Secrets are not sacred -Sanjay Srivastava

-The Indian Express

Laws like Official Secrets Act conflate the interests of particular parties, governments with the greater good. They must be contested.

The greatest failing of Indian public life over the past 70 years is the manner in which the state and forms of government have become identified with the life of the people. We have come to believe that state and society are the same thing and that pronouncements about the public good that emanate from organs of the state summarise ideal citizenship. This is not actually nationalism or patriotism. It is statism and it has had (and continues to have) very significant consequences for public welfare and our inability to differentiate between the interests of a few from that of the many.

Public welfare is best served through the ability of the citizenry to constantly redefine the meaning of the term and to rescue it from the dead reason of legal and civic bureaucracies. Economic welfare, social reform, public justice and individual liberty are topics that are far too important to be left to statist thinking whose raison d’etre is the consolidation of power with those who already have it. The kinds of laws we have — and the manner in which they are used — provide a good indication of the simplistic conflation between the interests of the state and those of public welfare.

The Official Secrets Act of 1923 (OSA), even though its powers have been curtailed by past court judgments, must be one of the most egregious instances of a law that infantilises common citizens through the notion that they should not question the idea of the “secret” itself. The secret is put forward as a sacred idea that protects us from evil, and the state is the unquestionably best judge of what is good and evil. Secrets as a method of governance exist in societies marked by unquestioning faith. The OSA, a left-over from the despotism of the colonial era, was intended to protect the empire from its enemies but is now a key tool for silencing a questioning citizenry. This law has remained on the book irrespective of the political party in power, reinforcing the parent-child relationship between the state and its subjects.

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The Indian Express, 13 March, 2019,

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