Manufacturing reforms to boost the Indian domestic manufacturing sector, which has been the bottleneck for the IIP in India for quite some time now. Though these measures are welcome, at no point should overzealous capitalism should be allowed to override the well being of the people. The govt can’t and shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that Industrial disasters do still occur even though not at the scale of Bhopal. The chlorine gas leak in Jamshedpur 2008 and the Bombay High Fire in 2005 have happened in the recent past. Along with man-made disasters, there is also the danger of natural disasters like in the case of Oswal Fertilizers mill in Paradip after the supercyclone in 1999.
Clearly, India can boast of more than enough laws to tackle a chemical disaster. However, the effectiveness of these laws needs to be assessed.After the Bhopal disaster and the Oleum gas leak in 1986, the Factories Act, 1948 was amended to extend the scope of risk from such industries from just workers to the people living near the vicinity. The bench also introduced “absolute liability” clause and noted that the compensation need to have a deterrent effect.
But despite all this there are multiple conundrums associated with its implementation:
1. Siting: How to locate an industry especially when there exists an industry in a populated area. Delhi banned all such facilities but everywhere else it has become a huge legal problem.
2. Disaster Management Plan: The local authorities must know and pass on the information through techniques like safety drills to keep them posted with what they need to do in the event of a disaster.
The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, also has provisions for management of hazardous waste, but the rules were last amended in 2010. In the aftermath of the Bhopal disaster, the environment ministry came up with the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Substances Rules, 1989, which detail and catalogue chemicals deemed “hazardous” entering the country, the port of entry and the quantity imported.
In addition, the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008, provide for means of safe storage and disposal of “hazardous waste” (which is listed in its schedules) with the help of central and state pollution control boards. These rules also fix responsibility on those who have control over a facility dealing with such hazardous substances, and those who import, handle or transport such waste, making them “liable for all damages caused to the environment or third party” as well as payment of “financial penalties”.
There is also the Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness, and Response) Rules, 1996, which provides for setting up Central Crisis Committee with the secretary of the environment ministry as chairman and twenty other members “to deal with major chemical accidents and to provide expert guidance for handling major chemical accidents”. It has provisions for state-, district- and even local-level crisis groups. This act only includes cases of negligence and not that involves malice.
An attempt was then made to set up a National Environment Tribunal in 1995 to deal with a Bhopal-like disaster, but it was never enforced. The idea was that the Public Liability Insurance Act (enacted in 1991) would provide interim relief and that the tribunal would determine the final compensation. This responsibility now rests with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which was set up by an Act of Parliament in 2010. The Act also provides for the “principle of no fault liability”, which means that the company can be held liable even if it had done everything in its power to prevent the accident.
The NGT has done some real good as in the case of sand mafia and the Ambuja cements case. But the enforcement of the law have broadly been ineffective with Bhopal victims not given the requisite compensation and the govt miserably failing in bringing the top executives from Union Carbide to book.
Now under Make in India campaign, Indian govt is trying to fast track all approvals, which despite the good intention, may result in the failure to perform the required due diligence in terms of disaster management and environmental impact. The recent modification to the Civil Nuclear Liabilities Act to set up a fund for eventualities in order to dilute the liabilities of the manufacturer makes it the citizens leaving in the vicinity uncomfortable. Since nuclear disasters can have a widescale and long term impact on the environment the funds allocated may well never be sufficient as the total cost of such a disaster is too difficult to evaluate. It would be wise to note that India ranks below Pakistan in nuclear security index. Hence, the apprehensions are not misplaced.
One thing is clear that even though there are enough laws in this country, they are as good as they are implemented. Hence, instead of diluting the existing law just to encourage foreign investments in the country, the govt should rather make sure the laws are implemented in the right spirit by putting public health first. After all, Jaan hai to jahan hai.
“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”, said the virtuoso man of letters from Britain in his much acclaimed masterpiece Areopagitica which not only paved the way for the paradigm changing Glorious Revolution but also became a beacon for freedom of speech and expression. Milton was widely known to be against pre-publication censorship and always thought freedom of expression to be a pre-requisite for a Republican State. In his very words, “they are the troublers, they are the dividers of unity, who neglect and don’t permit others to unite those dissevered pieces which are yet wanting to the body of Truth.” Censorship, for him, induces parochialism which stops the Truth from attaining its totality. He further goes on to say, “he, who destroys a good book, kills reason itself”. The phrase “good book” leaves much to the imagination. The way Itachi Uchiha would put it: who decides what is good and what is evil? And this battle of good and evil was rekindled in the recent Charlie Hebdo incident. While the incident has been showcased as a stand-off between liberalism and extremism, the presence of a power relation or what J.S Mill termed as Majoritarian Tyranny can’t be fully ignored.
For a layman, the term good has come down to whatever is according to law. In a liberal democracy, law is derived from the constitution of the land. The Indian constitution is a piece of work in more than one way. While it vouches for Freedom of Expression, it puts in a set of conditions under the garb of reasonable restrictions. Again Mill’s Harm Principle can be held as a primer for understanding the phrase. In his unique way, he says, “the right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins.” Taking cue, the Indian constitution also coined terms like public decency and public order to be the grounds for putting a check on this freedom. The 16th amendment put in words the exclusion of seditious talks from being covered under the umbrella of freedom of expression. The Arundhati Roy incident comes to our mind in this regard. Another field where such reasonable restrictions can be conspicuously seen is that of book publication. Right from the days of Rangila Rasul (Rajpal Case), clauses of colonial laws like section 295A of the IPC have been invoked from time to time to curb the freedom of expression that book writing provides. The Wendy Doniger saga was no different. Even Perumal Murugan has been condemned widely for his book Maathorubagan (one part woman) for taking the liberty to exaggerate a religious custom to add a little more vibrancy to his literary piece. The cases of books like Dhundi and movies like PK all point to the same thing. In a country with such diversity, there will be too few who are satisfied and too many who take offence. Does that mean we should not have any rule/law? It is not the rule/law but it is its applicability that has always been the cause célèbre.
The applicability has always stirred up controversy because of the dubious ground on which the two words public decency and public order stand. While the ultimate authority to interpret both lies with the judiciary, the former has a more social connotation while the latter is more legal. The public order is primarily interpreted with the help of the constitution and related acts, the IPC and the CrPC but public decency has a big subjective tag attached with it and the problem is when issues of public decency are associated with sensitive topics like culture and religion, they may have major public order ramifications. Such an intertwined relationship has put India in a dilemma, whose resolution is imperative in deciding whether India becomes a heaven of freedom or a hell of parochial dispensations.
