In “Is Atlas Shrugging?” (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal), Ayn Rand writes that she maintained a file while (and after) writing her magnum opus (Atlas Shrugged) – she called it “The Horror File” – wherein she filed various newspaper articles and statements that represented modern ideology. Going by the amount of sheer nonsense that newspapers print – a lot of which can be attributed to politicians and ‘intellectuals’ – I am surprised that a regular office file sufficed. If I were to attempt the same in India – find, cut, file – I would probably have to hire a couple of warehouses. Thanks to the internet though, everyone can maintain their own “Horror File” online using blogs.

The Indian Express reports that Himachal Pradesh is thinking about making the HIV-AIDS test mandatory before marriage-

The CM said the campaign for AIDS awareness cannot go ahead with active participation and cooperation of the youth. He said the compulsory test for HIV-AIDS before marriage can help in building a strong foundation for healthy society.

The Times of India is carrying a few reports bordering on the absurd. This one asks if chucking shoes is a part of freedom of expression

As senior advocate Soli Sorabjee put it, “If [Muntazer al-Zaidi] is not released but prosecuted and jailed, he would emerge as a martyr. Do the Americans and the present Iraqi administration desire that result? Would it not be politically pragmatic to ignore the incident?”

Look at another Indian parallel and see how it was handled. Just last month, ABVP activists disrupted a meeting in Delhi University and spat on the face of a speaker on the dais, lecturer S A R Geelani, who had been acquitted in the Parliament attack case. All that the police did was to detain the assailants for a few minutes. The implication again was that such violence was within the bounds of free speech and expression.

How is writing “Satanic Verses” or painting a nude Mother India not covered by freedom of expression but throwing shoes at a President or spitting at someone is? The report concludes – “If democracy has to take roots in that society, the US should nudge Baghdad to let off the journalist, even though his target was the US President.” That’s the true nature of democracy. If a majority of people believe that murder, rape, cannibalism, highway robbery, assault, etc is acceptable behavior and should not be punished, that is what will happen – the rule of law be damned.

Another report in the same paper is the one about the Bombay High Court judgment that holds pension as part of “right to life”

In a landmark judgment, the Bombay high court has held that pension is a vital aspect of social security and that the right to receive it constitutes a right to life under the constitution. Moreover, it held that pensions must be paid regularly in the first week of the month.

“Deprive a pensioner of the payment and you deprive him or her of the right to life. Delayed pensionary payments place a pensioner in the position of uncertainty and dependence which impinges on the quality of life under Article 21, and the right to dignified existence of the aged,’’ said Justice D Y Chandrachud recently while directing the transport undertaking of Solapur Municipal Corporation to deposit the pensions of 13 retired employees on the first day of the succeeding month or latest by the seventh day.

The problem is not with the judgment, its with the justification. What Indian courts have done over the years is take matters that are clearly part of contract law and dress it up under human rights, or as is the case here – the “right to life”. In the past, they have declared that property rights are “human rights”. If India had an objective constitution and objective laws within the framework of such a constitution, the court could have taken recourse to the law of contract. Even now it probably could. But it chose instead, to base the right to pension on the flimsy (as per the Indian constitution) “right to life”. Indians have no “right to life” – the government can kill anyone at will as long as it can give a “reasonable explanation”. Consequently Indians have no other rights. The sad part is the way the reporter praises the judgment – “[Justice D Y Chandrachud] innovatively developed the rights of senior citizens, especially pensioners, in consonance with the guarantees expected under the constitution.” And people believe it.

