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Covid-19: When home becomes unsafe

In Spain, the government had exempted women from fine if they left home to report abuse. France had opened pop-up counselling centres. In Britain, domestic abuse services received an extra £2m to ‘immediately’ bolster helpline and online support.

Priya A. Sondhi

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Covid-19 has derailed the normal course of our lives. Globally, the citizens of almost every nation are learning to accept the reality of lock down and social distancing. Suddenly, the world has become unsafe. For many, the world has also become unsafe inside the four walls of their own home. The already vulnerable have become more vulnerable. One of the many effects of Covid-19 is the effect on the tender fabric of family life; on the conjugal bond. Globally, there is a rise in domestic violence cases and our country is no exception. It is a fallacy to say that Covid-19 is resulting in violence. It is the overall set of circumstances, the isolation, the uncertainty and close continuous proximity with the perpetuator of crime which is resulting into the rise in violence against women and domestic violence in particular. The isolation has resulted into severing the networks and breakdown of social security systems, collapse of social cohesion and harmony. With difficulty in access to help due to isolation, the overall circumstances have exacerbated the underlying conditions of structural domestic violence i.e the intimate partner violence. This article revolves around the issue of increase in ‘intimate partner abuse’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Though in general, the relationship between spouses should not have violence as means to solve any issue, intimate partner violence’ is a fact of lives of many women in normal circumstances also. The circumstances as a consequence of Covid-19 are not normal circumstances, a lockdown of this kind has its own psychological implications. This continuous stress and uncertainty for life takes a toll on our sensibilities. Moreover, the economic implications like job uncertainty, pay cuts, late release or partial release of salary, business uncertainty etc. on individuals might be severe. Norms of gender stereotyping make a few men refrain from doing the household work. The patriarchal setup allows men to vent their anger on the easy victim – wife. In some cases, in such circumstances, an otherwise sensible family member may also suddenly become irrational or even violent. Probably, because the best was worst resilient. This would add to domestic violence cases from an unexpected corner. For this otherwise sensible, stressed person also, there is only one easy victim – wife. This ‘intimate partner violence’ makes home a very unsafe place for many women during this period of isolation wherein they are forced to stay back with people who use abuse as necessary means to receive the end i.e oppression. In fact ‘social distancing’ can easily become one more weapon. Stricter and coercive measures can easily be implemented against the victim as they seem to be justified in current circumstances. In this entire set of circumstances, the stress for a victim who is working woman has increased multifold times. Domestic responsibilities have increased, children and old are cantankerous, work from home requires more efficiency with comparatively different resources. The situation is far tougher for a woman. In these circumstances increased violence takes a toll of the physical and mental energy of the victim. These incidences could be isolated, repetitive and pan generations. This happens because disasters and domestic violence have a crystal clear connection.

Also, the caution comes from a well accepted fact of disaster management that the imbalances in power which are a characteristic feature of society in normal times, create even more obstructions during disasters. What remains comparatively implicit in normal times makes itself explicit in a very severe manner during disasters. It makes the vulnerable more vulnerable. Those who deal with vulnerable groups during disasters had predicted increased threat to vulnerable groups during corona virus lockdowns. Increased domestic violence is a well known pattern repeated in many disasters. The lockdown rules pose a particularly grave challenge. This is the reason why I often remark – contrary to the general belief, disaster divides.

The fact remains that this lockdown has made the vulnerable people captives in their house. Due to lockdown a domestic violence victim cannot leave the marital home temporarily also, an option available in normal times. Also lack of privacy has made it difficult for women to call helpline numbers. This means we are aware of only those cases where the women are able to seek help. We must consider the fact that there could be far more unreported cases. We should be willing to handle the very severe cases once the lockdown ends.

Globally, the cases of domestic violence have increased. As per the U.N. experts, this is the ‘Shadow pandemic’ which knows no borders. The UN Secretary-General  appealed to governments to pay attention to and prevent a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” over the last few weeks amid lockdown measures imposed by several countries to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has also flagged the issue of a spike in cases of domestic violence since the enforcement of the national lockdown. There is more than two-fold rise in the cases of violence against women. In addition to the online complaint links and emails in operation the NCW was constrained to start a WhatsApp number. The number will remain operational till the normal office resume. Kerala Government has also done the same. Delhi High Court and Karnataka High Court have shown concern over the rising cases of domestic violence during lockdown.

We must also appreciate the measures taken by different countries. In Spain, the government had exempted women from fine if they left home to report abuse. France had opened pop – up counseling centers. In Britain, Domestic abuse services received an extra £2m to “immediately” bolster helpline and online support.

To conclude, though at normative level we have sufficient norms relating to domestic violence, dowry harassment, sexual abuse etc , extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures. This sudden increase in intimate partner abuse needs more proactive approach. In addition to the whatsapp numbers, we need to take some more steps to provide help to victims of domestic violence. It is important for NGO’s to be able to access them because the police machinery is otherwise strained. This can only be done if the National Commission for Women, State Commission for women and NGO’s are given sufficient freedom during the lockdown to access the victims. A provision for shelter in bad cases is a necessary requisite of times. This needs to be done when the victim is found in badly abused condition and the NGO’s report that the life and wellbeing of the women is in danger. We certainly do not wish to lose lives to this shadow epidemic. The cases should be taken seriously otherwise the violence can increase. Moreover, the pre pandemic existence of domestic violence as tolerable normal should not be our aim because the women are equally under stress. We, as a society in general and the governmental agencies like NCW, SWC, NGO’s in particular should also be prepared to handle the cases which get reported once the lockdown ends. We should also provide counseling to the parties during and after lockdown, otherwise we may also witness increase in divorce cases.

 Dr. Priya A. Sondhi, Professor and Associate Dean (Academics), Asian Law College.

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Legally Speaking

Behind closed doors and immuned by law

The Supreme Court, in its judgement in Anwar Ali Sarkar and Budhan Choudhary, noted that just about every categorisation under Article 14 of the Constitution shall be limited to a test of reasonableness which may be carried only if the definition of any categorisation has a fair connection with the purpose which the act aims to accomplish. Exception thwarts the intent of Section 375 of protecting women and prosecuting those involved in the barbaric acts of rape.

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Domestic abuse is a chronic crisis throughout India, and this has only intensified during recent decades. In India, nearly 70 % of people were victims of domestic abuse. As per the report, in India, a woman is raped every 16 minutes, and every four minutes, she experiences cruelty at the hands of her in-laws. The document was troubling, but not entirely unexpected. A 2015-16 National Family Health Survey data analysis shows that an approximate 99.1 percent of incidents of sexual harassment go unreported and that the average Indian woman is 17 times more likely than others to experience sexual abuse by their spouse. Different legislation aimed at shielding women from domestic sexual assault and sexual abuse has largely remained unsuccessful, despite serious changes to the penal code.Anyway, what happens if legislation empowers the culprits with immunity and jeopardizes the victims?

Yes, the contradiction described above is not a mere myth but resides in the Indian Penal Code as a truth. One of the Indian legal administration’s most disturbing and oppressive clauses is that of marital rape. Which is perfectly legal in Indian criminal statutes. The definition of rape in Section 375 covers all types of sexual assault concerning non-consensual intercourse with a woman. It points out in some detail the various circumstances in which permission is either non-existent or vitiated. An exception occurs at the end of the clause of the section. It implies, enough, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” According to existing legislation, a woman is presumed to give her unconditional consent to have sexual intercourse with her husband after getting into a marriage. Although forced sexual intercourse in marriage is considered a criminal act in practically every country in the world. India is among the handful of counties that have not yet criminalized marital rape.

Actively there have been writ petitions in the Hon’ble Supreme court and High courts in India concerning the constitutionality of that very exemption. Section 375 (Exception) effectively provides a clear description not only between consent granted by a married and unmarried woman, as well as between married women under the age of 15 and over the age of 15 years. Such a designation isn’t really subject to the ‘comprehensible differential’ test and is, thus, prima facie contrary to the right to equality listed in article 14. In 2017, Independent Thought, an NGO, filed a PIL questioning this incomprehensible distinction and arguing that this defense should also be afforded to married women over 15 years of age. To a considerable point, the Supreme Court complied with these averages and increased the age cap under Section 375 from 15 years to 18 years. This decision, in particular, led to a spike in the number of other writs challenging the constitutionality of the exception itself.