If the subjectivity of public decency is such a nuisance, then has anything been done to quantify decency? Are there any tests that say that something is acceptable and something is not with consistency when it comes to decency?
The Miller Test: A three pronged test developed by the US supreme court to label an expression or speech as obscene so as to keep it out of the protection provided by the 1st amendment of the American constitution and hence be prohibited from getting publicity. Named after the landmark Miller vs California (1973)case, the case did delineate a few important concepts like contemporary community standards, prurient interests, patently offensive and value (artistic, scientific or otherwise) which would indicate the obscenity of content of a piece of art or literature. The good thing about the test that all prescribed conditions need be satisfied for a content to be declared obscene which means only genuine cases of obscenity will filter through and would be banned from gaining publicity. Additionally, the point of view of the average man would be considered.
Though this test is an improvement over the Hicklin Test, which was based the standards from the most sensitive group’s perspective, it failed to provide a global solution as it is based on community standards. Besides, in a country with ginormous number of communities like India, Miller test won’t make sense as community standards would change by the kilometre. Particularly important in this regard is a judgment given by the Supreme Court of India in Feb 2014 where the apex court junked the Hicklin Test and quoted clauses from the Miller verdict that merely because a picture showed nudity, it wouldn’t be caught within the obscenity net- “a picture can be deemed obscene only if it is lascivious, appeals to prurient interests and tends to deprave and corrupt those likely to read, see or hear it”. It went on to add that if it had a redeeming social value then it is enough to save it from censorship. The case in which this verdict was meted out was the Sports World (Aveek Sarkar) case where in a nude picture of Boris Becker and his fiancée Barbara Feltus was reproduced. Even though this picture was a statement by the erstwhile couple against the racial remarks being made about their relationship, a solicitous lawyer in India actually dragged Sports World into a court of law on the ground of obscenity. The court, as was expected, rejected the plea by not attaching any depravity or prurience to the picture as the target audience was considered sensible enough to know the difference.
Another interesting case on similar lines was the Ranjit D. Udeshi case wherein the appellant, a bookseller, sold a copy of the unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a book notoriously famous for the explicit descriptions of sex and presence of then-unprintable words. This case brought to light the fact that the Indian Penal Code does not define the word obscene and this delicate task of how to distinguish between that which is artistic and that which is obscene has to be performed by courts, and in the last resort by the community. The test obviously be of a general character but it must admit just application from case to case by indicating a line of demarcation not necessarily sharp but sufficiently distinct to distinguish between that which is obscene and that which is not. Merely sex and nudity can’t be held as marks of obscenity without something more. Half the book-shops would close and the other half would deal in nothing but moral and religious books, otherwise. The court may have dismissed the appeal in this case but it made some key assertions:
- “Where obscenity and art are mixed, art must so preponderate as to throw the obscenity into a shadow or the obscenity must be so trivial and insignificant that it can have no effect and may be overlooked. In other words, treatment of sex in a manner offensive to public decency and, judged by our national standards, considered likely to pander to lascivious, prurient or sexually precocious minds, must determine the result.”
- “The test to adopt in India is that obscenity without a preponderating social purpose or profit cannot have the constitutional protection of free speech and expression, and obscenity is treatment of sex in a manner appealing to the carnal sides of human nature, or having that tendency.”
- “The law seeks to protect not those who can protect themselves but those whose prurient minds take delight and secret sexual pleasure from erotic writings. No doubt this is treatment of sex by an artist and hence there is some poetry even in the ugliness of sex. The book is probably an unfolding of the author’s philosophy of life and of the urges of the unconscious but these are unfolded in his other books. Therefore, there is no loss to society if there was a message in the book. The divagations (sic) with sex are not a legitimate embroidery but they are the only attractions to the common man.”
Madame Pompadour: “How far does the liberty of the Press extend in England?”
John Wilkes:” I do not know. I am trying to find out”
As deduced from the earlier arguments, there is no concrete way of knowing what is obscene and what is not. Owing to its heavy reliance on the court’s legal interpretation, this area has become a bit too technical for a layman to understand. Terms like Scienter, Comstockery, etc. are hardly understood by the common man. When there is such asymmetry, it becomes tough for people to believe if justice is being served. The dependency on community standards allows room to the Majoritarian Tyranny to set in. The books of Jeffrey Kripal, Paul Courtright, and James Laine were banned in India but remain publicly available in the US. Why? Because the Hindus are a majority here. Wendy Doniger’s book that had won the Ramnath Goenka Award was banned in India while it is available elsewhere. Reason again the Hindus are a majority and they can assert their claim anywhere anytime. Nothing explains it better than the attempt of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan to include legends from Hindu mythology into the history books that students from even other religions would read. The same logic can also be applicable for Charlie Hebdo. Controversial pictures of Muhammad were featured on it and its head office got attacked. But would have they done the same with Jesus? I have been told they have. But the catholic organizations also filed libel cases on them. The only difference was in the instrument of protest. While the Catholics took to litigation, the Muslims resorted to violence. Then again the Catholics have a major influence on the government, while Muslims are a beat up minority community and hence they looked abroad for inspiration and what they saw abroad was desperation and destruction and the Kouachi Brothers merely replicated the same.
While there is a rating certification system in movies and body like the Censor Board who are authorized with the power to ban the screening of controversial/obscene movies, there is no such system available for books. Putting a disclaimer does not quite have the same impact as it does in a movie. It is left to the courts to decide on a case to case basis whether a book is obscene or not. Since courts are run according to law, let us have a glance at the available laws which rule this area.
- The Press (Objectionable Matter) Act, 1951 – It provided for the judicial scrutiny by the Sessions Judge. This was repealed in 1957 and was followed up with an ordinance (Prevention of Publication of Objectionable Matters Ordinance 1975) which imposed pre-censorship and provided for stringent measures against hostile press
- Official Secrets Act, 1923: A colonial, draconian law that curbs the freedom of press on the grounds of national security and is still in force and is a threat to Right to Information
- Indecent Representation of Women, 1986: An act of the Indian Parliament that prohibits indecent representation of women in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner. It came to public limelight in the January 2013 controversy involving Jazzy B, YoY o Honey Singh and Daljit Dosanjh.
- Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000: Sending offensive message through electronic means – Sending any information through an electronic message that is grossly offensive or has menacing character and might cause insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, etc. or sending such mail intended to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages – Awards punishment upto 3 years with fine
- IPC sections: The following provisions in the IPC curbs the freedom of speech in the interest of public health and order and in the interest of unity and integrity of India
- Section 124a: Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine
- Section 153a: Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony
- Section 292: A book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object, shall be deemed to be obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect, or (where it comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items, is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt person, who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it
- Section 294: Obscene acts and songs.—Whoever, to the annoyance of others—does any obscene act in any public place, or sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both. Karan Johar’s song in the AIB roast perfectly fits in here
- Section 295a: Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.—Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both (India is a secular country but this piece of law is closest to any anti-blasphemy laws that can be legislated). Satanic Verses and The Hindus: An alternative history were banned under this section.
- Section 509: Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman.—Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both. The Fareeda Jalal reference may fall in this bucket (provided she ever complains).
The knowledge of wrongness prior to committing the act or scienter is a key aspect that need to be consideration for getting a conviction.
Besides the above, India is a signatory to the Convention for the Suppression of the Circulation of, and Traffic in, Obscene Publications, concluded at Geneva on 12 September 1923 and amended by the Protocol signed at Lake Success, New York, on 12 November 1947, which criminalise the production, possession, importation, exportation, trade, advertisement, or display of “obscene writings, drawings, prints, paintings, printed matter, pictures, posters, emblems, photographs, cinematograph films or any other obscene objects.
But we are in the 21st century and our civilisation has been through multiple waves of counter-cultralism. Each generation finds a new way to prove their non-conformity, ethos and aspiration through some form of art. The gradual shift from the celluloid to stand-up comedy to the recent genre of insult comedy(which has been present in the US since the 1950s) marks one such transformation. The recent AIB roast controversy actually shows the friction that a nation in transition faces. While there are elements who crave for eleutheromania there are people who can’t stand such frenzy for freedom. They are the people of conventions and it is not easy for them so accept such liberties especially when liberty gives you the freedom to offend someone. Many cases have been filed and many pleas have been made. Even though the locus standi of these cases stand on dodgy grounds, one must not forget with liberty comes responsibility. As Wendell Philips had once said “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. If people have the power of creativity, then they must be cautious while they exercise them and try to drive a positive change around them. We sympathize with AIB and Charlie Hebdo. We say “je suis Charlie”. But while it is okay to support people who teach us the art of humility through self-abuse and self-mockery, it is equally important to recognize the power of satire to drive social change. Tim Parks writing for the New York Review of Books mentioned that cultural blindness and insensitivity can be inimical to the objective of the satire. He substantiated this claim by giving example of his satire on the Catholic view on contraceptives which ended up not only antagonizing the Italians but also caused revulsion towards his progressive take on abortion. A little subtlety instead of crass confrontation would have done a great deal in carrying his just cause forward. Similarly, no doubt, offence for offence’s sake can be defended but it is offence for debate’s sake that needs to be promoted. Satire can strike the chords for constructive debate only when it provides opportunity for positive participation. If causing outrage instead of enlightening the readers/audience becomes the objective of satire then there is no denying that there is a chance that somebody would retaliate. And when it happens, that day satire would stop being a potent tool for social change. As a self-flagellating man attracts eyeballs, self-mockery can be used to draw attention to a particular issue. It is very easy to blame the Muslims in the Charlie Hebdo case but did Charlie Hebdo try to understand the power structure in the Muslim World? Did they have Muslim creative minds in their core team? Or were they just haughty enough not to have realized the significance of Muhammad in Islam? Terms like equal opportunity offender are being thrown around in defence. But the fact remains that to become effective as a satire and to acquire more audience, they need to be sensitive to the culture of the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, who dwell in the fringes of our society.
Similarly, the youth of this country are up in arms with AIB, showing their solidarity with the Indian comedy group. We find it unpalatable why third parties are creating a ruckus over something that they were never part of. That being true what would have been the case if Fareeda Jalal would have herself filed a defamation case. Personally, I liked some of the jokes on the programme. But come to think of them, they were the ones that seemed well thought out, may be scripted. Then there were some that sounded out of context, in prompt and were of very bad taste. Then there were the convenient jokes on color, religion, sexual orientations, and physical deformations, which may give you a one-time laugh but can’t be a source of sustained entertainment. Satire should not only be a voice of liberation. Liberty should be accompanied by equality and fraternity if it were to drive home the point it is trying to make. And that would mean that there is a need to understand the targets of our satire. It is very easy to stereotype people, to judge that someone is tolerant and someone is not by standing on a position of privilege. The urban youth must realize not everybody comes from the background and as already mentioned the friction of transition will be there in India given its current phase of development.
In conclusion, as John Milton would have wanted, freedom of speech must be guaranteed in a democracy and so should tolerance be propagated. But given the state of our nation, contradictions will be there, hypocrisies (as in the case of Raja Ravi Verma: while the lower caste people commended him for making Hindu deities accessible, the higher caste people were against him for maligning their gods) will be there and so will there be retaliation. But that is what makes the job of this generation of comedians and artists more challenging as they try to come out from their counter-culture image to the mainstream and facilitate the transformation of the Indian society. People must remember that there are obscenity laws in the West as well. And for the youth who think it is all about equality and freedom, they must try and raise their voice for not only AIB but also for Wendy Doniger and Shirin Dalvi. As a final remark, I would like to say that if the applicability of the laws is the problem, then the task before writers, journalists, artists, comedians, etc. is to put pressure on the parliament to amend the constitution/sections of IPC or at least define the ‘the frame of applicability’ of the phrases “public order” and “decency and morality” in Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution.
Women need protection in a patriarchal society like India. But the fact that it can only be provided by strong laws is not completely true. Studies have revealed that perpetrators of sexual offences often showcase higher levels of recidivism (relapse) after they have served punishments for their crimes. There can be two solutions to prevent such a relapse. One is awarding capital punishment to repeat offenders (as was done in the Shakti Mills rape case) and the other is a longer process of conditioning of minds to understand feminine sensitivities. The former would be a failure of democracy as it would mean cruelty for cruelty (hence, can never achieve a violence-free society). Besides, nobody is sure of the deterrence effect it would have on others (as many studies have shown indifferent results). Another problem with having stricter punishments is that it may instigate an aggressor to kill the victim, even though it may not be his initial intention, so as to escape from punishment.
The Criminal Law (amendment) Act, 2013, prima facie, showed the tougher stance the government is going to adopt against crimes against women. Even if this act may deter casual offenders, it would be difficult to deter the acts that are committed with rage or cold calculation. The reason for this is “people who commit these crimes out of rage or vengeance think that these crimes would either end the victim’s life or scar the victim for life”, Hence, there is a need for the society to de-stigmatize the victims and accept them as whole into the society. Here the latter solution of mental conditioning would come in handy. People should be made to experience from infancy that men and women are equal and one should always respect and help the other to run the society smoothly.