This Economic Times report takes the cake though. Two MNCs – GSK and Heinz are fighting – in the High Court – over their ‘health drinks’ – Horlicks and Complan-

GSK, which owns the Rs 1,000-crore Horlicks brand, has moved the Delhi High Court questioning Heinz India’s advertisements that claimed that its health drink, Complan, was priced above other competitors because of higher nutritional value. Heinz had put out this ad in response to an earlier Horlicks commercial, claiming it had more nutritional contents and was easier on the wallet. Heinz had also approached the Bombay High Court challenging the GSK claim, but failed to procure a stay order. Now, both the cases will come up for hearing in the first week of January 2009.
“The law allows you to say that your goods are better, but stops you from saying that your competitor’s goods are inferior. But the moment you say that you are better, by implication you are saying that others are inferior. So, it is a question of saying whether the glass is half full or half empty,” was how Anuradha Salhotra of Lall Lahiri & Salhotra partner, the law firm representing Heinz, put it.

The question that needs to be asked here is why is there a law that ‘allows’ you in one case, and ‘stops’ you in the other, from advertising anything? If someone’s kid doesn’t grow taller or become more intelligent after drinking whatever these companies are purveying, let such a consumer go and sue them for breach of implied contract. Where is the locus standi for one company to sue the other? What this proves is both companies (rightly) know that their target audience – the over protective Indian parent, mother rather – will buy anything if it is advertised as something that helps their kids in some manner; and also the average intelligence of such an audience. Its a war over who gets the legal ‘right’ to influence the opinions of a fickle people, nothing more.

The last one. Post 26/11 – stupid name, but will stick – the Indian State has declared an open season on whatever little remains of our “civil liberties”; This peeping tom legislation is part of the same hunt-

Section 69 of the Act had originally given the Union government the power to intercept and monitor any information through computer systems in national interest, permitting it to monitor any potentially “cognizable” offence.

However, the amendments now give the Union and state governments freedom to investigate “any offence”.

This, according to some experts, has the potential to infringe on basic constitutional rights, such as the right to privacy, and freedom of speech and expression.

“This is a concern as it allows the government to snoop the Internet. If misused this could lead to an invasion of right to privacy,” says Rahul Mathan, cyber law expert and partner at the Bangalore office of law firm Trilegal. The Bill also doesn’t specify safeguards or guidelines for the execise of this power. “It would have been helpful if safeguards had been articulated in this case.”

There was a time when I held the view that safeguards on government power work. I am not too sure now. The age old who will police the police who police the police who…. question.

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  • Pramod Biligiri  On December 24, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    What bad times we live in. Just today I read that Mayawati’s goons killed some PWD officer. It scares me that the whole of India is going to vote next year. More liberty will be lost for sure.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On December 24, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    “It scares me that the whole of India is going to vote next year.”
    It doesn’t even need to do that. Liberty is dying in any case. According to today’s newspapers, our parliament passed 8 laws within about 15 minutes; if you want a law passed whisper into Sonia Gandhi’s left ear; that’s more useful than convincing a 100 MPs who are simply there to warm the chairs or shout each other down. Democracy.

  • you12  On December 26, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    There are three types of Freedoms as Milton Friedman says:

    1 Economic 2 Individual 3 Political

    We pretty much don’t have 1. And we mistake 2 and 3 as the same.Our education system has created A collectivist mindset whose policies largely consist of their fantasies rather than the actual realities.

    The police who police the police can be curtailed by a well defined,non ambiguous and objective constitution in which individual liberties can’t be subverted.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On December 26, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    If you hand over all the authority to one government, sooner or later, those who control ‘weapons’ will start showing their true colors. I too talk about an objective constitution. But what prevents some idiot from raping it, or openly disregarding it? See what happens in our parliament – our ‘representatives’ don’t even bother discussing legislation. As for the US, Paulson said if we don’t cook up a package soon, the economy will collapse – no ‘representative’ will dare to stand in the way of the executive in such a scenario. So, the executive (or junta or whatever) will always tower above parliament and the courts, and do what they want.

    An immutable constitution – one that can never ever be amended – is probably a good answer. But I doubt if it will work. To break any chain, you only need to find one weak link.

  • shishir1010  On January 21, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    There are 4 types of strategies and we see in horlicks ve complan an example of offensive strategiy.

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