of nearly 1.3 billion and different methods are used to administer every state, there are as many different methods to safeguard the states and their subjects from external forces which may not always be physical in nature. There are multiple ways that national security has been drilled into the system so that nothing is missed by the government and they are able to keep any difficult situation from spiralling out of hand.
It is also understood as military security is the ability of a nation’s military force to protect and defend the country from external aggression and non-state actors like terrorist attacks. While military superiority is essentially required for protection and as a deterrent for any kind of internal turmoil, countries like the United States, France, Russia and the United Kingdom invest in higher expeditionary capabilities as a show of power and global status. On the hand, countries like India, South Africa are only now shifting their outlook from mere protection to a show of power through its military capabilities.
Many political leaders and analysts argue that a country’s national security can be preserved only if the political front of the country is strong and stable. It sounds oxymoronic because how can something strong continue to be stable? What it necessarily means is that a government is strong if it has the power to integrate the diverse communities and maintain the stability of this system by continuing to bridge the gap between any community and its political representation. Stability also means that even if the ruling party changes, the flow of positive efforts by the previous party should be continued by the present ruling party. This cycle would preserve the stability and make the political front much stronger with a clearer vision.
For a country to continue to flourish requires it to keep its economic policy as up to date as possible while keeping a check on its traditional focus of economic growth. What this means is that India has always been an agriculture-based economy so it should continue its focus to diversify and develop its agricultural sector, at the same time bringing radical changes into its secondary and tertiary sectors. This would keep the current employment rate secure and create new employment opportunities.
Energy and natural resources
Electricity is an essential service and a lot into producing it. Natural and finite resources like coal, wood, etc. are used in bulk to produce almost a single unit of electricity. Moreover, India depends a lot on its reserve of coal, petroleum and other natural minerals to fund its industries. Also, India has vast geographical opportunities to produce energy like hydro, solar or wind. This creates a duty for the government to make provisions to preserve and secure its energy and natural resources from any sort of misuse.
Now as good as every work is possible through computers. This heavy reliance of more than 50% of the skilled workforce has become an asset as well as a liability for the users and the government. The volume of cyberattacks has steadily continued to increase, causing world-wide panic. Now the users are more aware of the need to give importance to cybersecurity as well. Also, the use of the internet as a medium to indulge and promote anti-national and aggressive activities like terrorism, hate crime and hate speech has also come to light. This has given the Indian Government a full reason to monitor user activity along with a higher development of cybersecurity and related fields of specialization.
National security approach in the early 1990s and Challenges
The post-independence era for India was the beginning of a huge and long-drawn battle with meeting the demands of a growing population but with fewer resources. These resources also included the impending crisis of securing the newly independent country not only from foreign aggression but also the economic threat of globalization for which the Indian market was not yet ready. At least half of the Indian population was below the poverty line and the businesses had taken a great hit due to the partition. This effect was quite well felt even until the early 1990s when a lot of economic, political and military reforms were being implemented. India was going through an inner tumultuous period where there was instability in all major institutions governing the society. The following approach was taken to give the national security issues a framework to operate within.
Specific security concerns
The external fear factors for India have not really changed even today. Security issues regarding China and the newly formed Islamic Republic of Pakistan was a tremendous boiling point for India who was still preparing for fortifying itself from the Sino-Indian 1962 war all the while preparing herself for the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Internally, India’s most pressurizing challenge was to contain the restless Muslim population in Kashmir along with the then frequent clan or castes clashes. Another growing issue was the rising rate of insurgencies and terrorists, getting fundings from China and Pakistan, especially because of the sheer vast territory of India, all with different combat zones requiring special troops which India had not been able to thoroughly produce before the 1971 war.
India’s military was weak, comparatively to the Western countries especially the US and the Soviet Union. It had to rely on importing some major defence arms and ammunition to make the cut for a ‘military protected’ country. The growing fear of communal clashes also made the government realize how urgently there was a need to bring in rapid advancements into the military, especially the Indian Air Force which was the youngest Indian military branch.