“Count o’er the joys thine hours have seen,
Count o’er thy days from anguish free,
And know, whatever thou hast been,
‘T is better not to be.” – Lord Byron
These are the final four lines of one of the most intriguing yet forgotten poems of Lord Byron. It so, candidly, captures the feeling of a person who is seeking solace in death after being beaten down by life. That death, indeed, can be anguish free.
Last month, one French doctor, Nicolas Bonnemaison was acquitted in a case in which he was on trial for delivering lethal injections to 7 terminally ill patients, a decision which caught much limelight as it came in the backdrop of a legal tussle between the French Administrative Court and European Court of Human Rights over the withdrawal of life support of a Comatose patient. A decision which could have possibly handed the doctor a punishment of 14 year imprisonment 7 times over if he were in India, where active Euthanasia is still legally construed as culpable homicide. The doctor’s lawyer articulated at the end of the legal ordeal,”There are no heroes here, no martyrs. This man acted as a doctor. He always acknowledged that, shouted that, despite the blows he received”.
At the heart of the controversy is the duality in human conscience that may have germinated from a face-off between religion and scientific rationality. With all major religion preaching that Human is made in God’s image and hence only He has the right to decide about the death of a person, euthanasia is still a taboo for those who claim allegiance to a certain faith. But God, even if true, as a concept, is abstract. But what one sees in the case of terminally ill patients is that life is reduced to a rigmarole of helplessness, an incessant suffering not just for the victim, who often is reduced to a vegetative state,
but also for the near and dear ones. Rationality decides to differ from faith.The advocates of euthanasia see their opposition as being “stone-hearted” with no mercy for the sufferer who just to upkeep their faith prolong the suffering of their near and dear ones. While the opposition dubs the euthanasia-enthusiasts (if one can say them that) as being students of the John Donne’s “Death be not proud” school of thought who see death as the easy solution out. The above confrontation, the Hippocratic Oath of the doctors, the doctrine of double effect, the existing legislation along with the close link of euthanasia with murder and suicide have managed to create hurdles in the pursuit of formulating decisive policies regarding this issue.
Types of Euthanasia
Euthanasia is broadly divided into two parts on the basis of consent: 1. Voluntary Euthanasia (with the consent of the patient where the patient is able to communicate in some way his wish to end life)
2. Involuntary Euthanasia (where the patient is either in Comatose state or in a state of complete paralysis so as to be unable to communicate his/her consent or is a person is legally not considered competent enough to take such a decision like a child, a mentally unstable person)
For obvious reasons, the latter tends to generate more controversy.
Another classification is based on the way the act is carried out:
1. Active Euthanasia
2. Passive Euthanasia
In active euthanasia a person directly and deliberately causes the patient’s death. In passive euthanasia they don’t directly take the patient’s life, they just allow them to die.
This is a morally unsatisfactory distinction, since even though a person doesn’t ‘actively kill’ the patient, they are aware that the result of their inaction will be the death of the patient.
Active euthanasia is when death is brought about by an act – for example when a person is killed by being given an overdose of pain-killers/lethal injections.
Passive euthanasia is when death is brought about by an omission – i.e. when someone lets the person die. This can be by withdrawing or withholding treatment:
- Withdrawing treatment: for example, switching off a machine that is keeping a person alive, so that they die of their disease.
- Withholding treatment: for example, not carrying out surgery that will extend life for a short time.
Traditionally, passive euthanasia is thought of as less bad than active euthanasia as there is a possibility of malefic intent in case of active euthanasia as it involves lethal injections. While there are some who believe that active euthanasia is morally more correct as it involves moral decisiveness.
Another version is the Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) which means making no efforts to revive a person who is on the cusp of death. Another form of euthanasia where help of trained physician is sought is called Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) or simply assisted suicide.
Hinduism on Euthanasia
There are two Hindu views on euthanasia:
- By helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations
- By helping to end a life, even one filled with suffering, a person is disturbing the timing of the cycle of death and rebirth. This is a bad thing to do, and those involved in the euthanasia will take on the remaining karma of the patient.
- The same argument suggests that keeping a person artificially alive on a life-support machine would also be a bad thing to do
- However, the use of a life-support machine as part of a temporary attempt at healing would not be a bad thing
But Hinduism believes more in teleological ethics than other western philosophies in the sense that it focuses on the consequences of our action. But whether euthanasia kills a person who could have been resuscitated or whether it relieves a person from his/her suffering can never be established as a clear-cut consequence. One may say, it depends on the time frame for which the patient has been in helpless state. Then who decides what is an accepted time frame to establish the incurability of a condition? 7 years is required to consider an unaccounted person legally dead. Does this mean one must allow a person to suffer for 7 years to consider him/her eligible for euthanasia? Aruna Shanbaug has been on life support system for 40 years! Is it all matter of perspective? Whatever may be the case, to stipulate the conditions for enabling a graceful death will always be one of the toughest questions that the parliament will ever face. But even Hinduism permits for what is known as Prayopavesa and the texts consider it different from suicide/murder in the following ways:
- it’s non-violent and uses natural means;
- it’s only used when it’s the right time for this life to end – when this body has served its purpose and become a burden;
- unlike the suddenness of suicide, prayopavesa is a gradual process, giving ample time for the patient to prepare himself and those around him for his death;
- while suicide is often associated with feelings of frustration, depression, or anger, prayopavesa is associated with feelings of serenity
Is this not an act of euthanasia? Even the founding father of Hindutva in India, Veer Savarkar also committed Prayopavesa by saying that it was Atmaarpan not Aatmahatya. The Hindu religious law also defines the following conditions for prayopavesa:
- inability to perform normal bodily purification
- death appears imminent or the condition is so bad that life’s pleasures are nil
- the decision is publicly declared
- the action must be done under community regulation
Are these not conforming to Lord Byron’s prophetic four lines? Is this not what the advocates of euthanasia/assisted suicides precisely talking about? Is prayopavesa not an example of passive euthanasia? If killing a person breaks the cycle of karma, so does artificial life support system. If such hypocrisy were not there, the doctrine of double effect would never be applicable for an act of euthanasia and the practitioners can perform such act with much decisiveness and far lesser burden.