VIOLATION OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS ENSURED BY THE CONSTITUTION

The Constitution of India Under Article 14 safeguards that, “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” While our Constitution provides equality for all, Indian criminal law is discriminative towards female victims who have been raped and assaulted by their spouses. When in the 1860s IPC was drafted, a married woman was not known to be a separate legal body. Rather, she was deemed to be her spouses’ possession inspired by the theory of Coverture. Coverture is a legal doctrine which was established in the common law of England, where after marriage the rights of women cease to exist and duties were assumed by those of her spouse, in compliance with the legal standing of women were merged with that of husband. During the drafting of the IPC, India was under British rule and its criminal laws were strongly influenced by English rules of Victorian standards. Under Section 375 there is an exception, which effectively exempts the conduct of husbands against their spouses from being called “rape” offence, which was conceptualized on the basis of Victorian patriarchal traditions that did not consider men and women as equivalent.

As of recent, we have moved towards equality, somewhat at least, to protect the rights of women from sexual harassment and rape, but we have failed miserably in proving equal rights to married women entrusted under article 14. The exception under section 375 discriminates against married women by excluding them equal protection from abuse and sexual assault. It categorizes women on the grounds of their marital status which immunizes the actions of men against their spouses. By doing so, it makes it possible for married women to be abused for no reason except their marital status.The categorization created in section 375, between married and unmarried women is indeed contrary to Article 14 because as far as the difference is concerned it has no reasonable connection with the fundamental intent of the article, which negates all kinds of discrimination.

Therefore, any statute that defines a designation that is inappropriate or incidental to the objectives of the law is found to be beyond the legislative structure. As for what is fair, it will still focus on what the judges thought and a new interpretation of law and rationality will arise with any new generation of judges, thereby rendering the Constitution a living text. In order to minimize gender-biased discriminatory care, it is important to stop prejudices based on gender. It is also important that caution be taken when applying the equality test so that the stereotyping enforced by the patriarchal system does not predetermine what is fair classification section 375 of the IPC criminalizes the offense of rape and protects a woman against forceful sexual intercourse against her will and without her consent. The provision hereby grants women immunity from criminal attacks on bodily autonomy and shows the role of the State in punishing those who abuse this bodily autonomy. It is also correct to claim that it aims to preserve the right of choice of women as independent persons.

The Supreme Court in its judgment in Anwar Ali Sarkar and Budhan Choudhary noted that just about every categorization under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution shall be limited to a test of reasonableness which may be carried only if the definition of any categorization has a fair connection with the purpose which the act aims to accomplish. Exception thwarts the intent of Section 375 of protecting women and prosecuting those involved in the barbaric acts of rape.

Married women require protection under the law in their private worlds, just as men and single women do. Although the majority of section 375 of the IPC remains concerned with maintaining a victim’s right. On the other hand, such a right is taken back after marriage and the focus of the statute moves back to protecting the offender of the crime of rape. It completely removes the freedom of conscience of a woman and indeed essentially deprives her of personal rights and her identity. The designation is therefore redundant, incoherent, and in violation of the mandate laid down in Article 14. For the purposes of the law, the removal of the protection of Section 375 of the IPC from victims of the crime of rape purely on the grounds of their marital status is meaningless.

The repercussions of rape are the same for each victim. In fact, section 375 allows husbands to engage in sexual intercourse with their wives forcibly, as they realize that their actions are not deterred or penalized by statute. Since no logical connection has been drawn for the distinction formed between married and unmarried thus the test of reasonableness doesn’t exist which is contrary to Article 14. Besides that, it is increasingly difficult for those married women who are economically and morally dependent on their husbands to avoid oppressive circumstances.

Article 15(1) of the Indian Constitution states that “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. The discrimination in section 375 is the antithesis to article 15(1). The onus is on the state to respect the constitution and put an end to discrimination done towards thousands of married women every day.

Marital rape which is not criminalized under any law in India is a blatant abuse of article 21 as it gives no rights to women to protect herself from being raped by her own husband. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is one the most important part of the constitution which upholds that any citizen or alien being in India is entitled to the Right to life and personal liberty. The Apex court has widened the aspects of article 21 by interpreting it beyond and between the lines of the article. In recent times the court has interpreted that right to health, right to dignity even during performing death rites, safe environment, and clean air, all fall under the ambit of article 21.

In Justice K.S. Puttuswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India, it was held that privacy is a fundamental right and also covers decisional privacy reflected by an ability to make intimate decisions primarily consisting of one’s sexual or procreative nature and decisions in respect of intimate relations. The court in the aforementioned case did not draw a difference between married or unmarried women and anyone else, the court mentioned it for each and every citizen of India. Thus, any kind of forced sexual intercourse is an infringement of a fundamental right, and the right to privacy and is not bound by the theory of Coverture. The supreme court ruled that privacy starts with the human body and that the principle of cognitive autonomy is at the core of the right to privacy – such that, it is the right of each person to determine when and for what reason his body will be used. And as people cannot sell themselves to slavery, nor should they be assumed to have waived their right to decision-making at the altar of marriage.

Earlier, privacy was conveyed by expressions that the state cannot access the household or access relations. Thus, the men were immune to oppression, unjust power, and violence within the house of an individual.

Should the state really penetrate the sphere of the home? A reaction to this is a “yes”. In the cases of cruelty, divorce, and dowry, it already does, then why put the most atrocious and egregious offense beyond the control of the State and legislation. Why does the marital rape zone ought to stay outside its pale? At the time of the union, the state that does not involve itself but serves as an arbitrator after divorce must secure the right of a woman to her body. With privacy judgment, the scope of privacy has also ventured inside the family and houses of individuals, and communities. However, criminalizing marital rape is just not an issue relating to the privacy of one’s bedroom, it involves ensuring dignity, freedom, and free consent as much as in a bedroom as in a public space.

CONCLUSION

The continued immunity from the scope of statutory law from marital rape sustains the presumption that the wife is the sole property of the spouse. As stated by Katherine O’ Donnovan: “Its immunity from the purview of the criminal law is explained on the grounds that the female victim is a wife. This justification can be understood in the context of the dominant familial ideology and female sexuality which treats a wife as property and as having no sexual agency or decision making in sexual activity within the marital contract”.

It is proposed that in India, marital rape should be criminalized, because that can be done by applying an approach to violence against women based on individual rights. Indian women’s groups have managed to raise public consciousness and introducing domestic violence laws, but marital rape has not been fully criminalized by removing the difference between marital rape and rape.Yet marital rape will not be criminalized or prosecuted until lawmakers and the Society respects the personal interests of women within the marital framework.

Principles on the sexuality of women, and therefore ideas on non-marital and marital sexual violence in Indian culture, stem from the notion of gender, embarrassment and family’s reputation, rather than the rights of women and individual autonomy. If the lawmakers see rape and sexual assault against a woman and her individual and bodily dignity and humanity, then marital rape and penalty would be a legal offense.

In aims to introduce a changes to the current legislation, we can use a semantic method to individual rights in working to criminalize marital rape in India, even though marital rape is not a government’s problem until society and lawmakers realize that women have individual rights in married life.

A very recent TV show “Criminal Justice: Behind the closed doors” written by Apurva Asrani shows a lawyer who was murdered by his wife late in the night with a knife. The lawyer was one of the “best” lawyers and was a very respected member of society. As the murder mystery folds, it is discovered that the lawyer was raping his wife for last many years and was indulging in non-consensual sex. Due to the taboo and “SHAME”, the victim never opened up.

The plot of the show has an uncanny resemblance to reality. Most of the rapes are not done by strangers, it is someone familiar and known to the victim, owing to such familiarity, the victim is scared to speak up. In the case of marital rape, the victim is none other than the wife and it is seen almost all times that they don’t speak up due to fear of disbanding of the family and the SHAME that it will bring upon them in society.

The exception in article 375 for marital rape is arbitrary and gives undue advantage to men. Getting away with this exception is the only way to let such victims speak up and make sure the accused are well dealt with by the law. Striking this will not be an infringement of privacy rather it will reinstate the foundation of article 21 by giving dignity and much-needed equality to the women who are subject to marital rape.

For the women who have been abused and assaulted, marriage for them is-:“Abandon all ye hope who enter here”

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Legally Speaking

INNOVATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF AI IN INDIA’S HEALTHCARE, LEGAL FRAMEWORK AND CHALLENGES

Though India is using artificial intelligence in its major healthcare segments, i.e., hospitals, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, medical equipment and supplies, medical insurance, telemedicine, etc, it still has a vast untapped potential for AI solutions to improve operational efficiencies and quality of healthcare. According to the Indian AI Healthcare Market 2019-2025 report, Indian AI in the healthcare industry is estimated to grow significantly at a CAGR of 50.9% during the forecast period of 2019-25.

