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Monday, September 6, 2010

Are we turning into a police state?

Twenty years back, after I had got through my UPSC exam, a policeman came to carry out the verification of my antecedents; a pre-requisite for being employed by the state. Today, twenty years later, I have a Home Ministry card with two stars, entitling me to enter all government buildings, and a salute from the guard, in addition. I issue people OBC certificates, attest marksheets, and the government issues passports on my recommendations..
Not suprisingly, I was astounded when a policeman landed on my doorstep with a long form on saturday, and asked me to fill it up by the next day. Titled "Police Verification Form", this form asks us to paste a photograph of the Head of the Family ( whatever does that mean in the 21st century, when man and wife are equals, I wonder), telephone numbers (including mobile), details about who is living with me, from when on they have been doing so, and  and a thousand other details. Also, despite me being in government quarters(and therefore this whole data already being with the government), how long I have been living there etc...
Is there any legislative sanction for this invasion of privacy? None.There is no law asking any citizen to comply with such privacy invading measures.
Given the record of the Delhi police ( they were instrumental in guiding mobs to Sikh dominated areas in Delhi in 1984), and that of the Gujarat police, any citizen would think twice before entrusting this whole load of information to a bunch of ill-educated, corruption-ridden, brutality-ridden force.
Further, this kind of information is being collected despite there being official denials that such information is collected. In Delhi, every time such information is collected, especially from Muslim dominated areas, there is always an outcry, and the police promptly backtrack.
So, being a law-abiding citizen, I had a sleepless night, wondering what to do. By the next morning, my mind was made up: I would not comply, and fill the form. I would tell the constable, when he turned up, that I would not fill the form. But what if he summoned me to come to the Police Station? Well, I would go, but I would call the newspapers, and exercise my right to protest.
As it happened, he did not turn up on Sunday, the next day, but he turned up on Monday, when I was not there. My wife told him our form was not ready, and the constable told us to fill it up and deposit it with our colony's security guards. That may have been a more tactful reply from wifey: so the confrontation is postponed to one more day....since I am most definitely not going to fill that form.
Eternal Vigilance, the saying goes, is the  pricewe pay  for liberty.
If we are going to turn into a police state as a reaction to terrorism, that cost is too high a price to pay, and I, for one, will oppose it with all my strength....

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