Focus on Self-reliance
Self-reliance is an agenda which the Indian Government has continued to emphasize upon even to this date, be it in arms or trade. The emergence of the need to be self-reliant was in the year 1994 when a ten-year plan was promulgated, focusing on making India self-reliant by starting off producing specific parts of weaponry and extending the lifespan of existing weaponry through indigenous manufacturing and production units. This initiative was taken after acknowledging that solely depending on exporting and importing from foreign suppliers would not reassure the economic stability of the country.
India’s biggest ally before the 2010s was Russia, mostly because of its past experience with Russian weaponry. Russia became India’s first supplier of some of its most prominent and acclaimed military weapons, even to this date. The reason behind the start of India and Russia trade relation was not only because of the past experience but also because Russia was willing to negotiate and not press additional cost to the transactions after the sanctions which were placed on India for the nuclear trials. After military analysts showed concern over Russia’s growing interest to integrate its production with Western European industries, France became the next biggest military supplier of India. This slow but gradual expansion of defence followed by other diversified lines of production brought in other suppliers like Singapore, Spain, Sweden, South Africa and the UK.
Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization
In the year 1991, the LPG policies brought huge relief to the Indian markets which needed a tremendous push to perform up to its potential to compete globally and expand. The LPG reforms were mainly brought in after India was facing the challenge of rising fiscal deficit, inflation, fall in the foreign exchange reserve, etc. Another factor was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iraq war due to which petrol prices skyrocketed. These reforms implemented in the year 1991 changed the economic atmosphere in India altogether-
- Abolition of industrial licensing
- Free entry of foreign investment and technology
- Beginning of privatization and public sector roles were diluted
- Reduction in import tariffs
- Indian markets could finally compete and trade with global markets
National Concerns vs. Human rights
Human rights in a country like India which is concentrated with poverty, large population riddled with diverse communities which have multiple diversities within themselves. The Constitution of India provides for the right to equality, freedom of speech and freedom of religion under Article 14, Article 19 and Article 25 respectively. Yes, there are certain restrictions and limitations which are justified by the criteria of the situation when such restrictions or limitations may be imposed. However, a 2016 Human Rights Watch report stated that even though the Indian media is active and India has a separate judiciary, the position of human rights is a matter of concern.
Minority groups of Muslims and Christians have openly stated that the Government has done little to promote their interests. One may argue that the situation has changed for the better but to prove you wrong, take a look at the current situation of the migrant workers during the COVID19 pandemic. Under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005 read with the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 made the government impose a lockdown which started off as a 21-day lockdown but has since then continued to be extended, with relaxations being slowly brought in. In the ensuing confusion of a hasty lockdown, the migrant workers who had travelled from far were left stranded in cities where no one knew them.
Now, human rights are not only about a person’s right to express, do or follow what they like, it is also about being provided with a place where one can live and standard living conditions. The condition of the migrant workers cannot be looked at as anything but a violation of human rights. They were of course not given prior notice of the lockdown but the measures to provide them with a proper place of the temporary settlement came very late. Add to that, the move to provide food, shelter and means of returning to their hometowns via free bus service and government-funded train journeys came after the media reported the compelling stories of migrant workers walking for hundreds of kilometres, some even died due to the heat and starvation, to return to their villages. The move by the Central and State government came after a chaotic effort to understand and contain the disarrayed movement of the migrants. This delay has been seen as a violation of the right to livelihood interpreted under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
It is a known fact that the decision to impose the lockdown was for the safety of the citizens and prevent further spread of the virus but the haphazard manner of implementing the move in the ground level, especially for the unskilled workforce, quite fairly ended up backfiring when the migrant workers had gathered for leaving the cities.
History of human rights violation instances in India
Just like India has made history as one of the fastest-growing economies with an advanced security approach, it has had a fair share of clashes with cases of gross human rights violation on a level which only a few had imagined.
