Bans not in tune with idea of India

Harihar Swarup

If we look back in history it’s apparent that prohibition, wherever practiced, has created parallel problems while failing to achieve its intended objectives. Not only are the facts of prohibition misunderstood, it is also misapplied by the government and the judiciary in India. Our nation is now in the forefront of bans, with the government banning anything and everything that goes against its understanding of nationalism and cultural ethos, and the courts imposing bans based on judicial prudence.
From alcohol to TV programmes and social media, bans have been imposed based on the premise that the conscience of general public is disturbed by such things. The reality is we are curbing democracy and the constitutional rights of citizens with these bans. They are based on the false premise that by closing our minds we can resolve a problem. The more the political anxiety surrounding an issue, the more is the propensity of ban.
The government’s addiction of bans without realizing the consequences and inherent contradiction in their own policies is reflected yet again in the recent notification banning sale of cattle (which includes buffaloes and other bovines) for slaughter at animal markets.
On the one hand, the government permits operation of legal slaughter houses which, in turn, have a thriving business, and on the other, bans the sales of cattle meant for these very legal slaughter houses. Has the government thought about consequences of this ban and the income of farmers who sell their buffaloes in animal markets? Will this ban not provide opportunity to murderers in the guise of gau rakshaks (cow protector) to kill innocents?
We live, at present, in troubled and troubling times where not a day passes without some outrage in name of nationalism. But what do we achieve with bans? Bans on beef and cow vigilantism have disturbed the economy and social order: The same Constitution which provides for cow protection  as directive principles also provides, by way of fundamental rights, the right  to life and liberty, which also includes the right to livelihood.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
In matters relating to law and order facts have to take precedence over emotions. And, the fact is that continuing instances of murders and attacks by cow vigilantes have adversely affected the dairy, leather and allied businesses, which employ millions of people, besides disrupting social harmony. Similarly, increasing cases of substance abuse have been reported from states where liquor prohibition has been imposed. Behavioural science has proved that a state will achieve more by creating a movement and building awareness on issues such as alcohol abuse than by banning the substance.
Competing with the government, the Supreme Court banned the sale of liquor along and near the highways. The order did not serve any purpose other than imposing another ban. States and civil authorities found their way to circumvent it. For instance, the government of Odisha renamed state highways passing through cities and town as “urban roads”. Since these roads are no more highways liquor sales go on as usual.
Another block off the ‘ban wagon’ series was the ban on social media in Jammu and Kashmir. Is there any concrete evidence that riots can be controlled by blocking channels of communication? On the contrary, such measures increase distrust between people and the establishment.
J&K should learn from a Chhattisgarh example. The tribal-dominated state is famous for censoring information and targeting journalists and civil right activists working in Naxalite areas. Did it help state government curb Naxalism? Incidents in Dantewada, Bastar and Sukhma offer ample answers.
A nation cannot be built on bans. Democratic order implies that there are moral limits on what states can do to individuals and their choices. Bans and censorship are components of a theocratic order.
Citizens of the largest democracy in the world are mature enough to take rational and logical choices. They do not want the state to determine what they should eat, how they should dress or what movie they should watch. In fact, the idea of ban is antithetical to the idea of India. India has a great tradition of openness with a faculty of assimilation and spirit of dialogue is the essence that strengthening our democracy.             
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for building a new India, in stark contrast to the attitude of his government and the party. We need to constantly remind ourselves that the only way for India to thrive and survive is to remain open and inclusive and be a functional democracy. We should not present ourselves as a ban-happy state. Instead of bans, debate and discussions are the way to go. (IPA)

Saturday, 17 June, 2017