Laws on Euthanasia
In the 1973 “Postma case” a physician in Netherlands was convicted for having facilitated the death of her mother following repeated explicit requests for euthanasia.While upholding the conviction, the court’s judgment set out criteria when a doctor would not be required to keep a patient alive contrary to their will. This set of criteria was formalized in the course of a number of court cases during the 1980s.
In 2002, the Netherlands passed a law legalizing euthanasia including physician assisted suicide. This law codifies the twenty-year-old convention of not prosecuting doctors who have committed euthanasia in very specific cases, under very specific circumstances. The Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports claims that this practice “allows a person to end their life in dignity after having received every available type of palliative care.”The United Nations has reviewed and commented on the Netherlands euthanasia law.
In September 2004 the Groningen Protocol was developed, which sets out criteria to be met for carrying out child euthanasia (a form of involuntary euthanasia) without the physician being prosecuted.
In Scotland, The End of Life Assistance Bill was defeated by 85 votes to 16 with two abstentions.
The Debbie Purdy case still stands testimony to the legal challenges that this issue often carries with it. Ms. Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who wanted to know if her husband would be prosecuted for helping her to die was given a clarification on the law on assisted suicide in 2009. It was ruled that the decision to prosecute would remain conditional on various factors including the nature of the victim’s illness. All investigations in this regard would be subject to discretion on a cast-to-case basis. Assisting suicide was to remain illegal and carried a jail term of up to 14 years, but the implication was that it was unlikely that legal action would be taken against people if they assisted the suicide of a friend or relative who had a settled and informed wish to die. A legal grey area one must say!
In Japan, there are no official laws on the status of euthanasia and the Supreme Court of Japan has never ruled on the matter. Rather, to date, Japan’s euthanasia policy has been decided by two local court cases, one in Nagoya in 1962, and another after an incident at Tokai University in 1995. The first case involved shōkyokuteki anrakushi (passive euthanasia) and the latter involved sekkyokuteki anrakushi (active euthanasia). The judgments in these cases form the legal framework to handle such cases by defining a set of conditions. As the conditions have not been ratified at a national level, they are not exactly legally binding. At least, it is a step forward. The following sums up the conditions so decided:
In the case of passive euthanasia, three conditions must be met:
- the patient must be suffering from an incurable disease, and in the final stages of the disease from which he/she is unlikely to make a recovery;
- the patient must give express consent to stopping treatment, and this consent must be obtained and preserved prior to death. If the patient is not able to give clear consent, their consent may be determined from a pre-written document such as a living will or the testimony of the family;
- the patient may be passively euthanized by stopping medical treatment, chemotherapy, dialysis, artificial respiration, blood transfusion, IV drip, etc.
For active euthanasia, four conditions must be met:
- the patient must be suffering from unbearable physical pain;
- death must be inevitable and drawing near;
- the patient must give consent. (Unlike passive euthanasia, living wills and family consent will not suffice.)
- the physician must have (ineffectively) exhausted all other measures of pain relief.
Even though, in France, there is no law regarding euthanasia, Francois Hollande made it a promise for his Presidential campaign to decriminalize voluntary euthanasia, which speaks volumes about how critical a topic it is for human rights.
Euthanasia in Indian Law
In India, a country where an attempted suicide is considered a felony and can get you a jail term of at least a year, Aruna Shanbaug’s case remains a landmark case. Even though the two judge Supreme Court bench denied her plea for euthanasia after a thorough medical examination (pointing out an issue of locus standi of the appellant and the care and concern shown by the hospital staff who believe that she may get well), the case allowed passive euthanasia in India which was a massive step forward, given that the issue hardly enjoyed any currency before the case surfaced. In the words of Shubhangi Tulli, the lawyer who fought her case, “Because of this woman who has never received justice, no other person in a similar position will have to suffer for more than three and a half-decades.” But the administration of lethal injections or any other form of active euthanasia is held illegal in India. Since the executive has failed to convert this Shanbaug case ruling into a law, there doesn’t exist a law for euthanasia in India. The Supreme Court guidelines are acting as fill-in until the moment a law is legislated. God only knows when! A set of hygiene factors that need be observed before permitting passive euthanasia has been laid down in the form of a guideline. The following delineates the same:
- A decision has to be taken to discontinue life support either by the parents or the spouse or other close relatives, or in the absence of any of them, such a decision can be taken even by a person or a body of persons acting as a next friend. It can also be taken by the doctors attending the patient. However, the decision should be taken bona fide in the best interest of the patient.
- Even if a decision is taken by the near relatives or doctors or next friend to withdraw life support, such a decision requires approval from the High Court concerned.
- When such an application is filled the Chief Justice of the High Court should forthwith constitute a Bench of at least two Judges who should decide to grant approval or not. A committee of three reputed doctors to be nominated by the Bench, who will give report regarding the condition of the patient. Before giving the verdict a notice regarding the report should be given to the close relatives and the State. After hearing the parties, the High Court can give its verdict.
Due diligence is important but one must also make sure that such steps don’t get clogged up only to multiply the misery of the patient and his/her kith and kin.
Concept of Good Death
A good death according to many socio-medical institutions assures the victim of greater control over what happens, when it happens; control over pain and symptoms; privacy as well as support; control over who is present when the end comes and assures time to say good bye without needlessly prolonging the suffering.
A survey by the American Medical Association found the following factors that people associate with a dignified death:
- freedom from pain
- at peace with God
- presence of family
- mentally aware
- treatment choices followed
- finances in order
- feel life was meaningful
- resolve conflicts
- die at home
Can these points not act as a guideline in the case of terminally ill patients to ensure that euthanasia is not administered abruptly but as a well thought out, last resort kind of reprieve that will put an end to a, otherwise, miserable existence.
Killing a person is no doubt a taboo. Intentional killing is an even greater crime. All that is because life is considered precious. But what if life is rendered worthless, a body rendered useless, reduced to a souvenir of grim reminders for the ones who care. What if death has become valuable than life, a quiet recluse from all suffering? It’s very easy to romanticize euthanasia. But there is nothing romantic about law which needs to be as impersonal as possible and that is where the judiciary as well as the executive are struggling. They can’t ignore the social, cultural and spiritual connotations associated with euthanasia and death in general. Yet one must remain as rational and objective as possible so as to lay down a consistent and replicable set of laws that can put an end to the miseries of millions. Terminal nature of illness needs to be proven, so also the fact that all possible treatment measures have been applied and tested. The consent should be well documented in the presence of credible and responsible witnesses. Article 21 of the Indian constitution says “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” The right to life here assures a life with dignity. If life can’t accord any dignity then at least let death accord some. All that is required is a procedure established by law. Can the executive step up so as to be a guiding light in the area of social justice and human rights not just for India but for the entire world?