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INTRODUCTION

Digital Technology has taken a huge leap in revolutionizing globally. Governments of developing countries across the globe is emphasizing on improved access to primary health facilities and services by setting country specific healthcare targets. However, according to the World Health Statistics 2019, there is a considerable gap in delivering and accessing the healthcare services in various developing countries. This has led to the deterioration in the health of general public resulting into poor health further aggravating poverty.

The government spending on healthcare in India is one of the lowest in the world. The patient doctor ratio in India is as low as 1,700:1. Also, ~70% of the healthcare infrastructure is in cities, which cater to ~30% of the country’s population.. Due to the unequal distribution in India’s healthcare sector, lack of trained healthcare clinicians, low governmental spending, inadequate infrastructure, weak doctorpatient ratio, late diagnosis, India provides a room for innovative, sustainable and scalable healthcare digital transformation to improve lives. The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping the Indian healthcare market significantly.

 AI-enabled healthcare services like automated analysis of medical tests, predictive healthcare diagnosis, automation of healthcare diagnosis with the help of monitoring equipment, and wearable sensor-based medical devices, are expected to revolutionize medical treatment processes in the country. It is predicted that the applications of artificial intelligence in the healthcare space will be worth INR ~431.97 Bn by 2021, expanding at a rate of ~40%.

Based on this growth of AI application in healthcare, the doctor-patient ratio in India is expected to reach ~6.9:1,000 by 2023, from its 2017 ratio of ~4.8:1000. With the use of artificial intelligence applications, doctors can offer their services to more patients and reduce the existing gap in demand and supply of medical services in the country. AI-enabled healthcare services can be delivered at lower costs with increased efficiency and an emphasis on diagnostics.

Moreover, artificial intelligence enables hospitals to implement patient centric plans and eliminate unnecessary hospital procedures, making delivery of healthcare services faster in India. Though India is using Artificial Intelligence in its major healthcare segments i.e., Hospitals; Pharmaceuticals; Diagnostics; Medical equipment and supplies; Medical insurance; Tele-medicine, it still has a vast untapped potential for AI solutions to improve operational efficiencies and quality of healthcare. According to the Indian AI Healthcare Market 2019- 2025 report, Indian AI in the healthcare industry is estimated to grow significantly at a CAGR of 50.9% during the forecast period of 2019-2025.

 DEVELOPMENT AND INNOVATION

Government initiatives: The Information Technology Act, 2000, and the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011, mandate that service providers and patients exchange information constantly by using the latest technologies. National eHealth Authority (NeHA) – An authority which is responsible for the expansion of the integrated health information system within India. The government is putting in efforts to digitize the healthcare system in India. Planning for an Integrated Health Information Program (IHIP) to create Electronic Health Record for all citizens in order to enable the interoperability of existing EHRs is currently in development (National Health Portal of India, 2017).

In a recent discussion by NITI Aayog outlined the ambitions of creating a ‘National Health Stack (NHS)’ to organize both personal health records and service provider records available on  cloud-based services to private healthcare stakeholders which is is expected to consist of mainly four elements – electronic health registries of health service providers and beneficiaries, coverage and claims platform, a federated personal health records framework and a national health analytics platform. The United States-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund, is aimed at helping teams of innovators and entrepreneurs from both countries, whose products will improve the quality of healthcare, by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence. India is approaching towards ‘Imaging AI in Practice’ wherein a patient is studied, along with the entire imaging workflow and the images are finally interpreted by the physician.

AIRad Companion, a cloudbased augmented workflow solution helps to reduce the burden of repetitive task and increases the diagnostic precision while interpreting medical images. The automatic post-processing of imaging datasets through AI-powered algorithms and high case volumes helps to ease the daily workflow in clinical scenario. The deployment of AI- Rad Companion extension via team play digital health platform eases regular updates and facilitates the integration of new ideas into existing IT market. In the field of biomedical research, viral culturing in laboratories is being practiced wherein quick insights are fleshed out by the scientists through accelerating simulation time between the interaction and reaction of compounds and virals.

With the help of AI based machine simulation becomes useful in testing environment where viral and strains take on polymorphic identities. Through deep learning, AI technology dives into knowledge repositories to learn from use-cases and help patients. Additionally, the pioneering work of artificial intelligence is also under its way to perform remote robotic surgeries where doctors from any location can treat the patients at any location in the world with the help of other collaborative technologies like AR and 5G.

LEGAL FRAMEWORK: CHALLENGES AND IMPLICATIONS

Challenges

The AI systems just being in their development have much of the challenges to be faced in that state relates to :-

 DATA ACCESS

These AI systems are always dependent on the availability of large data access of their consumers, working the healthcare system on AI requires a lot of access of the patient’s previous medical history, records etc., which would be quite a challenge in India, especially in rural and semi-rural areas, where these records and data aren’t managed well.

 BLIND SPOTS IN DATA COLLECTION

Currently, there are a lot of caste, gender, and class based irregularities in the medical systems in many areas of the nation, many lower cast women are denied of proper health care because of certain practice of elitism in those areas, this leads to fewer representation of a certain type of data in the medicine formulation, which in turn may be effective for only a certain amount of people in the population, and not all of them.

HIGHER COSTS

 The whole structure employed in the AI systems is very expensive; the costs of training, testing, and deploying AI systems are very high. Collection of data is also expensive in itself, and most of the Healthcare companies would be relying over cloud services of foreign companies, because they don’t have that much of Technological support.

 PRIVACY AND MISUSE OF PRIVATE DATA

These AI systems would be requiring a lot of Private Data of their patients, which in turn could be a big risk if not secured properly, because hackers may sell this data to foreign companies of intelligence services, causing a threat to our country and its people. There can be a lot of malpractices be taking place by misusing the customer data, many drug companies would directly know the ailments of patients, and may hike up their prices, many bankers may use this data to evaluate the eligibility of loans as a person with poor health may be seen as unable to work, and might be blacklisted by certain banks to get loans.

 ACCOUNTABILITY

A computer most certainly cannot be held accountable in case of occurring of any error or misdiagnosis. There has to be a human in the loop, They AI systems should not be intended to replace doctors. Current Legal Framework and Implications Currently, the medical professional is held responsible for any deficiency or negligence in his/her services. Due to absence of any specific law enacted to deal with AI and the advanced technology in India it is difficult to distinguish cases where the error occurs in diagnosis malfunction of technology or use of inaccurate data. The healthcare organizations will have to face the growing cybersecurity challenges besides the policymakers will have the responsibility of enacting laws ensuring careful governance and security arrangements for stored data. Currently, the cases relating to AI in healthcare might be governed under other laws or acts like the COPRA (Consumer Protection Act), as the patient is a consumer using the services provided by the AI systems, and in case of any default may take any course of action according to COPRA, for instance, if a patient has been prescribed a certain drug, which contributes towards worsening his condition, he will have a remedy under the COPRA.

Similarly, if any patient’s personal information is being shared or either being leaked by mistake or any error in the AI system, and which the concerned company isn’t authorized to do so, may face certain legal implications under the Data Protection and Privacy laws of India. Admittedly, there is a void in the legal and regulatory framework affecting Artificial Intelligence. On one hand the AI applications along with supporting technologies are expected to bring transformative changes on the other hand it has disruptive potential in the healthcare sector across hospitals and hospital management, mental health and well-being, pharmaceuticals, insurance and medicine. The adoption of AI in healthcare sectors would require policy and institutional framework to guide and design the use of Artificial Intelligence system. With the availability of health related data, another challenge would be to address the questions of ethical, technical and legal nature.

The questions as to quality, safety, governance, privacy, consent and ownership poses a greater challenge that is still under-addressed. Another concern regarding the use and designing of AI is that it would be examining why and how AI has reached to a specific decision. Right to Privacy being fundamental right demands for citizen’s health data to be protected and therefore it becomes the key responsibility of those handling the sensitive data for AI purposes.

The use of AI based solutions entails constant exchange of information between the patients and AI service provider. Such exchange creates massive datasets which are further processed for training, validation and creating algorithms.

