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Tolerance as the kingpin of liberty

I haven't had time to continue the active debate going on here about a play being staged in Sydney, but while revising DOF a short while ago, I came across a small section that I thought would be useful for people to consider:

Tolerance as the kingpin of liberty

Let me make an observation about one of the underlying difficulties of advocating liberty. The idea of liberty doesn’t always lead us to things we are conditioned to support. Its implications often challenge our long-held beliefs. I believe, for instance, that marriage should only refer to a relationship between a man and woman. I do not support public nudity, tasteless ‘fashion’, or the increasing trend towards the use of foul language in daily discourse. Yet, I am prepared, now, to look at these issues through the lens of liberty, no matter where that might take me (that I’m raising these issues does not mean I have changed my opinion on these matters).

Such an open approach is ethical, apart from being scientific. More generally, if someone isn’t directly harming us then we must learn to tolerate such a person, even if we do not support his actions or opinions. Tolerance is the kingpin of freedom. As John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) (an East India Company bureaucrat who later became a British parliamentarian) noted, ‘If [someone] displeases us, we may express our distaste, and we may stand aloof from a person as well as from a thing that displeases us; but we shall not therefore feel called on to make his life uncomfortable.[1] This includes things that we may personally detest on so-called ‘moral’ grounds. But should anyone harm us directly we shall invoke the social contract and demand accountability.

[1] Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty, 1859, Chapter 4.

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The concept of Local Board – to give teeth to citizens’ power over government

Amitabh (at Lucknow) made this comment on FB:

If bureaucracy had been free to openly bring many of the government secrets which they often become party due to coercion, many a big scams might have got prevented.

I believe the bureaucracy has its limitations. It is NOT (and cannot be) empowered to release information publicly.

However, the Local Board concept that I outlined in BFN (online notes) in 2006 HAS (and should have) the power to release information publicly. Just for convenience, I'm re-publishing the concept on this blog.

The concept of local board

Once the laws of the land are made by a democratically elected government, it is the bureaucracy’s job to implement them. But there are numerous problems with inefficient, ineffective, and even corrupt implementation. Oversight of implementation is vested with Ministers and senior civil servants under the current structures of government. Our political representatives also review the enforcement of laws through various committees in the Parliament and state legislatures. But, due at least in part to the poor supervision exercised by these people, our laws are violated with impunity on a daily basis. Even after the reforms of the bureaucracy proposed in chapters 6 and 7 have been fully implemented, there will remain opportunities for improved implementation through citizen supervision.

The other major reason for violation of our laws regularly is the sheer impracticability of our elected representatives or senior bureaucrats sitting in the secretariat supervising the operation of all government activities all the time. This impracticability arises from our thin democratic representation. There are too many of us and too few representatives. At the national level, one person out of every 20 lakh (2 million) people represents us. At the state level, this ratio is a little better, around one in two lakhs. Compared with this, in Australia, each member of the Parliament represents only about 1.4 lakh persons, and the representation in the Australian State assembly level is much deeper. Australians get to be represented even more closely at their third tier of government, namely, local Councils, a level of representation which is practically defunct in India.
As such we don’t have a notional democracy; and also very poor supervisory capacity. I don’t recommend increasing the already large number of representatives in India’s legislative bodies. Yes, much more can and should be done at the local government level. In tandem, a major solution must lie elsewhere. I suggest that we create local boards, orsmall groups of interested citizens, attached to each government office. The concept is outlined below.
After the laws of the country are made, we the citizens should partially take back the powers we have delegated to our representatives. In this model we retain our powers to more directly verify whether the laws of the land are being implemented as intended. Local boards would be attached to each branch of each government office. These would comprise of say, three persons each, whose names are to be publicly drawn by lots from amongst applicants who fulfil the following two requirements:
  • that they are eligible voters of the city or village in which the government office is situated; and
  • that they are willing to perform their duties diligently while being mindful that some documents cannot be shown to them due to privacy issues, or in rare cases, due to national security concerns.
These local boards would be charged with supervise the procedural aspects of their branch office. They would perform a kind of citizen audit. Board members would be invited to all significant procedural (not decision making) meetings of their organisation, such as at the time of opening of sealed tenders, where they would act as observers. They could inspect records with due advance notice, verify any errors of omission or commission in the procedures followed, and report these errors to the concerned elected representatives or to the people directly through the press. Their access to the press would be limited by their liability to ensure the privacy of individuals whose records they may come across, and the veracity of their statements. They could also provide relevant information to the Auditor-General who could then initiate a system-wide inquiry if necessary.
In this manner, local boards will ensure that the fundamental control of our country’s governance remains with us, the citizens, at all times. These boards will also enable us to make use the experience of our retired people, who may be willing to step forward as members of local boards to discharge their duties as citizens.
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The state CAN kill without trial in some circumstances

Ron Paul has made a fuss about the "assassination" of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki. I don't know the details of this case nor do I have time to explore this further.

Key issue is – is Ron Paul trying to stop a government from defending its citizens? Here's my comment on FB in this regard.

There is a conflict here between two things: justice and security. We pay the state to secure us. In doing so it may need to spy on some people who want to kill hundreds of people, and thus prevent their evil action. Where absolutely necessary, it may become relevant to kill without trial. This applies regardless of whether the person is a citizen or not. Security is paramount. There is no liberty (of a terrorist) to kill innocents. 

The demands of justice can be met by post-facto disclosure of details about such unfortunate cases. I can't see how else you can reconcile the two key functions of government. Where it is not possible to arrest someone and charge him, he must be killed – if it is clear that he is going to kill innocents.

In communal riots, an executive magistrate is empowered to issue orders to shoot to kill miscreants. Sometimes, security overpowers the possibility of systematic justice. However, even in such cases, evidence that the killing was justified needs to be made available for post-facto examination.


It is important that the US publish all information they have against this "operative" – so the public in US is assured that this was a legitimate preventative action. I'm not against such action in principle, but where the state kills its own citizens without trial, its is obligatory on it to PROVE the case to the people.


I think Obama has provided some evidence – maybe he can provide more information.

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Anti-Muslim Hindu fanatics are everywhere in India. What hope for peace?

I have blocked out a lot of anti-Muslim people on FB, email, and other media. But like mushrooms, they sprout everywhere, so strong is the hatred against Muslims among MANY Hindus in India (and abroad).

A FB commentator wrote:

How Hindu minorities have been wiped out in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

While Muslims breed like vermins in India.

My response

Such language "breeding like vermins" is grossly inappropriate. Let us be proud that India has not become a Pakistan or Bangladesh and that humans are respected for what they are. Do you want India to sink to the level of Pakistan or Bangladesh? If so what's the difference between you and the "vermin" Muslims?

There is a tendency among Hindu fanatics to (a) exaggerate things,  (b) label others as insects or vermin, and (c) to seek out the lowest denominator.

Just because Pakistan and Bangladesh have hounded Hindus to extermination (assuming that to be the case) should India seek to rival this brutality?

Will the so-called tolerant Hinduism please stand up? I can't see it anywhere, wherever I look.

I've blocked this FB "friend", but how many such people can be blocked out?

The reality is that India is in deep trouble. Its younger generation has been brought up in an atmosphere of hatred. Violence can erupt at any time under such circumstance. And with Modi on the upsurge, expect the worst in the next few years.

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