“Leandro Damiao, from Internacional de Porto Alegre. He’s tall, strong, a very good goalscorer, a threat in the air and skilful with both feet. He’ll play a big part in 2014” – Ronaldo (the Brazilian) when asked who he thinks can take the tag of the “new Ronaldo” in the current Brazilian Team. He lost his place to one player named Fred. Players like Ganso and Coutinho also didn’t make the cut. Willian, who is such a popular figure in Brazil got matches in bits and pieces. The selection was always under the scanner especially because neither Fred nor his replacement Jo were firing all cylinders. Scolari went on with Fred to create Familia Scolari (just to maintain the same Confederations cup set-up). But the problem was Scolari never expected the star of the Familia, Neymar to exit in such unfortunate fashion and Thiago (the only traditional defender in the team) to be suspended in the same match. The defenders were bad but then again one doesn’t expect Luiz and Marcelo to play the role of the sheet anchor. Dante was a collateral damage who just couldn’t absorb the pressure when thrust unto the limelight directly in the semi-finals and that too against the Panzers. Brazil’s wins in this world cup against any decent side like Chile, Colombia (the Colombians falling victim to pressure and a superlative David Luiz kick) were more or less scrappy to say the least. Paulinho’s and Fernandinho’s world cup performances were more or less average and with they losing the ball so frequently, there was little hope for the defenders especially when the opposition was Germany.
When asked why he was not given a chance by Scolari, Damiao replied “God knows the time for everything”. May be it’s time when Scolari needs to do some answering.
“There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are….” – Captain James T. Kirk
I understood the importance of these lines at the press of a button of my TV remote as I switched from HBO to CNN, where they were displaying pics of the ISIS/ISIL executing the captured soldiers and the Shias parading with a resolve to eliminate the Sunni insurgency from Iraq in masks that resembled that of a rather distant yet radical outfit called Ku Klux Klan. But is it just a sectarian divide that has resulted in creating this political gangrene in Iraq or is it something more of a complex conundrum.
The Shia-Sunni Divide
Let’s wind back the time by a millennium and a half. Everything was fine with the teachings of Mohammad until he passed away. In contemporary terms, he did not have a sound succession plan. So it boiled down to a basic political question of who will take over the leadership figure. Whether it will be”merit or dynasty”. Though many who took pride in the teachings and traditions of Mohammad were quick to recognize that only on the basis of merit (a function of competence, seniority and knowledge) can such a successor be selected and hence selected the most learned of Mohammad’s companions Abu Bakr as the first caliph. These people called themselves “people of the tradition of Muhammad and the consensus of the Ummah” or ahl as-sunnah“. Thus was born the Sunni sect. No wonder the leaders of the sunni militant outfits ISIS and Boko Haram have named themselves after Abu Bakr ( Boko Haram’s leader is named Abu Bakr Shekau and that of the ISIS is called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi). But there were some who thought such a selection would only politicize Islam in the long run and thought that the position of the Mohammad and his successor was too divine to be brought down to such political machinations. They thought that only a divine appointment could decide who is to lead the followers of Islam. They decided Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Mohammad would be the successor of the Mohammad as elected mortals would never have the Aql to interpret the esoteric knowledge of the Quran. They called him the first Imam and the Shia sect was born which is nothing but an abbreviation of Shia’t Ali or the party of Ali. Caliphate and Imamate became the cornerstones of two versions of Islam when Mohammad envisioned only one. That is why one can never withstand the other. Thus, the principle divide of all Muslims happened not because of religious reasons but because of a lack of a political system in Islam of which the most important concept is the appointment of a leader/ruler. Both believed in the fact that Islam can achieve its true potential only in the establishment of an Islamic state which could rule through Sharia thereby replacing all other forms of legislation. The Quran left the choice of political systems to the wisdom of the people but this divide started a Darwinian order of survival which saw coercion as the only effective instrument of preservation of faith. A delusional quest for a theocratic utopia which, if ever existed, has long since been lost.
Things take turn for the worse
With the advent of Wahhabism and Nihilistic Fanaticism, the divide became even more bitter. They (the Wahhabis) not only abhorred the Shia sect but also despised the Sunnis who had given into the foreign accretions to corrupt their religion. They reverted to the Quran and the Hadith in its earliest forms to purify the religion at the expense of making it anachronistic. They resorted to coercion rather the Quranic principle of persuasion to enforce their version of Sharia and thus was born the religious police which somehow finds a way of relating driving of cars by Muslim Women as an act of defiance of the Lord. The Wahhabi movement was started by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the 18th century, a time when the West was on a global expedition on the back of a very successful industrial revolution. It was natural that they developed an instant intolerance against anything that is Western. If anything, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS have taken it to the next level. In July 2013, European Parliament identified the Wahhabi movement as the source of global terrorism and a threat to traditional and diverse Muslim cultures of the whole world. Right now, they are desperate and they are dangerous than ever before. The words of the now-deceased charismatic leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Anwar al-Awlaki actually clinches it “The ballot has failed us, but the bullet has not”. But was such extremism only attributable to an intra-religious parochialism or the outsiders had their parts to play in this internecine conflict.
The Sykes Picot Agreement
An outcome of the British fantasy of having control over the Mediterranean, the Sykes Picot Agreement was a rather secretive triple entente that saw Britain, France and Russia (the latter joined just to conquer Istanbul to settle something that was started in the Crimean incendiary). Truth be told, if there was a kingdom that was worthy of being partitioned as war riches at the time of the World War I, then it was the Ottoman Empire due to its strategic position on the world map. According to the Agreement, the British were to get the coastal strip between river Jordan, Jordan, Southern Iraq and a small area consisting of the ports of Haifa and Acre. France was allocated control of south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Russia was to get Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and the Ottoman Armenian vilayets. The controlling powers were left free to decide on state boundaries within these areas. They were to be mandates or regions of influence (as the word ‘colony’ was already seen as a taboo back then). Further negotiations were expected to determine international administration pending consultations with Russia and other powers, including the Sharif of Mecca. But the Bolsheviks blew the lid of this conspiracy in 1917 much to the chagrin of the British and the dismay of the Arabs, who were promised of an independent future for taking on the mighty Turks by one of the more prominent of British War Heroes, T.E. Lawrence, a person known as the Lawrence of Arabia. Deeply hurt by the ignominy of being regarded as a oath-breaker, he refused the Distinguished Service Order and the insignia of a Companion of the Bath from the hands of King George V, and also the king’s offer of a knighthood or the Order of Merit.
