Saturday, November 21, 2020

When Consensual Actions are Illegal

In a liberal democracy or any state, actions that are harmful to others are illegal. So killing is illegal; it is a crime because it harms others. So is stealing a crime because it harms others. But what about actions of an agent that do not harm other people? 

Many of the actions that are not harmful to others are not considered a crime even if it is harmful to the self. This is because liberty is an important category for a liberal democracy. So many of our actions are not considered illegal even when they may be deemed immoral or unhealthy. For example, smoking is injurious to health. There is no dispute with this fact. Yet, in a liberal democracy, smoking would not be considered a crime. This is so because the person's liberty trumps over the potential injury smoking may cause to the agent. Many people in the society would also consider watching of pornography or consensual sex outside of marriage immoral. But again these won't be consider illegal because the liberty/freedom of the agent trumps over certain other people's idea of morality. However, there are certain actions that may be consensual or is chosen by the agent for herself/himself and yet is illegal or must be considered a crime. What are some of those actions? 

Consensual cannibalism is an example when an action is consensual and yet is considered a crime. There is a story of a person who offered himself to be eaten when someone sent out an invitation to eat a human being. The two agree that it was consensual and there is no coercion involved at all. Yet, the cannibal was arrested. You can google or read the story here: Victim of cannibal agreed to be eaten | World news | The Guardian

Pedophilic action is another consensual action that deserves criminalization. 

On a slightly different note -- because here it is not about two individuals choices, but an action chosen by an agent for herself -- one may impose some form of punitive measure for driving without helmet or seatbelt. Here, the agent may not harm anyone just by driving on the road without wearing helmet or a seatbelt. Even if there was an accident, it may harm the agent iherelf, not anyone else. Yet, punitive measure for not wearing seatbelt or helmet is fair. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Political Secularism Vs. Social Secularisation

When we say 'secularism', it is often understood in different ways by different people. For example, in India there is this idea among some people that secularism entails respect of all religions. So some these folks say that no one should say this religion is bad/wrong; people need to accept that all religions are equally valid and no religion is more correct than others. Now this is a wrong understanding of secularism. 

In order to remove confusion, we need to differentiate between political secularism and social secularisation. Let me explain what these mean. 

Political secularism does have some sense of respect of all religions. But what is meant here is that the state should not discriminate any citizen on the basis of religion; the state should not say people of this religion cannot vote or people of that religion cannot have access to justice in the Court etc. Political secularism implies that the state is not going to discriminate any citizen on the basis of his or her religion. (As an individual I might say this belief of religion A is wrong or that practice of religion B is morally bad. But that's my opinion, not the state's opinion. As part of freedom of conscience that any citizen has, I can have my negative or positive opinion about this religion or that religion. But the state is not going to discriminate religious believers on the basis on his or her religion.) This is an essential aspect of political secularism. 

But political secularism also implies separation of religious institution and state. Religious leaders will hold the rein of power in religious institution; while political leaders will hold the rein of power in political institution. This is the second aspect of political secularism. 

The third aspect of political secularism is that citizens have freedom of religion. This is closely related to the second point. This says that since the state has no state religion, as religious institution and state are separate, citizens are free to choose this religion or that religion or no religion. The state will not dictate citizens' religious belief. 

Social secularisation on the other hand is the transformation or state of society that is devoid of religious values. For example, if the atheists are successful in converting all the citizens into their way of belief, then that society will be a highly secularised society. 

If the state is politically secular, won't the society also be a secularised/irreligious one? Not necessarily. Apart from the state, there are other institutions. One is family. The state can't dictate what religion a family must follow. So families can choose to be religious. Also there is civil society, and this includes clubs, churches, NGOs, Gurudwara etc. These civil society need not be irreligious; they can be religious too. Freedom of religion that political secularism offers allows other institutions to be religious within the bound of public order. 



 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Egg Politics in Madhya Pradesh

Politicising food continues in India. Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled in Madhya Pradesh (MP) from 2005 to 2018. During the time he had refused to give egg to the school children. The policy was influenced by the fact that Mr. Chauhan believed in vegetarianism. This was driven by his personal religious belief. 

In 2019, the Congress led government came to power. And during this brief period, the children were given eggs. The Minister had said that the government was just following the advice of the doctors who had said that egss are good for the children. 

In 2020, after a year of being out of power, Shivraj Singh Chauhan's party was able to topple the Congress led government and returned to power. This allows him to reverse the Congress led government's decision to give eggs to the kids. Now it's back to no eggs for the school children. The government said that instead of eggs, milk would be given to the kids. 