 Therefore, the lack of adequate data privacy laws in India results in commercial exploitation of the datasets leading to challenges termed as ‘Black Box Phenomena’ that is beyond development of AI solutions Owing to the violation of privacy the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a draft of the Healthcare Security Act. The Act proposes to provide civil and criminal remedies for any breach of data and principles of data collections and its use. The Act also provides for institution of the National Digital Health Authority as a regulatory authority which will focus exclusively on enforcing healthcare data protection norms.

 Further, under the IPR regime, the Patents Act expressly exempts the patentability of algorithms from being ‘inventions’ eligible for patent protection. However, since the algorithms are created by collating and analyzing human created work, the creator of the work can be granted copyright under the Indian laws with the exclusive rights to reproduce their own work. While addressing the question of accountability, AI system has been envisaged as only a decision-support system and is thus not intended to replace the doctors. It will help in providing first layer screening interpreted by the human and he will be responsible to point out errors if any.

 However, it is essential to note that in which capacity of profession this human might be, because in rural setting the frontline health workers may not have the requisite knowledge, training and confidence to be able to interpret the AI based results. These concerns are accentuated in Indian context due to weak regulation in the Indian Healthcare sector. There are numerous reports showing negligence and malpractices even in the well-established hospitals the major reason being the lack of strict and uniform regulation of healthcare in the country. There is a lack of standardized guidelines in India for designing AI applications to be used in healthcare systems which further deters the use of artificial intelligence in the Indian Healthcare market.

The existing or recently developed AI companies are majorly startups due to which the medical practitioners do not trust the products easily as they are not nationally or internationally certified. Consequentially, the sales of start-ups get hampered resulting in the limited implementation of AI in the Indian Healthcare sector.

CONCLUSION

 Use of AI systems is in its developing years in the country, and thus it needs an adequate amount of legal as well as financial support from the Indian government for its better reach in the country and also to gain faith of the population in the new structure. The government will need to put extensive legal measures in order to minimize the mentioned challenges for a smooth running AI system in the Healthcare sector of the nation. It is suggested and recommended that the private players embrace self-regulation, periodically conduct systematic and structured self-audit, and document it for record-keeping and regulatory purposes. This would help not only in the structured and orderly growth of the industry, but also allow the technology and businesses to grow in a laissez affaire manner.

 A key obstruction that hinders the advancement of digital health is the policy environment. Failures and misalignments coming from the absence of proper policy formulation and coordination among various stakeholders and the lack of sustainable financing basically hinder medical care associations’ capacity to earn profit from digital healthcare initiatives. In many developing countries, regulations such as those related to patient data privacy are less stringent than those of developed countries, which can act as a facilitator to the diffusion of digital health technologies. The increasing demand and complexity in the diagnostic services is outpacing the supply of healthcare experts as a result of which new set of tools is required that can handle large volumes of medical data quickly and accurately, further allowing the patient to make more objective treatment decisions based on quantitative data and tailored to the needs of the individual patient. In order to develop the new toolset, the power of AI is to be drawn upon.

 Co authored by Anchal Jain.

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Legally Speaking

19th January: The Holocaust Day

Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the Kashmir Valley as a result of a concerted plan of ethnic cleansing with the strategy of killing one and scaring a thousand by JKLF terrorists and Islamist insurgents during late 1989 and 1990 onwards. Living in the Valley for more than 5,000 years, the entire population of 5-6 lakh Hindus was exiled by inflicting death, destruction, loot, grabbing of leftover immovable properties, agricultural land and orchards, etc.

ASHOK BHAN

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19th January 1990 is the darkest day in the history of Kashmir. The aborigines population and the minority Kashmiri Pandit community was driven out and exited at gun-point from the Kashmir Valley. They became refugees in their own Country and sought refuge in Jammu, Delhi and various other places. They left their homes and hearths behind which now stand destroyed, sold for peanuts in distress and mostly have been forcibly occupied by the armed insurgents.

I am a Kashmiri and the proud member of the Kashmiri Pandit community which is a ethnic minority of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and now a Union Territory.Kashmir today is without Kashmiri Pandits. A religious minorily, with its more than 5,000 years of evidenced history and roots linked with Kashmir,under a concerted plan of ethnic cleansing, forcibly hounded out enmasse from their natural habitat. Kashmiri Pandits are the aborigines natives with more than five thousands years of roots engraved in the soil of the Valley.Kashmir is a part of India.The idea of India in Kashmir is in Perpetual peril.Kashmir’s plural ethos, composite culture and heritage lay shattered and completely destroyed by the radicals and terrorists, materially,morally and politically helped by Pakistan.

To avenge their defeats at the hands of India, Pakistan embarked on sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir. It is a matter of common knowledge that, for the last thirty years, the people of Kashmir, particularly Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus of the Doda district in Jammu, in particular, are killed and remain under constant threat from the Pakistani-sponsored militants. They lured and tempted the uneducated youth to take arms against their own brethren with whom they had lived for centuries in peace and tranquillity.

The armed insurgency is orchestrated,supervised, controlled and directed from across the border, sophisticated weapons are smuggled into Kashmir by the Pakistan army and their ISI agency and lethal weapons are pumped into the Valley and elsewhere in the Jammu region.These arms are not only meant for fighting the Indian security forces but are used for killing the innocent local people. It is one of the the most barbaric, inhuman and dangerous venture which launched against innocent Kashmiris consisting of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other communities by Pakistan with the active participation of the locally recruited militants. The Kashmiri

Pandit community and the mainstream Muslims were the prime targets of the armed terrorists. Terror reined hundreds of Kashmiris were brutally killed,the State Government collapsed,the Indian State was in a state of mess because of opportunistic collation government at Centre And;finally in January 1990 the minority Kashmiri Pandit community was driven out at gun-point from the Valley. They became refugees in their own homeland and sought refuge in Jammu, Delhi and various other places. They left their homes and hearths behind which now stand destroyed or have been forcibly occupied by the armed insurgents.

The Pakistan and the Kashmiri terrorists have a direct responsibility for the disaster which the armed insurgents have heaped on the Kashmiri people.shockingly it all was inflicted in the name of religion. The wholesale massacre of the Kashmiri population innocent and unarmed was termed by a narrative as ‘Holy War’.

Kashmir today is without Kashmiri Pandits. A religious minorily, with its more than 5,000 years of evidenced history and roots linked with Kashmir,under a concerted plan of ethnic cleansing, forcibly hounded out enmasse from their natural habitat.

This community was reduced to minuscule minority by cultural aggressions in the past and, therefore, in 1947, according to census figures, the population of this community was 15%, in 1981 5%, in 1991 .01% and In today time of enlightenment a big 99.9% of this community population has been forced to flee Kashmir and live as refugees in their own Country.These five hundred thousand Kashmiri Pandits live in abysmal/appalling conditions, ‘as refugees’, in camps in Jammu and Delhi. This mass exodus of 1990 was followed by sustained terror, rapes, murder, loot and kidnappings. About 1,500 Kashmiri Pandits, including women and children, were brutally killed, about 250 religious shrines were burnt down and fifty thousands agricultural families deprived of their lands, twenty thousand business establishments looted and devastated, more than thirty thousands of houses reduced to ashes and 90% of the houses looted and about twenty thousands vacant houses and other properties left behind have been forcibly occupied. As a result of this carefully drawn-our strategy and plan of ethno-religious cleansing of Kashmin Pandits by the armed insurgents, this community is today scattered, devastated and disintegrated.

Pakistanis engaged in trans-border terrorism and indulged in international crimes characterized as gross human rights violations and akin to Genocide.The mercenaries, after wearing Army uniforms, indulged in killings masquerading as army personnel to unleash hatred against the security forces who are engaged in safeguarding the lives and property of the people.

The aborigine Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the Kashmir valley as a result of a concerted plan of ethnic cleansing with the strategy of killing one and scaring a thousand by JKLF terrorists and Islamist insurgents during late 1989 and 1990 onwards. Living in the Valley for more than 5,000 years, the entire population of 5-6 lakh Hindus was exiled by inflicting death, destruction, loot, grabbing of leftover immovable properties, agricultural land and orchards etc, by the settlers/JKLF and other native terrorists.

The brutal murders of Kashmiri Hindus started over 30 years ago on 14 September 1989 when the tallest KP and BJP leader, Pt Tika Lal Taploo, a prominent lawyer of the Srinagar Bar was murdered. He fell victim to the JKLF terrorists’ bullets just outside his home in downtown Srinagar. His killing set off a series of target killings of KP leaders by the trigger-happy terrorists who used to celebrate counting the heads killed. This dance of death continued to the extent that a killer terrorist confessed on local TV channels that he had killed KPs in double digits and had lost the exact count.