Even Palestine was dealt with similarly. With deceit. The McMohan-Hussein Correspondence of 1915 guaranteed Palestine a place in the Arab world and hence an independent future only to be fooled by the underhandedness of the British who, through the Balfour Declaration, declared Palestine as the Land of the Jews. The British were forever opportunists who could feel the sway that Zionism was catching unto especially because of the influence the Zionists had in the US. We all know how this proposition turned out to be, especially after the Resolution 181 of the UN. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
And thus were most of the modern boundaries of the middle-east countries decided. On a lie. And anything built on lies will finally crumble and fall. May be we are seeing the fall now in the form of ISIS which has vowed to create a caliphate from Syria to Northern Egypt or may be till the Horn of Africa and thereby destroying the existing boundaries as established by the Sykes-Picot agreement. And it wouldn’t be a long shot if ISIS tries to wrest control of Palestine out of Israeli hands.
The Rise of the Qutbists, the Iranian Revolution and the Pre-Iraq War Period
If there was a zealot, then it was the author of the Ma’alim fi-l-Tariq (the milestones), Sayyid Qutb whose hatred for America and obsession with moral purity were legendary. To quote him, “Should I travel to America, and become flimsy, and ordinary, like those who are satisfied with idle talk and sleep. Or should I distinguish myself with values and spirit. Is there other than Islam that I should be steadfast to in its character and hold on to its instructions, in this life amidst deviant chaos, and the endless means of satisfying animalistic desires, pleasures, and awful sins? I wanted to be the latter man.” He didn’t even marry because he could not find a women of appropriate moral purity and discretion.
In the aftermath of the Sykes Picot Agreement given a formal status through the various peace agreements that followed the world war I, the mandate perpetuated the British influence in the Egyptian Monarchy. The tyranny of the monarchy and their pro-western overtures provided fodder for the likes of Gamal Abdel Nasser to start a resistance with an ideology of protecting Islam from the pro-western monarchy. This ensured the support of the so-called Muslim Brotherhood which had tried its best to be a political outfit with persuasion, rather than force, as their instrument of influence. But the advent of Nasserism saw the dream of Muslim Brotherhood of a state based on Islamism become a distant dream. Desperate times called for desperate measures and the Muslim Brotherhood decided to forgo its tenet of non-violence when it embarked on a failed coup of the Gamal Abdel Nasser. This provided a reason to Nasser to crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Even though Qutb was executed for high treason, his way of life had already made him a cult figure so much so that the likes of Osama bin laden have claimed to have been influenced by his teachings. The ideology of that of his followers called the Qutbists borders on anti-Western, Jihadist Islamism which continues till this day. The Qutbists abide by the Sunnah just like Sayyid Qutb himself, and hence are Sunni Muslims.
It is not that the Shias lack their share of radicalism (Nouri al-Maliki had to neutralize the Shia radicals from Basrah when he came to power to establish a stable government). They were just too few to create a hum of the magnitude of the sunni extremists with the exception of Hezbollah. So they turned to a safer, a sustainable mode of state sponsorship through the establishment of Vilayat e faqih (an outcome of a successful Iranian Revolution) which endowed the Imam or the Ayatollah with juristic custodianship of the people. He was to be their Supreme Leader who would be a man of impeccable rectitude, who would not fall under the purview of the elected government. Thus, the Imamate of yore was restored for the Shias that was so much essential for the preservation of their faith. Russia’s support for the Shi’ite state of Iran was a bonus as the Leftists had a huge role in the success of the revolution (that explains why Lavrov bargained for Iran in the recent Geneva Agreements)
The successful Iranian Revolution brought forth a fear among the Iraqi officials that there may a dangerous spill-over effect of the revolution that would see the long oppressed Shia majority (oppressed by the Baathists) raise its voice against the Iraqi Government. On the pretext of border disputes, the Iraqis attacked Iran which resulted in the first Persian Gulf War. Amidst the chaos, another group which was cheated upon by the Sykes Picot Agreement rose its head: the Kurdish Nationalists, who were turned into minorities in all three states of Iraq, Iran and Turkey in a single sweeping act. Even one of the reasons of the 1991 Gulf war was the territorial possession of Basrah (with both Kuwait and Iraq claiming the territory), again an outcome of the Sykes Picot. And we so comfortably stereotype all problems in the Middle East as a fallout of the Shia-Sunni divide.
Enter US and the rise of ISIS
After leading a coalition to defeat Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, the US, whatever its reasons be (philanthropic or otherwise), decided to stay back in Iraq. Under the aegis of the UNSC Resolution 688, it started the Operation Southern Watch whose objective was to ensure compliance of the Saddam Hussein government with the resolution. The Saddam Hussein continued to flout certain stipulations that he considered Draconian and continued to torture the Shia minority. The US got a hint of an on-going Biological Weapons Program and made it an agenda point to pass the Iraq Liberation Act and invade Iraq in 2003. This was later denied by the US appointed Iraq Survey Group which concluded that Saddam Hussein ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war and there was no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program. Later, a statement made by Wesley Clark revealed that the Iraq War was strategic in nature following the 9/11 attacks. The US had a plan to attack seven Middle Eastern countries in five years based on US strategic calculations and the rise of Freedom Agenda.
The US didn’t stop with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. They wanted to cleanse Al-qaeda out of Iraq. Taking advantage of the Anbar Awakening (i.e. the Sons of Iraq), the US marshaled fellow Sunnis to ouster the Sunni militia by using them as paid mercenaries. As Sunni Islamism waned in Iraq, Nouri al Maliki took advantage and disbanded most of the Sunnis from the army and cut funds to the Sons of Iraq which left them seething with rage. He also ordered for the arrest of Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi to further curb the Sunni influence. The result was a weak army and an unstable political set-up as the Kirkian argument set in and the Shias sought revenge on the Sunnis and began to exploit them. All this boiled down to the bombings in Baghdad and other big cities in Iraq which according to CNN estimates resulted in getting 7,818 killed and 17,981 injured. A similar sway was taking hold in Syria where ironically the US started funding the Sunni moderates against the Assad Regime hoping to form stable government across the Levant and also praying that the aid doesn’t reach the extremists. But that was a fool’s hope.
