12th April 2011
Calling upon India to criminalise coercive fasts-unto-death
I'm posting here the comments from Bhagwad (and my response) in relation to my call to Hazare to stop subverting the constitution of India to achieve political (policy) goals. I wrote: I therefore encourage Anna and his supporters to form a political party and contest elections and then, once they have a formal mandate for change, bring about the reforms they have obtained people's authorisation for (subject to preserving the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution).
Bhagwad Jal, a blog friend (we've never met), believes that everyone has a right to coerce the Government to anything, and that suicide is our birth right.
Here's what he has to say
We've discussed this before. My view is that self harm should certainly be allowed. My body, my rules. If at all we take property rights seriously, then a person has to own their body. A man may have nothing – not food, no clothes and no house. But they always have their body. It's the one thing a person owns without doubt and without restraint. It's the only thing they have real control over. To say a person doesn't own their body is repulsive and unjust since they and only they suffer when their body is not working properly.
Hazare has every right to fast to death. Let the government not listen if they don't want. No one is forcing the government to pay heed.
n fact, I'll go one step further. So strong is a person's ownership of their body, that whether the government "legalizes" it or not is immaterial! In their heart, everyone knows that their body belongs to themselves regardless of what the "law" says. Which is why no one who commits suicide ever thinks "Damn…this is illegal!" Which is why no one really listens to laws which tell them not to drink…even in private.
You think if the govt. came out with a law saying people don't own their body, anyone would care? It's a natural law beyond the purview of parliament or any man made structure. It's a deeply rooted natural way of things.
Incidentally, if you term fasting to death as "coercion," what about strikes which threaten to disrupt the economic system in which we live? I'm not talking about forced strikes and breaking cars etc…I'm talking about basic non cooperation.
Unless someone takes a gun to the govt's head and forces them to do something, it's not real coercion. Many "fasts unto death" have been initiated in India's history. The vast majority of them have been safely ignored….as they should. Rarely is an issue of such importance that people sit up, rally round and take notice. Such issues cannot be manufactured. They come when they come and you can't do anything about it.
Now, here was my response
Ownership of one’s body is a piece of absurdity that makes no sense from any angle. One rents one’s body till one is alive. But that is NOT relevant to the discussion here.
Note I’m not asking that suicide be made a criminal act. That it can’t be prevented through law should be obvious. Instead, it requires the creation of a social insurance health system that identifies and assists suicidal people. I’ve explained at length in DOF.
However, Hazare’s was not suicidal act in that typical sense (normal suicide is a consequence of mental distress, but Hazare’s was not a case of mental distress but a case of deliberately causing others mental distress). Such threatened suicide is used precisely like a bargaining chip: a commercial transaction. You do this or I will kill myself at great emotional cost to the entire nation. Even ordinary suicidal people might try a bit of this strategy before actually taking their life. But they don’t aim to bring down an entire nation to its knees through their suicide.
Hazare-type suicide threats are different since these impinge deeply on emotions of millions of people, and put extra-constitutional pressure on governments to do things they would have otherwise not done or done differently. Instead of using the hustings to create laws, this technique uses the streets to make laws. That is grossly improper. I am calling for a specific prohibition of this kind of emotional stunt.
Gandhi invented this technique for specific purposes and mostly used it to douse communal violence. Hazare and many others of his ilk have used this technique to short-circuit the constitutional process. It has the same goals as a terrorist act: a coercive method to force an ENTIRE COUNTRY to do something.
The point about strikes is well taken. That is actually illegal particularly where violence harms others. But I trust you are aware that “peaceful” strikes (e.g. stop-work strikes) need to be regulated as well because they force someone (employer) to pay someone (employee) for a service they have not provided. This is a breach of contract, and the direct action, even if non-violent, is essentially criminal (asking something for free: Note that dissatisfied workers always have the option to resign and leave – but they don’t do that: instead, they COERCE the employer if they don’t like a particular wage: that is basically a criminal act).
I’m saying here that it is the intent to blackmail (and the Anna has repeatedly said that he is happy to blackmail the government) that is criminal.
When you or I fast for a few days we do so peacefully at home, not with the intent of blackmail. It is when the fast is undertaken to coercively subvert the constitutional processes of India, then force-feeding is absolutely necessary.
I would call upon the Government of India to create a law on this matter immediately.
What's the essential problem with a fast unto death? Apart from the philosophical problems outlined above, this is problematic because the concept of one person one vote is distorted comprehensively.
Why is it that the vote of a non-fasting person is valued less than that of a fasting person? There is no possible reason to distinguish between the two. Both have the same option for changing the laws: USE THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM, get elected, form a majority and then change the laws.
I have worked for over 13 years now, trying to change many laws in India. Does it mean I use extra-constitutional methods? No. I still argue that I am only entitled to one method: electoral.
Had India degenerated into a tyranny, I would have also resorted to civil disobedience, even violence. But India is NOT a tyranny. There is no ground to short-circuit the social contract.