Retired District and Session Judge Pt Neelkanth Ganjoo was killed on 4 November 1989 in Hari Singh High Street Market. Ganjoo had presided over the trial of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat in the murder of police inspector Amar Chand in 1966. In August 1968, he sentenced Bhat to death. This sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1982. Bhat’s execution was carried out in Tihar jail.

On 30 April 1990 at village Shali, in the Kokernag area of district Anantnag, three armed militants kidnapped a renowned freedom fighter, teacher and scholar, Pt Sarvanand Koul. Sensing something amiss, his younger son Virendra Koul requested the gunmen that he be allowed to accompany his father. He joined his father, but two days later two dead bodies were found hanging with their limbs broken, hairs uprooted, and portions of their skin slit open and burnt. The dead poet and teacher was the 67-year-old Kashmiri Hindu Pandit Sarvanand Koul “Premi” and his youthful son Pandit Virendra Koul.

Late Pt Sarwanand Koul Premi was so popular that Jammu and Kashmir government last year decided to introduce the Urdu version of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita and the Kashmiri version of Ramayana authored by the late Premi in all educational institutions of Jammu and Kashmir state for the benefit of the students.

Another renowned son of the soil and a senior lawyer of Anantnag bar, Pt Prem Nath Bhat was killed. Director Doordarshan, Pt Lassa Koul, Special Director Food Supply department, A.K. Raina, Satish Tikoo, Ms Sarla (was sawed by a blade), Ms Ganjoo of Sopore, officials of Intelligence Bureau and hundreds of members of the KP community were brutally murdered to get rid of the entire KP community from the soil of Kashmir.

The terrorists mercilessly killed Chuni Lal Shalla, Inspector Jammu and Kashmir Police (CID) of Seer Jagir, Sopore while he was travelling in a bus from Kupwara to Sopore. “By March 1990 most of the Pandits had left valley to save their lives and honour.”

There are hundreds of similar stories of gruesome killings, torture, intimidation, loot and plunder of properties of Kashmiri Hindus by the terrorists and their local sympathisers.

After individual killings, the mass massacre of Hindus started, which frightened the leftover families living in different parts of Kashmir. The massacres in Sangrampora, Wandhama, Chatisingpora, and Nadimarg alone consumed more than 60 innocent lives of Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs, who included infants, children, young, elderly and also women.

The Sangrampora massacre claimed seven Kashmiri Pandit Hindu villagers in Sangrampora village of Budgam district on 21 March 1997 by Islamic terrorists. This was the first series of massacres which selectively targeted minorities in Jammu and Kashmir. The victims were lined up and the Islamic terrorists shot and killed seven people.

The Wandhama killings of 1998 claimed 23 Kashmiri Pandit Hindus in the town of Wandhama on 25 January 1998. The victims included four children, nine women and 10 men. The attackers also demolished a Hindu temple and a house. The then Prime Minister of India, Inder Kumar Gujral joined the mourners in Kashmir’s Wandhama village on 28 January. The Prime Minister was anguished and expressed heartfelt condolences. He was accompanied by then Governor General, K.V. Krishna Rao.

The Nadimarg massacre claimed 24 Hindu Kashmiri Pandits in the village of Nadimarg in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir by terrorists on 23 March 2003.

The communalism had manifested viciously from 1947 onwards but was confined to discrimination against the members of religious minority at the administrative levels and in educational and professional institutions. The murder and massacre became an order, starting with the murder of police inspector Amar Chand of Nadhal, Bandipora, in 1966 by JKLF terrorists and its so called founder Maqbool Bhat, who was tried for the inspector’s murder.

In August 1968, Maqbool Bhat was sentenced to death. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1982. Bhat’s execution was carried out in Tihar jail, thereafter after having availed all the mercy remedies under the Constitutional process.

1986 became a turning point in the vicious communal campaign against the KP community. In February 1986, the communal settlers incited the Kashmiri Muslims by a virulent propaganda that “Islam khatrey mein hey (Islam is in danger)”. As a result, Kashmiri Pandits were targeted by the Muslims. Many incidents were reported in various areas where Kashmiri Hindus’ properties and temples were damaged and destroyed. The worst hit areas were mainly in South Kashmir and Sopore. In Vanpoh, Lukbhavan, Anantnag, Salar and Fatehpur, Muslim mobs plundered or destroyed the properties and temples of Hindus.

During the Anantnag riot in February 1986, although no Hindu was killed, many houses and other properties belonging to Hindus were looted, burnt or damaged. The incumbent state government was dismissed.

On 12 March 1986, Governor’s Rule was imposed. The political narrative unfolded on deadly communal lines and was portrayed as a conflict between “Hindu” New Delhi (Central Government)—and its efforts to impose its will in the state—and “Muslim” Kashmir, represented by political Islamists and clerics.

The Islamists had organised under a banner named Muslim United Front, with a manifesto to work for Islamic unity and against political interference from the Centre, and contested the 1987 state elections, in which they lost again. However, the 1987 elections were widely believed to be unfairly conducted, so as to bring the secular parties (NC and INC) in Kashmir at the forefront, and this caused the trigger point to insurgency in Kashmir. The Kashmiri militants killed anyone who openly expressed pro-India policies. Kashmiri Pandits were targeted specifically because they were seen as presenting Indian presence in Kashmir because of their faith and pronounced patriotism.

Though the insurgency had been launched by JKLF, groups rose over the next few months advocating for the establishment of Nizam-e-Mustafa (Rule of Muhammad). The Islamist groups proclaimed the Islamicisation of socio-political and economic set-up, merger with Pakistan, unification of ummah and establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. Liquidation of Central government officials, Pandits, liberal and nationalist intellectuals, social and cultural activists was described as necessary to rid the valley of un-Islamic elements.

Pakistan’s strategy of continuing a low-intensity war with India has the following components, (i) intensification of terrorist activities in a wide area extending from J&K to other parts ii) strengthening the strategic alliance between Kashmiri militants and international terrorist groups; (iii) focusing on coordinated attacks by the militant outfits on the security forces in J&K and elsewhere (iv) using the neighbouring countries to the north and east of India for executing terrorist activities in India and (v) Unleashing false propaganda against India. Through revamping the clandestine TV channels run by ISI, other media networks.Pakistan and ISI agency has a direct hand in infiltrating Afghans and other mercenaries into J&K State and in creating militant outfits , that have been declared as a terrorist outfit by UN and USA. ISI has spread its tentacles in communally sensitive areas of UP, Bihar and Assam for creating a nexus between various Pan-Islamic outfits. Indo-Pak border vulnerability to drug trafficking is being used by ISI. The menance of drug trafficking along the Indo-Pak border has assumed alarming proportions.

The concerns voiced by international community through the UN Human Rights Commission, the U.N. General Assembly, the National Human Rights Commission of India, to which the complaints have already been made of the violations of human rights of the Kashmiri people, have not brought about any peace in Kashmir; instead the pattern of militancy has changed. The United States has taken tough measures to deal with international terrorism. The Indian nation-state has zero tolerance policy on terrorism and dealing sternly with terrorists to ensure the full enjoyment of the human rights by the citizens.

The countries from where the terrorists receive support and material and moral back-up are put on notice, that if they do not stop arming, training and supporting the trans-border terrorism and bring the perpetrators of human rights violatios to book, such country shall be declared as a ‘Terrorist State’ by the international community and severe sanctions and censures shall be applied, then only the menace of terrorism can be effectively eliminated and perpetrators of massive and gross violations of human rights can be punished.

Parliament enacted an Act in 1993 to provide for constitution of a National Human Rights Commission, State Human Rights Commissions in the states and Human Rights Courts for better protection of human rights and for all matters connected therewith and incidental thereto, which is called; the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. This Act applies to whole of India. The Kashmiri Pandits have brought their massive violations of human rights to the notice of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) way back in 1995-1996, through a detailed petition/ memorandum filed by the representative organizations of Kashmiri Pandits.

After hearing the parties to the petitions full commission NHRC gave a detailed verdict and described the Killings inflicted on Kashmiri Pandits “akin to Genocide”.

The security situation along the Indo-Pak border continues to be very alarming. The tensions and killings in various parts of the State are a continuing phenomenon. The LG administration and Central governments are primary engaged in combating the security-related problems. Kashmiri Pandit problems have, however, received no serious considerations, except that it finds place in BJP election manifesto and a generic time to time statements by top leaders that reversal of KP exile is on cards and their (Kashmir) Pandits) problem is a priority item on the Central Govt.’s policy agenda.

