Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine
1.Accountability & Responsibility
Initially, the idea of dignity came from religious texts. In the last two centuries, it has developed as an enforceable right through constitutional law. The idea of dignity flowing from constitutional law is attractive because it enforces different components of “dignity” as defined in law or evolved through court verdicts. Different issues emerged as “grievances” of different groups, endangering “social order” and leading to the constitutional systems acknowledging variable components of dignity at different stages. In most cases, institutions have spoken and acted to try and maintain a balance, considering the impact and gravity of the issues raised. Given this balancing act, substantive justice has often not been done while developing this concept as an enforceable right. As a result, dignity has become a flexible concept.
The approach of the US Supreme Court in overruling the principle of Roe v Wade (1973) by stating that the “right to abortion is not deeply rooted in American history and tradition” is an example. The court is also of the opinion that “liberty” alone provides little guidance and “historical inquiries” are essential whenever it is asked to recognise a new component of liberty. Given the salience of popular concerns and views, the question is: How should societal change and morality, which has found itself as the basis of constitutional morality, be dealt with?
We have past examples in matters such as the Plessy case, where one “colored” person challenged the segregation rule and the US Supreme Court upheld the concept of “separate but equal compartments”. While upholding this principle, it said that “if one race is inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane”. This was an undignified definition of the term dignity. After 56 years, the Supreme Court decided on the very same issue in a completely opposite direction, when an African-American child namely Oliver Brown (along with others) reached the US Supreme Court, in the case widely known as Brown v. Board of Education and the court decided that equal treatment providing “negroes and whites substantially equal, though separate, facilities” has no place in public education.
2. Indian Government and Politics
As the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) conducts a week-long celebration to mark eight years of the Digital India programme, Twitter has filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court against it. Far from souring a moment of national pride, it is representative of a Faustian bargain of digitisation that promises financial and social benefits when we give up our civil and political rights.
This becomes clear from the inauguration speech of the prime minister, where he launched several online platforms for global adoption and to facilitate the electronic delivery of governance services. The speech text available in Hindi contains several accomplishments and data points that would instill hope in the use of technology — India having the largest share of digital transactions in the world, building successful online platforms for vaccination, even bridging the digital divide. There is some truth to the prime minister’s statements. For instance, over the last decade there has been a ten-fold increase in broadband connectivity to 600 million broadband subscribers in India.
But it begs the question: Is mere connectivity enough to fulfil the democratic promises of the Constitution?
The Karnataka HC may soon get an opportunity to answer this question when it responds to Twitter’s legal challenge to the directions to block tweets and even handles issued by MEITY under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. As I have written before, Twitter is a foreign, Silicon Valley platform that trades in data to sustain its commercial operations. Further, there are issues with its own transparency mechanisms in content moderation decisions. However, it has been prompted to go to court to protect the integrity of its platform rather than in arrogant defiance against the laws of India. As per parliamentary data, the number of such orders has risen from 471 in 2014 to 9,849 in 2020 representing a 1991 per cent increase (Unstarred Question 1788).
3. Social Administration
As undergraduate admissions open in the coming weeks, the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) is poised to transform Indian higher education. There is much that is wrong with this sector and change is urgently needed. Unfortunately, the sweeping changes the NEP brings are likely to make things even worse. The reasons have been widely debated in the academic community, and are worth reiterating as the moment of reckoning arrives.
The NEP’s core objective for higher education is to make it “holistic” and “multidisciplinary” – these words appear 41 and 70 times respectively in the 60-page document. As a broad objective, “holistic and multidisciplinary education” (HME) is uncontroversial and even welcome, but the devil is in the details. The NEP ties the goal of HME to three specific reforms: A four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP); a “multiple exit/entry system” (MEES); and a nationwide Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) system for storing and transferring credits.
4. Current Topic
I remember joining Instagram as a teenager and coming across thousands of images of women who seemed to have the same body type, one that I would not have categorised myself into. It seemed like having this popular body type would bring me everything they appeared to possess: Happiness, social capital, and a life where everything was achievable. I caught myself scrolling for hours on end, thinking of myself in negative terms and placing terms and conditions on my happiness and self-love. Statements that began with “ifs” and “shoulds” became the norm: “If I lose weight, I will be happy”, or “I should follow this supermodel’s diet”. What I did not know was that most influencers, actresses and models, heavily edit their images to present themselves a certain way. These images then form the “ideal” body standards that are imposed on women.
These unattainable standards led me to follow intensive physical exercise and diets that were not suitable for my body, and I was not the only one living this experience. Thousands of young girls fall prey to these unrealistic standards that are the products of airbrushing, Photoshop, flattering lighting and posing.
Adolescence is a period of rapid physical, social, and cognitive changes. These changes can be overwhelming, and being on the receiving end of constant criticism or commentary from your social agents for not having the “ideal” body propagated by social media is exhausting. For an adolescent girl, with such rapid changes in her body and self-perception, it is easy to get swayed by what social media promotes. The presentation of “perfect” bodies and airbrushed faces with no blemishes, tends to make adolescent girls compare and hold themselves up to these standards. People have an innate drive to compare themselves to others. In the digital age, this drive is dangerous: Adolescents determine their social and personal worth based on how they compare to others and if they conclude others are in a better position, then they might develop low self-esteem and negative body image. On social media platforms, “popularity” is a game of the number of likes, comments and followers. This may lead to people feeling excluded or alienated because popular posts might include characteristics of “ideal” body types. People who do not conform to these standards would not find themselves being represented, which can affect their mental and physical health by causing stress, anxiety or depression, which could be symptoms of serious mental disorders.
5. Indian Administration
The Conflict between Free Speech and Consent
The Delhi High Court in Mrs. X v Union of India is confronted with a familiar problem. A woman whose nude photos were shared online without her consent approached the Court to block this content. While the Court has impleaded the Delhi Police’s cyber cell and various online platforms to restrict the content, the case highlights the need for courts, law enforcement, and technology platforms to have a coordinated response to the sharing of non-consensual intimate images (NCII) online.
Publishing NCII is a criminal offence under the Information Technology Act 2000, with platforms doing their best to filter out such content. While a criminal conviction is desirable, the more urgent need for victims is to stop the spread of this illegal content. The Intermediary Guidelines 2021 provide a partial solution. They empower victims to complain directly to any website that has allowed the uploading of non-consensual images or videos of a person in a state of nudity or engaging in a sexual act. This includes content that has been digitally altered to depict the person as such. The website must remove the content within 24 hours of receiving a complaint, or risk facing criminal charges.
However, this approach relies on victims identifying and sharing every URL hosting their intimate images. Further, the same images may be re-uploaded at different locations or by different user accounts in the future. While the Intermediary Guidelines do encourage large social media platforms to proactively remove certain types of content, the focus is on child pornography and rape videos. Victims of NCII abuse have few options other than lodging complaints every time their content surfaces, forcing them to approach courts.