When it was in power some years back, BJP had also tried to prevent beef consumption in Maharashtra. It had tried to do that by criminalising possession of beef. After all to consume, one has to possess first. So without really criminalising consumption, it tried to criminalise possession. But this was struck down by the Court as unconstitutional. This means that a person can bring in beef from other state and cook and consume it. In this case, since it involves legislation, the Court has struck it down. Unless the Constitution is amended, beef consumption can't be criminalised. 

However, when it comes to choices between eggs and milk, BJP has shown its preference for milk because of its religious belief. But a question emerges: is this a fair policy for a secular state?

To answer this, one must also take into consideration these questions: what is the benefit of milk vis-a-vis egg; and how does the cost factor weigh in? If the cost of milk and eggs are same plus the utility factor from medical perspective remains the same, then of course there is no way one can raise meaningful objection. (If we assume that the milk won't be adulterated.) But if egg is more beneficial and cheaper, then it is questionable. However, given that this is not a criminal act, the government would get away with the policy even if it is less beneficial. 

But this also raises an important question: is it morally permissible for government in a secular state  to implement policies that are less efficient just because the policy is more in line with the religious ideology of those in power? 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Christian Ethics vis-a-vis Political Ethics in light of Already & Not-Yet Eschatological Tension

If one reads the Bible, there is no doubt that the Bible does not condone adultery; it is considered a sin. There is also no doubt that the Bible does not condone fornication, whether it is between individuals of same sex or between individuals of different  sexes. There is also no doubt that the Bible does not condone sex between individuals of same sex. Lest, someone says Bible only prohibits, let me also state that the Bible considers marriage (and sex within marriage) as honourable. 

Frequently we come across individuals who believe that because the Bible considers these mentioned activities as wrongdoing or sin, these activities must also be criminalised. Meaning, these activities must be banned by the state, which implies that whoever does such things must be caught and appropriate punishment be given (by the state). Is this thinking quite correct? Just because Christians believe certain action to be wrong or sinful, must that action be criminalised? When I eat pork, which the Muslim considers as sin, should I be handed over to the police? When I eat beef, which is anathema for Hindus, should I be handed over to the police? Not really! Well, the point is that we need to differentiate between sin and crime. 

In a liberal democratic society, just because one religious community considers an action as sin, the state cannot just come in and take action against the sinner. If the society is an Islamic society, eating pork may be a sin as well as a crime. In such a society what is a crime or not may be defined according to the teaching of the Quran. However, in a liberal democratic society, no religious texts should really define what is a crime or not. There has to be something more. There may be an overlap between a sin and a crime. So raping someone may be a sin as well as a crime; so also may be stealing, killing etc., but not eating pork, eating beef etc. Eating pork or eating beef may be a sin for someone but they should not be criminalised. The state must determine what is a crime depending on the sentiment of one religious community while undermining the sentiment and the liberty of other religious communities. This is an important feature of a liberal democracy. Similarly, for fornication, adultery or homosexual act, just because the Bible is against such activities, we cannot ask the state to criminalise the acts. If we are to seek criminalisation of these activities, we have to be able to provide other reason beside appealing to the teaching of the Bible. If we don't do that, the Hindus will seek to criminalise beef consumption based on their belief; so will Muslims seek to criminalise pork consumption based on their belief. And when they do that, we would have no good reason to argue against their effort. 

This kind of reasoning will be appreciated more easily by those who belong to the religious minority in a particular situation. A member of the religious majority may not appreciate this kind of reasoning because they know that they will never bear the brunt of such a policy. This is the reason why many members of the religious majority dislike liberal democracy. 

In the past, many countries would write their laws reflecting the religious nature of the majority of the people.  Things began to change in the 17th century. There are different reasons for that, which I am not going to get into now in this post. Now with people migrating back and forth, and therefore the religious composition of a state/country having become more diverse, being a Christian/Buddhist/Islamic country is becoming more problematic. We still see many Muslim majority states/countries having Sharia law in place. However, even with these states, the tension will get worse and worse, because as more and more people from these states travel abroad, they learn from others; plus, as more and more people from other countries come to their country, they find that there are many people who have a different way of living. Moreover, with social medias like Facebook and Youtube becoming so common, learning both bad and good things about others began to take place, and they influence our way of living. So today the question is whether these Muslim states will open up gradually and accept multiculturalism or they will close their doors because they found other cultures polluting their way of life. 