Today Kashmiri society is on historical cross-roads. Its peaceful ethos, its liberal Islam, its culture of Sufi saints, its Kashmiriyat and its image as a strong citadel of co-existence and pluralistic society lay shattered and devastated by the decades old violence by terrorists and mercenaries. The threat of foisting an alien way of life on Kashmiris by pan-Islamic fanatics is very grave. The Kashmiri society, which is predominantly Muslim,are in introspective mode their choice towards the pluralistic, peaceful democratic and modern way of life was reflected by large participation in recent DDC elections. They have to seriously introspected the happenings and violence of the past three decades and decide about the future socio-political dispensation under which they have to live.

The ethno-religious minority of Kashmiri Pandits which has the original indigenous roots in history linked with Kashmir, have inalienable right of life in that land. Nobody can wish away their rights in the land. If the democratic way of life has to exist and function genuinely in Kashmir, all the violence and terrorism has to end. The violence perpetrated from across the border by Pakistan, ISI operators and other groups has to come to an end. There is a need to enlarge the political space in Kashmir to encompass the views which have not yet been heard, or have not yet participated, for setting up the trend towards a greater tolerant and pluralistic process. Kashmiris are today longing for deciding their matters through peaceful and democratic process – we all must nurture and develop such processes which can put an overall end to the death and destruction phenomenon unleashed by violence in the beautiful vale of Kashmir.

Any process for lasting solutions in whichever form is incomplete without the presence, participation and physical involvement of the Kashmiri Pandit community in the Kashmir affairs.

All Kashmiris emphatically urge Pakistan to keep off Kashmir,stop trans-border terrorism on the peaceful people.KashmirIs are determined to pick up once again the peaceful, pluralistic and democratic way of life. Enough is enough. In Kashmir, much blood has been shed by now, so let all together reknit, reweave and revive the ethos of Kashmir once again for the full enjoyment of human rights and development.

Enough is Enough.Pakistan has to keep off and allow Kashmiris to pick up the plural ethos,democracy and development as a way forward to live as a terror free society, reduce tensions and strengthen the processes, that makes all to live up to the ideals of universal peace and for upholding the human rights of all and one.

Kashmiri Pandits as a Community is determined to return home sooner than later to live and enjoy right to peaceful and secured life,liberty,Political empowerment and spiritual & cultural space.

Ashok Bhan is an Senior Advocate,Supreme Court of India, Distinguished fellow USI And; Chairman-Kashmir (Policy & Strategy) Group.

The communalism had manifested viciously from 1947 onwards but was confined to discrimination against the members of religious minority at the administrative levels and in educational and professional institutions. The murder and massacre became an order, starting with the killing of police inspector Amar Chand of Nadhal, Bandipora, in 1966 by JKLF terrorists and its so-called founder Maqbool Bhat, who was tried for the inspector’s murder.

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Uniformity in marriageable age in India: Architecting an equal future

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Defining the legal age limit to tie the knot in India has had its fair share of controversies. On 15 August 2020, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned that his cabinet was reconsidering the minimum age of marriage for girls. The announcement was a bliss for groups advocating against the archaic tradition of girl-child marriage, and promoting legal age parity.

The Indian Majority Act, 1885 clearly lays down 18 years as the age of majority, saving matters like marriage, dower, divorce and adoption. The exceptions carved out did more damage than good as they warranted the legislature to draft unfair provisions. Section 4(c) of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (“SMA”) and section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (“HMA”) corroborate this claim as they prescribe different marriageable ages, 21 years for boys and 18 years for girls. This disparity is inconsistent with the sacred principle of equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. No plausible explanation exists as to how and why the aforenoted age limits have been fixed, indicating that the narrative presented regarding the legal age disparity is both arbitrary and distorted. In E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Supreme Court (“SC”) incisively explained that equality and arbitrariness can never coexist. Succinctly, the actions of the State must not leave room for absurdity. Even the rationale behind proposing 61st Amendment in 1988 appears to be untenable. The India government lowered the voting age from 21 years to 18 years as it wanted to give ‘the unprecedented youth an opportunity to become a part of the electoral process’. Notably, a marriage inconsistent with age-specific provision of the SMA and the HMA is devoid of any legal status as it is neither considered void nor voidable. Surprisingly, even section 3 of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 does not make child marriage illegal but only voidable at the ‘option of the contracting party’, thereby injecting legitimacy into child marriage. As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted during 2015-16, 27% of married women aged 20-24 had been married before the age of 18, and 7% before the age of 15. The figures manifest that millions of married women in India are not even legally competent to exercise their choice to enter the institution of marriage. The Law Commission Report on ‘Reform of Family Law’ published in 2018 accurately remarked that the legal age disparity ‘simply contributes to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands.’ Lower marriageable age for girls cast aspersions on their ability and consider that women must only perform domestic duties and raise children.

There exist other two constitutional imperatives on the part of the State to implement the legal age parity- under Article 21, i.e. Right to Life and Personal Liberty, and Article 39(f) which obligates the State to ensure a holistic development of children, free from exploitation. It cannot be denied that early marriages make girls susceptible to unintended pregnancy which can either be responsible for maternal morbidity or maternal mortality. Unwanted pregnancy deprives them of making well-informed reproductive choices and hence brazenly violates their ‘Right to Procreate or not to Procreate’. In Suchita Srivastava & Anr. v. Chandigarh Administration, the SC held that the reproductive right is an essential component of ‘personal liberty’ read under Article 21. The Court, in Justice K.S. Puttawamy(Retd.) v. Union of India, categorically observed that reproductive right and privacy are inextricable. The ill-effects of an adolescent marriage are not restricted to health hazards but extend a bit too far. In Independent Thought v. Union of India, the highest judicial court of India opined that an early marriage coerces a girl child to compromise her education, and exposes her to both physical and sexual violence. In such a scenario, the child is interdicted to develop in a healthy environment and live a life of dignity, infringing their rights laid down in Article 39(f).

Remarkably, even Shri Biswanath Das (Member, Constituent Assembly of India) espoused the view that the age limits must be increased to 20 or 21 years while opposing the Hindu Code Bill in the early 1950s. He staunchly opposed the fixing of age limits for boys and girls at 18 years and 16 years, respectively. Needless to say that giving the girl chid an equal opportunity to develop like a male child is a default rather than the rule. Now, India eagerly awaits the Committee Report which aims to high level of granularity on the concerned issue.

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REGULATING THE UNREGULATED INTERMEDIARIES

Siddhant Mishra

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The question of regulating Twitter and other tech giants has been discussed in the India for years, and experts often argue over what should be subject to regulation. Should guidelines look at content moderation? Should parliament push for more security and data transparency? It seems that over the years there are several complexities that have emerged in the regulatory debate. With users being heavily dependent these tech giants have gained a clout in determining almost all the quarters of our life which explains our hesitance in letting tech firms do whatever they like and regulate themselves.

The Information and Technology Act, 2000 under section 2(w) defines Intermediary as

2(w). “with respect to any particular electronic records, means any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cyber cafes”

The definition under 2(w) is vaguely drafted as it limits the role of intermediary as someone who merely receives, store or transmit data. The act further gives immunity to the Intermediary under Section 79 only in the event where the Intermediary does not (i) initiate the transmission, (ii) select the receiver of the transmission, and (iii) select or modify the information contained in the transmission;

79. Exemption from liability of intermediary in certain cases. – (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force but subject to the provisions of sub-sections (2) and (3), an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him. (2) The provisions of sub-section (1) shall apply if– (a) the function of the intermediary is limited to providing access to a communication system over which information made available by third parties is transmitted or temporarily stored or hosted; or (b) the intermediary does not– (i) initiate the transmission, (ii) select the receiver of the transmission, and (iii) select or modify the information contained in the transmission; (c) the intermediary observes due diligence while discharging his duties under this Act and also observes such other guidelines as the Central Government may prescribe in this behalf. (3) The provisions of sub-section (1) shall not apply if– (a) the intermediary has conspired or abetted or aided or induced, whether by threats or promise or otherwise in the commission of the unlawful act; (b) upon receiving actual knowledge, or on being notified by the appropriate Government or its agency that any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act, the intermediary fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to that material on that resource without vitiating the evidence in any manner.

