এক গুপ্তচর এসে পড়েছে আমাদের জীবনে, যে আমাদের সমস্ত গতিবিধি, কথোপকথনের ওপর নজর রাখছে। আজকে আর নতুন করে নিশ্চিত বলে দিতে হবে না, কে বা কারা এই গুপ্তচরবৃত্তি করেছে এবং তাঁদের এই গুপ্তচরবৃত্তির উদ্দেশ্যই বা কি ? কারণ, সংবাদপত্রের খবরের দৌলতে এই গুপ্তচরের নাম, কিভাবে কাজ করে তা মোটামুটি আজকে বেশীরভাগ মানুষের নখদর্পনে বা বলা ভালো মুঠোফোনের দর্পনে। মুঠোফোন বা মোবাইল ফোনের উল্লেখ করার কেন প্রয়োজন হলো? কারণ এবারের গুপ্তচর এসেছে অন্যভাবে, মোবাইল ফোনের মাধ্যমে । যে সামাজিক মাধ্যম নিয়ে আমরা এতো আত্মরতিতে ব্যস্ত সেই সামাজিক মাধ্যমও যে সরকারের অঙ্গুলিহেলন ছাড়া চলবে না, তার আভাস পাওয়া যাচ্ছে। যে প্রযুক্তি ব্যবহার করে আমরা কখনো কখনো আত্মতৃপ্তি লাভ করছি যে এই তো বেশ সরকারের বিরুদ্ধে কথা বলা হলো, সেই প্রযুক্তিই ব্যবহার করা হচ্ছে আমাদের প্রতিটি কথা শোনার জন্য এবং তা হচ্ছে এবং হয়ে চলেছে সেই মুঠোফোনের মধ্যে দিয়েই।
On June 18 (Sunday evening in India), freedom-loving people across the world were shocked by the revelations of how a highly sophisticated and expensive digital technology, named Pegasus, a spyware sold by Israeli company NSO Group, has been systematically abused for years to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, academics, businesspeople, lawyers, doctors, union leaders, diplomats, politicians and even several heads of states. Regimes in several countries continue to criminally deploy such technologies to suppress democratic rights, curtail human rights, and organise surveillance on a massive scale. Such technologies are military grade weapons and are recognised to be precisely that. It is developed and sold by the NSO Group, a private company supported by Israel. As per NSO, they sell licences only to agencies authorised by a national government and approved by the Israeli government. Although it is being referred to as a software or malware, the spying system consists of an elaborate set of arrangements including a secure supporting backend maintained by the NSO Group.
A brief history of books, resistance, the police and politicians.
It is humanly impossible for even the most learned judge to have read every book referred to in their court. For a brief while this week, the judge conducting the trial of activist Vernon Gonsalves, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon incident of 2018, became an example of this. That was until the judge clarified that he is, in fact, aware of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and his epical novel War and Peace.
His response when the Bhima Koregaon charge sheet was placed before his court proves he knew of the provenance and contents of War and Peace. The confusion, it now appears, arose because the charge sheet had mentioned another book with a similar title. That is how the judge had ended up asking Gonsalves’ lawyers why their client possessed a book about wars in “other countries.”
It is not the judge’s knowledge of great literature but his belief that books about wars in other countries should not be owned (or read) by Indians that is a bigger surprise. Of course, since that remark, many commentators have pointed out that Tolstoy’s writings supported peace and not war. Accordingly, Mahatma Gandhi’s long correspondence with the literary legend is being highlighted afresh.
That said, this is not the first time that judges have expressed a curious indifference to the value of the written word, whether fictional or literary. The question arises, how can we tell if this incident is an aberration or the tip of an iceberg of flimsy excuses to keep people behind bars.
Guest post by PEGGY MOHAN: When the size and complexity of a system pass a certain threshold there is a new feature that typically and suddenly appears: self-regulation. If traffic flow through a crossing exceeds a certain amount we wake up one morning and find a traffic light. It is not there to favor any motorist: what it really signifies is that the scale of things has changed. We are no longer in the realm of the individual but of something much, much larger: a traffic system with compulsions of its own.
It is comforting to think that there is human agency behind the bewildering transitions we are now seeing the world over towards more state surveillance and control along with less regulation of big business. Clearly there are individuals who benefit from the new order. But there is another way of looking at the direction the world is taking. It is possible to see all this as evidence of a phase change, with the emergence of the megasystem itself as a new protagonist, and with human beings relegated to the status of bacteria proliferating in (and dying in) its gut. Continue reading In the Belly of the Beast: Peggy Mohan→
After the suppression of the 1857 Mutiny and the British take over of Delhi, Mirza Ghalib was once asked by a military official whether he were Muslim or not. Ghalib is said to have quipped: “Only half Muslim; I drink wine but refrain from swine.” For me, this ripost evinces a flippant disdain for modern forms of rule which essentialize persons and groups purely based on certain attributes which are deemed definitive and prioritized over others. As far as Ghalib’s case was concerned, the idea may have been to find out based on his religious identity if at all he could pose problems for the newly established colonial regime. In later years, this policy, which African intellectual Mahmood Mamdani has recently termed ‘define and rule’, gradually became integral to governmental practices in most parts of the modern world; today, populations are ever so readily classified and enumerated based on empirically observable characteristics in order to make them amenable to effective government. The Aadhaar project of the Unique Identification Authority of India clearly falls within the gamut of such practices, marking a transition to modernity in a radical break from the past. So my reservations with it are just the same as those with any other modernity inspired programme wherein personal and collective identities are reduced to a somewhat arbitrarily determined bare essence which may have no real connection with lived experiences of fuzzy and contextually constructed identities.
The air is thick with schemes that will enable the state, and its agencies, to identify every resident, and to track what they are doing. A Home Ministry project for creating a National Population Register which will be prepared along with the 2011 Census has been propelled through its pilot stage. Now, an ambitious programme has been launched to load all the residents of the country on to a data base, providing each of us with a unique identity number. What distinguishes this exercise from any other undertaken so far?
First of all, the intention is provide a Unique Identity Number to the whole population, including the just born. The state is to have data on each individual literally from birth to death; and beyond, for a person’s UID is not destroyed at death, merely dis-abled. The numbers are to be so generated that it will not have to be repeated for between a hundred and two hundred years. Continue reading An Aid to Surveillance→