In the biblical scheme of things, readers realise that though God's kingdom of earth is inaugurated through the dead and risen of Jesus Christ, the consummation of his kingdom is awaited. We are now living in between the tension where the kingdom is already come but not yet fully realised. In this period, people are given the choice to accept or reject Jesus Christ; it is the time when both the wheat and the weed grow together. Therefore, for the Christian to force people not to commit sin through state's legislation is not the right approach to call people to live a life of holiness. God gives choice; and we have no business threatening people with imprisonment if they live an adulterous life. I may persuade a friend or even a stranger not to live an adulterous life; however, it is a different matter if the state criminalises and sends an adulterer to jail. In similar vein, Hindus or Muslims persuading me not to eat pork or beef is okay; but it is a different matter if I were sent to jail for eating pork or beef. Spending much energy and money seeking a legislation that will criminalise activities that I consider as sin, which others don't, is not the way to do public theology for a Christian. The more appropriate approach is to share the message of Jesus Christ to a person who may be living a life that I consider as immoral, and when this persons accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and God, he or she will submit to the ways of Jesus Christ. 

NB: While discussing about sexual behaviour, it is important to make a distinction between criminalisation and legalisation. To criminalise an act is to say that if an act is performed, the one performing the act will be imprisoned or treated as an offender in the eyes of the law. When one argues that an act should not be a criminal act, it does not mean the act is praiseworthy or honourable. So when one says that adultery should not be a criminal act, it does not mean that the state should praise or honour adultery. In similar vein, when one argues that homosexual act should not be criminalised, that does not  necessarily mean that same sex marriage should be legally accepted. In the post, I argue that sexual behavior like fornication, adultery and homosexual act should not be criminalised; I am not saying that the state should honour these activities. In effect, I am not saying that same sex marriage should be legally accepted. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Dog Meat Ban in Nagaland

On 3rd July, the Nagaland state cabinet decided to impose a ban on "commercial import and trading of dogs and dog market and also the sale of dog meat, both cooked and uncooked". The ban does not include consumption of dog meat in the state if the meat is bought from other states or if it's given by a neighour. Basically, the ban is about trading and selling of dog and dog meat. 

Few years back, when Devendra Fadnavis was the Chief Minister of the state, Maharashtra government also imposed similar ban on beef. Fadnavis went beyond and even banned possession, and thereby consumption, of beef. After all unless one could possess, one could not consume it. But the Court struck it down saying to ban possession (and consumption) is to violate the Constitution. At present, if someone wants to consume beef, one has to bring in from another state. 

In Article 48 of the Constitution, the Directive Principe of state policy has a clause that says that the state shall take "steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle." Since the Hindutva brigade cannot appeal to their religious or dharmic sentiment to seek protection for cows, they seek to implement cow protection through appealing to this Directive Principle. Since the saffron/Hindutva brigade has reverence for cow for so long, the Directive Principle itself was framed this way in order to accommodate the sentiment.

At the same time, matter concerning food is also about life. And state itself exists to protect life. Article 21 of the Constitution says that "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty...." Now to deprive someone from eating certain item as food which traditionally has been considered as food is to infringe on his right to life. Therefore, the Court could not allow the state to infringe on citizens' right to life. The fine balance, therefore, is to ban trading of beef yet not ban consumption of it. 

Given that the RSS/BJP folks have reverence for cow, one can understand why they tried hard to find reason within the Constitutional limit to ban or minimise beef consumption, and thereby protect and preserve cows. But why would Neiphiu Rio and the Cabinet wish to ban trading of dog meat, and thereby limit dog meat consumption? After all if none could sell, consumption is going to come down. Is it because of their love for dog, like the love of RSS/BJP for cow? Not quite. There is this line that says that dog meat consumption is bringing bad name to Nagaland. So basically, it is to stop defaming of the state that dog meat trading is banned; it is to uplift the name of the state that dog meat trading is banned. This is not entirely unreasonable because dogs are considered to be our best friends. However, to ban trading of an item that is traditionally considered as food item does not sound very plausible. A mature democratic society should not ban a food item particularly one that most of its citizens have been relishing for ages. Moreover, being a state located in the eastern region, which is cold, people need fat in their dietary habit. This has been obtained mainly through consumption of meat be it beef, dog, chicken or pork. The state may urge people to shed meat consumption and go for coconut oil, sunflower oil etc. But the way to do this is not by threatening citizens with imprisonment through a legislation or an ordinance, but through other means. If Rio thinks that dog meat consumption is not a civic virtue or it's not a habit of a civilized community, then for the state to ban it is also not the way a (liberal) democratic society should behave. By imposing a ban on dog meat trading, Rio took one step ahead and one step backward. 