The Sarin Gas attack on the Ghouta Suburbs around Damascus proved to be the death knell. The Sunnis in their desperation, in the words of Alfred Pennyworth, turned to someone they didn’t completely understand: the ISIS. Feeding on the Sunni Identity Crisis, ISIS put forward the grand agenda of establishing a caliphate across the Gulf states (or the Levant). The failure of the Arab Spring to establish democratic governments across the Arab World made matters easier for ISIS to take center-stage in staging a Sunni onslaught on the so-called infidels. They were so single-minded in their objective that they decided to ignore the directions of Al Qaeda, its parent organization, which sometimes takes political issues into consideration. Consequentially, Al Qaeda disavowed any connection with ISIS back in February 2014.
Due to a variety of reasons which included the global condemnation and subsequent abdication of the US from Syria, the ISIS (which fed on the trickling down US resources in Syria) saw massive reverses in its campaign in Syria. With Turkey and Jordan tightening the screws on their borders, the only option left for the ISIS was to head towards Iraq, which anyway had a weaker army. A second abdication of the US in Iraq left a political void where Sunni community had taken a battering under the repressive Nouri al-Maliki, who failed miserably at establishing an inclusive government in Iraq. The conditions were conducive for ISIS to germinate in Iraq and spread like a contagion. So it did. The ISIS was different from Al Qaeda. They were single minded and had more military conviction. Besides, the US weaponry that reached to them via the Syrian and Iraqi Civil Wars proved enough to defeat the dispirited and disinterested Iraqi military. This time they understood the resource constraints better and hence they looted the central bank at Mosul to abscond with $429 Mn, an amount that made ISIS the world’s richest terror group. After Mosul came Tikrit and now they find themselves within striking distance of Baghdad. The Kurds, given the perennial opportunists they are, took advantage of the disarray and gained control over Kirkuk and its oil fields, which can produce more than 300000 barrels a day. The Kurdish believe this will allow them the independence that is needed to establish a sovereign Kurdish State.
Why in the current state the Iraqi army would never beat ISIS? The Iraqi army has 250,000 troops; its enemies, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), somewhere around 7,000. Yet the Iraqi army could not withstand the ISIS onslaught. It is not just because of Sectarianism. It was political as well. More precisely, Nouri al-Maliki’s handiwork. He significantly weakened the army. He replaced effective Sunni officers with Shia ones and well-trained generals with loyalists. This was an attempt to protect his own political position. A strong, independent army could launch a coup d’etat. An army filled with your cronies is safer. On the other hand, the second-in-command line of the ISIS has military strategists, Saddam Hussein affiliates and participants in Syrian Civil War who have seen war, been in war and know how to kill and stand one’s ground. Another problem that lies is sheer political. The northern Iraq has Sunni majority and hence, precludes any attempt of overrun by brute force on the part of the al-Maliki government.
What’s in it for the world?
US: Further fragmentation of Iraq along sectarian lines would only bring back Jihadist ideology to the fore. Its attempt to establish stable democracies in the Levant would go for a toss. The present count of around 5000 US army men is a mere token and is hardly enough to secure its own existence. The recent declaration of Obama for sending 300 military advisers to better organize the Mahdi Army comes across as a pale recreation of its policy of abdication. In truth, it would be hard to regain the leverage it forfeited in 2010. Besides, a full scale air-strike will have its repercussions.
Saudi Arabia: The Saudi Arabia is even in a bizarre situation. It doesn’t approve of the ways of the ISIS and the ISIS see the Saudi Elites as corrupt who have brought Islam to a ruin. Hence, the Saudis can’t endorse the ISIS attacks in Iraq as it would threaten its own security in the long run. But, it is also wary of the Shia upsurge in Iraq, the improving U.S.-Iran engagement, and the likelihood of an Iranian intervention to maintain Shia primacy in the country which will pose a threat to the Salafist regime in Saudi Arabia.
Iran: This is a country which stands to gain most from the quelling of the Sunni militancy in Iraq. The influence it already exerts on the al-Maliki government can help Iran establish a nation that expresses solidarity for the Shia Muslims.
China, Russia and Korea: In light of the marginalization of the Muslim Brotherhood and other mainstream Islamist outfits in Egypt, Syria and to a limited extent in Tunisia, groups like ISIS have come forth to champion Islamism with more lethal force. A win for the ISIS in Iraq (which may result in political/territorial split-up of Iraq) would set a precedent for the groups like Uighur Militants and Chechen Militant Resistance. To resolve this issue, they must involve themselves in finding a peaceful solution to the development in Iraq. Besides, the Baathists and the Mahdis in Iraq have shared cordial relations with the erstwhile Soviet Union, especially during the Cold War. Korea also has huge energy interests in Iraq through the Korea National Oil Corporation, especially in the Bazian block.
India: India enjoys a rare position of respect and soft power in the region given the history of trade and commerce it shares with the region. Besides, India has often strived to maintain cordial relations with the Gulf States owing its dependence for oil and employment (and subsequent repatriation). But as of now bulk of the oil reserves available for exports are located in the government’s stranglehold. But future is uncertain. Already the oil prices have begun to swell and any more increase will definitely have its impact on the economic recovery that India is vying for. The hostage situation would make future employment opportunities less attractive and thus affecting the economy through reduced repatriation.
What can be done?
A concerted effort in the form of a direct dialogue involving all the players involved in the fiasco is the need of the hour. In order to solve the issues of Iraq, Syria, the jihadi challenge, and the burgeoning sectarianism, all of which threaten to destroy the regional order, active consultation and statesmanship in the four prominent focal points of Baghdad, Tehran, Riyadh and Damascus is absolutely essential. Involvement of the Kurdish people can no longer be ignored. Since the history of the Middle East (as seen by the people of the region) doesn’t treat the Western powers in a favorable light, the onus falls on countries like India, China, Japan, Korea, who have high strategic interests in the region, to promote dialogue and build confidence building measures. If ISIS persists on its path of violence, then a peace keeping force be set up immediately to nip the evil in the bud (considering ISIS has only 7000 odd recruits working for it). There are Sunni Muslims in Iraq who have, also, been made victims by the ISIS. They must be included in such a counter-terrorism operation. One must act before these people again fall victim to the ISIS’ skulduggery and lose their sense of reason. People must be given an alternative agenda for unison through awareness about the real problems of water crisis (Sanaa, Yemen’s capital is tipped to become the first Capital to run completely out of water) and emergence of pathogens like the Polio Virus and the MERS-Cov which, if left unchecked, may have serious implications far beyond the region.
As things stand, all this sounds too idealistic to be real. Meanwhile, the ISIS is up in arms to prove T.S. Eliot wrong by ending the world with a bang, not a whimper.