However, twitter more than often end up amplifying inflammatory political rhetoric, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and flat out lies to its users by routinely using data algorithms by studying user preferences. The Act further where does not gives any leeway to intermediaries to block or suspend users and censor their freedom of speech and expression without government over sight as provided under section 69A of the Act.

69A. Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource.–(1) Where the Central Government or any of its officers specially authorised by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource. (2) The procedure and safeguards subject to which such blocking for access by the public may be carried out, shall be such as may be prescribed. (3) The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and also be liable to fine.

Twitter guidelines to block or permanently suspend the user ultra- vires the Constitution and IT Act. There guidelines have unbridled power to censor or suspend the contents merely on their own whims and fancies thereby infringing the fundamental rights of free speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. It becomes important to remind the tech giants that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for the right to free speech and expression under Article 19. It provides that each and every person has a fundamental right to hold opinions and views without any intervention. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also safeguards the right to express freely under Article 19 of it. It states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expressions; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information’s and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Traditionally, social media platforms have enjoyed immunity. The prevailing argument is that social media firms cannot be held accountable as they do not publish content, nor do they have editorial control over the content that they host. Big Tech platforms do not play a completely neutral role. Twitter and other tech giants design algorithms that define the order in which search results are served by selecting the receiver of the transmission. Complete legal exemption from responsibility is therefore no longer sustainable. Social media platforms should be treated as publishers. This would involve the kind of regulatory approaches that are used for legacy media, such as print, radio or television. In addition, social media platforms would be expected to comply with the standards for ethics in journalism.

It may be argued that the Twitter is a private entity; which is true; what is also true is that they have become a primary platform for communication both for citizens and government functionaries including heads of the states thereby effectively performing public function and broadly comes under the definition of ‘Other Authorities’ under Article 12 of the constitution which will make it subject to the constitutional discipline of the fundamental rights.

Unregulated social media pose a threat to Indian democracy. These challenges can be addressed by issuing new guidelines for the Intermediaries or to define the term ‘social media’ under the IT Act in order to regulate the policies of tech giants efficiently.

Author is Advocate- Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court

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Why life imprisonment must be abolished

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“Supreme Court has said that life imprisonment meant behind bars for life. It is worse than death to keep a person confined for his entire life in jail rather than taking his life.”

— Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer

Most tragic that why no one barring a few exceptions like the eminent jurist and former Supreme Court Justice late V.R. Krishna Iyer ever demands the permanent abolition of life imprisonment from our lapidated legal system while we keep hearing every now and then repeated demands for abolition of death penalty? Why should life imprisonment not be abolished permanently now itself? Why should the life term punishment exist at all in our penal laws when it is worse than death penalty about which there can be no two opinions as Justice VR Krishna Iyer has very rightly pointed out? It is high time and now Centre and our law makers must seriously deliberate on this to arrive at the right conclusion.

Let me state this most upfront that India is no longer a slave of Britain that the laws made by them in 1860 cannot be adequately amended in 2021 to meet the present circumstances 161 years later. Laws should be retired precisely as they are made – routinely and continuously as our PM Narendra Modi keeps reiterating also! What I find most disturbing is that now the life imprisonment has been made most worst and we have left even the punishment given during British rule behind! During British rule, life imprisonment meant 14 years and after independence even though in some cases they approved it but of late it has been meant to mean whole life without any remission as the Supreme Court recently held also unless the Governments prefers to do so under the relevant provisions of the CrPC. This is most concerning to note! I am sure that in coming time Supreme Court too will realize this when a Judge of the wisdom of Justice VR Krishna Iyer will sit there. To be brutally honest, I see in Justice Dr DY Chandrachud that wisdom and I am sure that my unflinching faith in him shall stand vindicated in the years to come!

Let me ask few soul searching questions: Why can’t criminals be reformed? Why can’t they be rehabilitated? Why can’t they be taught in jail the values of humanity, tolerance and pardon? Why can’t they contribute to the betterment of society? Why can’t we shed off our age-old mental block and false prejudice that, “Once a criminal is always a criminal”? Why do we forget that one of the killers of late Rajiv Gandhi, our former PM scored more than 95% in an exam which he gave while in jail which most of us never have been able to score despite getting best facilities? Why can’t he be rehabilitated? Why do we forget that even many terrorists who are brainwashed on how best to destroy India in foreign hostile nations like Pakistan have been reformed and rehabilitated after they realize their utter folliness and after they are admonished by their own parents and relatives and have even later joined forces and sacrificed their lives fighting terrorists themselves?

Needless to say: Life imprisonment is the worst crime that can ever be committed by anyone and even State cannot be given the licence to commit the most heinous crime on earth! But what we see on ground is completely astounding and life imprisonment keeps getting conferred at the drop of a hat which is most unfortunate, to say the least! Our law makers must pay some attention to this punishment of life imprisonment being vested in so many Sections of IPC more than 40 and being conferred so liberally and so also must human right activists and others raise this issue forcefully in each and every forum!

Yet, alas, we never hear even a whimper of protest from any human right or social activist or any eminent legal luminary barring certain notable exceptions and that too not very vociferously which is most regrettable, to say the least! I am yet to read a single article in my life on life imprisonment even though I have read endless number of articles on death penalty! I have myself written many times on death penalty but this is the first time that I am attempting to write on life imprisonment! This itself proves that this burning topic which is the worst form of human rights violations has never received any attention of any kind from anywhere in the world and even our Law Commission has never given it a food of thought even though it keeps on reviewing death penalty from time to time!

It goes without saying that the Sections in IPC or any other penal law which mandate death penalty can be counted in finger tips in one hand alone but life imprisonment is inundated in so many Sections and in so many penal laws that a lot of unremitting hard work has to be done to count the exact number of Sections which prescribe life imprisonment! Yet all the time we hear all the brouhaha over death penalty by not only human rights activists and eminent legal luminaries but also by our Central government, Law Commission, academicians etc! Isn’t it a supreme irony over which no one not even our Law Commission bothers to even brood over? You tell me if I am wrong on this score!

Let me be very direct in saying this from the innermost core or bottom of my heart – As a great civilization who has always followed the non-violent, love and tolerant ideas of Buddha, Nanak and Mahatma Gandhi, India must put the punishment of life imprisonment to where it truly belongs – in the museum and in the past pages of history. It is rightly said that, “Two wrongs cannot make a right”. The earlier we realize this, the better it shall be in the interest of humanity and justice!

Truth be told, there are many including me who also feel that terrorist too can be brainwashed not in the manner Pakistan or our other hostile nation does but in a real positive sense and they too once reformed should be allowed to come back to the mainstream and live a normal life like others. My best friend Sageer Khan once said to me way back in 1994 that, “Defend a rapist or a dacoit or a robber or a murderer or any other criminal but never ever in life defend a terrorist. I say so because a rapist or a dacoit or a robber or a murderer never goes to Pakistan or any other foreign nation to get training on how best to destroy India. Moreover, a rapist or a dacoit or any other criminal adversely affects one or a few individuals but terrorists are a potent threat not to just one or few individuals to the very existence of our whole nation.” I immediately asked him : “Does a country which has rapists or dacoits or corrupt or murderers or any other criminals really need Pakistan’s ISI or Pakistan’s Army trained terrorist to destroy India? Who trains our politicians to hold talks and dialogues with terrorists and swindle away unlimited money for their own pocket and allow millions of poor to die hungry?” Sageer Khan then endorsed my stand and admitted that, “Yes, you are right that criminals are criminals.” We have seen for ourselves how so many terrorists after being reformed have got absorbed in the mainstream. I do, however, agree that terrorists should be allowed to join the mainstream after it is thoroughly confirmed that he/she has reformed and shown genuine interest in leading a normal life again and still it should be made ensured that he/she again does not go back to the same old dirty path of terrorism which is the biggest threat to the very existence of our nation.

It merits no reiteration that life term under no circumstances can ever be justified. No matter how heinous any crime any criminal may have committed, there is always a possibility of reforming but life term forever closes that option which I strongly disapprove. We need to change our mental level of thinking and learn to be more tolerant even towards those who have gone on the wrong track! Of course, I don’t say that they should not be punished but simultaneously we must make sure that they too are given an opportunity of returning to the mainstream so that their whole family benefits especially those who are totally dependent on them like aged parents, wife, children etc!