In an age where states have been curtailing citizens' liberty inch by inch, I wish that Nagaland government had sought to bring glory to its name through other measures! 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

What is Liberal Democracy?

A nation-state may be a democracy without being a liberal democracy. For exampla, Iran is a democracy but it is not a liberal democracy. Iran has regular election that is also largely free and fair. So it is fair to call Iran's political system a democracy. But one would hardly call Iran a liberal democracy. This is because the value system in the Constitution does not demonstrate certain features. But what are those features that would make a nation-state a liberal democracy? There are two points that are universally regarded as key features of a liberal democracy. 

First, whether one follows a presidential system or a parliamentary system, the power to choose the chief executive must rest with the citizens. This is to be done through election, where the voting right is given to every adult member of the state. Holding free and fair election, therefore, is a basic condition to be a liberal democracy. (This is a feature that Iran also has.)

Second, the power of the government over the lives of the citizens must be limited. Now this is rather complicated because one may ask how limited should the power of the government be. Here, thinkers have differences of opinion. Some voice for a very limited role of the government while certain other  voice for little more role of the government. For example, Locke writes about the role of the government in protecting our life, liberty and property. Now, protecting primary goods such as these are agreeable to everyone. But can't government protect more than these three items of primary goods?  So, some other may say that they want the government to protect their language too, or/and endangered flora & fauna, or/and way of family structure and so on. So, they will say that the power of the government should not be so limited. But once we add other elements, things get complicated. Some group may further push for government's regulation of market system, implementation of affirmation action policy, blacklisting of certain religious groups and so on. If government begins to introduce laws or formulate policies to accommodate these demands, it risks sliding into an illiberal democracy. But many democracies do not accommodate all these demands; they accommodate only a few of these demands and that's how they retain their status of being a liberal democracy. 

It is worth noting few points in underscoring this feature. 

a) Government must give freedom of conscience to the citizens. This is translated into saying give religious freedom to the citizens. This is also related to liberty that Locke raised. States like Pakistan finds itself on the illiberal side because of privileging Islam which subsequently renders followers of other religion as second class citizens. For example, its blasphemy law does not sit squarely with how a liberal democracy must be like. This blasphemy law allows religious minorities who violated the law to be penalised, sometimes with a very severe form of punishment. This feature is different from established religion that we find in certain western countries. Having an established religion does not result in punishing religious minorities like blasphemy law allows. 

b) Government must ensure freedom of expression (FOE). It should not curtail citizens from criticizing the government, other people's views etc. This freedom cannot entail protecting of hate speech, lies etc. though. Free speech does have boundary. FOE ensures that ideas can be expressed through books, movies, newspaper, TVs, social media etc. and may include defense, proposal, or critique of ideas, whether the idea is scientific, religious, moral, social etc. 

c) As people travel more and more, their way of life and ideas travel with them. So today many societies are becoming cosmopolitan. Different food habits, religions, traditions, languages, aspirations etc. are being expressed and witnessed in the same city. X may not like Y eating beef or Z eating pork. L may not like M getting married to someone of the same sex. But all these people live in the same city. So how should they live together?  This is the challenge of a modern state. In the past not many people travelled. Even if people travelled, if the king of the land said "this is the way of life", immigrants do not have much choice. But today with kings and queens gone or rendered powerless, and many more people have criss-crossed continents, the challenge has become acute.  We may also imagine this scenario. French government may say "this is our way of life" and immigrants may be morally obligated to follow suit. If immigrants refuse, they may be told why they came to this land in the first place. But if there is a difference of opinion within the white French, say, because one group of people have become more educated, open minded, learnt about other things through TV/Internet etc. while a section of the people remained static in their thinking, whose aspirations should the government honour? Or, in the case of India, how must the government accommodate the wishes and aspirations of North east people vis-a-vis North India or the aspirations of Christians vis-a-vis Hindus or the aspirations of Dalits vis-a-vis Brahmins and so on? There is no easy answer. However, liberal democracy offers people FOE to debate and exchange ideas. Liberal democracy has problematic features in accommodating the ways of life of different people; at the same time, without being a liberal democracy, it is difficult to accommodate and resolve differences in our ways of life.