The darkest days of the newfound Indian democracy was during Indira Gandhi’s 21 months long declared emergency. Not only did this phase change the entire outlook and power of the Indian Judiciary but it also saw some of the very first cases of gross human rights violations on grounds of so-called internal disturbance. The very first was imprisoning most of Indira Gandhi’s opponents who were leaders of opposition parties. Then there were strict censorship guidelines and rules imposed on various newspapers, who also had to ask for a permit before finally publishing the news. Some newspaper houses which refused to follow these absurd rules were, of course, closed down. There were other claims of human rights violation as well, one being a mass sterilization campaign being spearheaded by Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s son.
ARTICLE 370 AND CAA:
In the year 2019, after the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A caused a major uproar in Kashmir and other parts of Jammu and Kashmir. A lot of inside information was being circulated via Twitter and Instagram to sensitize those residing out of the state about the ongoing situation. To stop this continuous internal reporting by people and journalists, the open access to the internet via mobile data or wired broadband services was practically stopped. A similar case was the protest after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced. People from all parts of the country, especially Muslims, came to the streets against the discriminatory provisions of the new bill turned Act. Here as well, internet services and communication lines were blocked to curb the flow of ‘fake news’, and such ‘fake news’ also consisted of genuine news which was questioning the government’s approach and decision. In both these cases, in the name of national security, the government had completely put a stop to free flow of information, freedom of expression and discrimination. The discrimination was inferred that even the freedom of religion had come under attack by the government.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH:
In the year 2019, the newspapers were filled with headlines about journalists being arrested for ‘waging war’ against the country or the government by mere words of dissent. Many of the journalists who were arrested were renowned for their reports and work. However, most of the arrest warrants issued for such arrests were declared invalid and illegal. On the other hand, there still are some journalists who are out on bail but the charges against them still stand. However, there have been no murders of journalists till now against the six in 2018. However, the 2020 Reporters Without Borders report shows that India had dropped two positions, currently at 142nd in global press freedom ranking. This goes on to prove that even if heinous crimes like murdering journalists might have gone down, there still prevails an atmosphere where constant press freedom restrictions are put or public violence against them instigated by politicians or corrupt officials.
The year 2017 is called ‘the year of hate crime’, why? That year noted the highest number of deaths (11 deaths) and the most number of mob-lynching cases (37 cases) all related to “cow protection” vigilantes. And since then, the numbers have only increased, bringing in more sensitive elements of religion as well. What’s more, the Government has no exact official record of legal validities of such cases because most of the time, these cases are associated with “rioting”, “unlawful assembly” or “murder” for the police officials involved in the case might hold a bias. Before the beginning of the “cow protection mob-lynching” saga, most of the hate crime was against lower castes specifically against the Dalits, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. There was no justification for these actions but only a few were given attention by the authorities and in many cases, the culprits were let off.
Finding the right balance
Looking at the ongoing and historical significance of national security while also keeping the human rights aspect at the same level of importance. The chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy are the “conscience of the Constitution” but ironically, they are ones which get violated and overlooked the most by the Government. In general, national security with human rights is an area of interest which will continue to conflict with each other but at the same time, policymakers and authorities must find a proportionate balance between the two. It has to be seen that aspects of national security are not abused to wrongfully contain individual concerns all the while neither should individual interest supersede the national concerns.
The first step to balancing these two elements is by identifying that ‘reasonable restrictions’ does not mean that words of dissent require to be shut off. Also, clashes between religious interest groups should be judged through free, fair and impartial procedures.
While there are many case-specific methods to deal with human rights conflicts with national interests, India should tread on simple and easy steps to reconcile both ends of the rope to achieve the ideal goal of a holistically secure country from all sides, external and internal.
There is no denial in the fact that national security concerns supersede individual concerns but it also does not mean that the subordinate issues regarding individual security issues get neglected. It is understandable that when it comes to the holistic protection of a country, some micro and personal problems are set aside for later but that does not mean that ‘later’ is used as an excuse for ignoring the problems altogether. No rational and sensible person will object to his or her non-personal information being tracked for a legitimate reason like cybersecurity but that is no excuse for any administrative decision to monitor each and every private activity, especially what one does on their cell phones, in the name of national security. To keep the government actions in check so that there is little to no human rights violation case, certain solid measures sure have been taken but there is still a long way to go when it comes to actually implement those measures properly and with legally admissible reasons.
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