Let me be direct in asking: What sense does it make to lock a person inside jail for whole life? Why should instead such person not be made to do service which can benefit the society at large without paying him/her anything in return and yes, if someone is dependent on him/her for survival then directly giving to the concerned dependent some money? Will this not benefit the whole society as also his/her family who were not partner in the crime while punishing him/her at the same time? Our lawmakers and Centre must seriously dwell on this!

Why should life imprisonment exist at all even for the most heinous crimes? Why can’t the criminals be punished and then allowed to contribute their bit to society by releasing them after few years? Why can’t we come out of our medieval slavish mindset which firmly believes in “Once a criminal always a criminal”? Why can’t such criminals who are guilty of committing the most heinous crimes be reformed and compulsorily made to contribute their service to the disabled, orphans, street dogs, other uncared animals and poorest of poor instead of just latching them behind bars for their whole life? Why don’t we realize that society gains nothing by just botching them inside Tihar jail or any other jail for the rest of their lives? It is high time that we at least now change our primitive mindset for the betterment of the whole society at large! The earlier we do this, the more better it shall be in the supreme interest of humanity!

What a supreme irony that according to the government itself, only 54 persons have been executed since independence as reported in ‘The Times Of India’ newspaper dated August 25, 2014 but yet so much of brouhaha is made of death penalty! On the contrary, endless number of persons have been sentenced to life imprisonment since independence and yet we hardly hear any voice of human rights activists to repeal it forever in the supreme interest of protection of humanity, life and personal liberty of not just common citizens but also criminals! Criminals too are like us, it is only that due to some circumstances and wrong company that they get involved in some wrong doing for which they certainly must be punished but condemning them to prison for life can in no way be the ideal solution!

It is high time and now not just Centre but even our Law Commission too must do a thorough introspection and deep research on it to get to the bottom of the matter. I am sure that they too will ultimately come to the logical conclusion that in a modern, civilised society, life imprisonment simply serves no relevant purpose other than satisfying few sadistic egos and must therefore be stamped off all our statutes and penal laws. Only then can we call ourselves tolerant, civilised and modern in the true sense! At least I feel in this manner. You or for that matter anyone else including Centre is fully entitled to differ with me on this count.

At least to the best of my knowledge, I have never heard even once of the Law Commission of India reviewing the abolition of life imprisonment even though it has reviewed death penalty in the past and now too has decided to embark on the same exercise with a fresh look and it needs no rocket science to conclude that it is only due to unremitting pressure of human rights activists, lawyers and other intellectuals! The Supreme Court earlier while rejecting the challenge to the death penalty had quoted the 1967 report of the Law Commission ( which was 35th Report ) which had said that, “Having regard, however, to the conditions in India, to the variety of social upbringing of its inhabitants to the disparity in the level of morality and education in the country, to the vastness of its area, to the diversity of its population and to the paramount need for maintaining law and order in the country at the present juncture, India cannot risk the experiment of abolition of capital punishment.”

The Law Commission of India in its 262nd report also rightly favoured abolition of death penalty for all offences except terror related offences and waging war against the state. But what about life imprisonment? Not a single word I have ever heard as the Law Commission has never reviewed its practical utility. But it is high time and now at least the Law Commission must review it and submit its enlightening recommendations in this regard so that this most inhuman form of punishment is very rightly thrown to the dustbin for the ultimate purpose of being consigned to the flames!

It is a no-brainer that the easiest way to die is by hanging. Don’t we know this simple basic fact which is a matter of common knowledge that how many people commit suicide every year by hanging alone? What to say about committing suicide by other means! Why did one of the accused in the Delhi Nirbhaya gang rape commit suicide? Even eminent lawyers, judges, senior army officers, police officers, doctors etc keep on committing suicide time and again because it is most difficult to stay alive and lead a frustrated life! We had seen how the ex DGP of Assam Shankar Baru committed suicide after his name figured in a scam! Such people cannot serve life term by staying alive even in open and opt for committing suicide! There are many more such instances!

For God sake, at least now think about those who have to spend their entire life in prison? It is the worst form of torture and I personally consider it the worst form of crime on earth, worse than even murder, rape, dacoity or even terrorism! It is the worst form of crime perpetrated by State! Terrorists are trained in Pakistan and other foreign countries but who trains State itself to inflict this worst punishment which is termed as “life term”?

Why do most of us fail to appreciate the basic fact that rigorous life imprisonment is much more than painful than capital punishment where a criminal is killed in just one fell stroke only? It should not be lost on us that even Mohammad Afzal Guru who has been hanged in Parliament attack case had rued when alive that,“I don’t think the UPA government can ever reach a decision. Congress has two mouths and is playing a double game. I really wish LK Advani becomes next PM as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily sufferings would ease then. Cumbersome legal procedures and prolonged periods of solitary confinement are inhuman and cruel. Life has become hell in jail. I don’t wish to be a part of the living dead.” This itself is adequate testimony to prove my basic point that life term is worse than capital punishment which under no circumstances can ever be justified!

Even a criminal can be reformed and absorbed in the mainstream! Moreover let us not forget that it is our society which prepares the crime itself and the criminals only commit it falling prey for which they alone cannot be blamed. Definitely their crime cannot be condoned at all but just awarding life imprisonment is no solution rather is worse than the disease or problem itself. We must think from a more broader angle of devising more ways and means to curb the increasing crime by striking at the very root of the problem due to which more and more persons are becoming criminals and this again is possible if their basic mindset is changed and they are made to believe that their best interest lies in reforming themselves!

Before winding up, let me clarify to my esteemed readers: I am not a spokesperson of criminals nor do I justify in any manner the heinous crimes committed by them! All that I am trying to say is: They too must be given a chance to reform, rehabilitate and resurrect as good citizens after cooling their heels for some years in prison! Why can’t they be given a chance to live a normal life? Let us not forget: Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees protection of right to life and personal liberty of all citizens which certainly includes criminals also! To be sure, when such an eminent jurist like Justice VR Krishna Iyer who is a former Judge of the Supreme Court can belive in “Operation Valmiki” then why can’t we and our society as a whole believe in the same? Justice Krishna Iyer had hit the nail on the head when he had said a long time back that,“I believe in Operation Valmiki because every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Most unfortunately, this is what our lawmakers and successive governments in the Centre have always ignored! Rules made by our former colonial rulers – Britishers who treated Indians like servants are still continuing more or less intact and hardly few changes have been made which is the real tragedy! Just mourning won’t do. Such outmoded and archaic colonial laws needs to be thrown out or at least amended to meet the present circumstances!

When Centre can be so large hearted to a Pakistani army invader like Gen Musharraf who even threatened to nuke India and heaped Kargil war on us which he masterminded in which we lost more than five hundred soldiers as per official figures even though the unofficial figure is quite high yet Centre welcomed him within three months in 1999 to accord him a grand reception and many big media houses welcomed him and honoured him grandly then why can’t we demonstrate an iota of kindness for our very own people who are Indians and give them an opportunity to reform, rehabilitate and return to the national mainstream by which not only they but their entire family especially those who are wholly dependent will benefit immensely? Centre must really ponder in right earnest!

It is my humble request to our law makers, law commission, government and policy makers to please dwell over it and take a decision appropriately as per their own wisdom after weighing in all the factors! The earlier this is done, the better it shall be for not only those languishing in jails but also their families as a whole! These days all newspapers are flooded with reports that the Law Commission is seriously reviewing the growing demand of abolition of death penalty in India permanently! If death penalty can be abolished then why can’t life imprisonment be also abolished? How I wish there were more of Justice Krishna Iyer who could raise emphatically their voice against life imprisonment which is the worst punishment!

To put things in perspective, Centre must learn something from Punjab government who worked out the premature release of Gurmeet Singh Pinky, a Babbar Khalsa militant-turned-inspector convicted of murder where life term was done in 7 years and seven and a half months and will spend the rest of his life as a free citizen as was reported in ‘The Indian Express’ newspaper dated August 21, 2014! There are many such unreported cases but what is most unfortunate is that only a few offenders having some push and pull have been able to avail of such exclusive benefit and majority still are compelled to languish in jail for the rest of their life!

It is in the supreme interest of humanity that life imprisonment must be abolished once and for all. The earlier this is done, the better it shall be in the interest of humanity! There is not even an iota of doubt about it. This alone explains why such a legendary jurist and former Supreme Court Judge – Justice Krishna Iyer was unequivocal in advocating for abolishing of life imprisonment as it is the worst form of crime! That’s all I have to say on this! I hope students, law researchers, human rights activists and lawyers and also Judges do more introspection on this and seriously analyse what I have said most humbly!

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