“This company knows much more about me than my family does,” says an employee at Workday, a firm which sells software to help managers predict which employees are likely to quit. This is not an isolated incident. The state and big corporations are working hand-in-hand to commodify the personal data of civil society. Few of my friends and relatives said to me that “we are not doing anything wrong. Why should we worry about disclosing my information to the government? The government is taking our data to improve our lives and make social services more accessible.” Everyone in their lives passes through a moment when they try to laugh while stifling an internal cry. The incident threw my memories back to 2016. The film, Snowden, released in the same year. In one scene, when Snowden told his girlfriend Lindsay that her email, cell phone and everything are compromised and tapped by US agencies like the NSA (National Security Agency), just like they are of the rest of the world, she responded that “I have nothing to hide from anyone.” Is it not serious for a person that someone is watching you every second and monitoring your whole activities? Yes, it must matter.
India Today magazine (March 2023) published an editorial piece on surveillance and pointed out different narratives of state mass surveillance. They justified the mass data collection by the state by comparing it to the ancient Guptchar (spy) system of feudal India. Further, this article talks about the supply of facial recognition cameras and other CCTV cameras and their origins being found in China. The mainstream media repeats the narratives of the Indian state by trying to discard the issue of mass surveillance by pinning the issue on China, an already vilified country in the Indian mainstream narrative. Another report in The Wire exposed the surveillance state nature of Telangana. The Telangana government has installed more than 9 lakhs cameras, majorly concentrated in Hyderabad. According to a ground analysis, in Telangana there are 36 cameras per 1000 people. Reuters in its report in 2020, talked about the nature of mass surveillance and targeting of activists. Face recognition cameras are the most common equipment through which the state is targeting the activist leaders.
It’s not surprising for us to understand this nature of the state while under the neo-colonial era. I firmly believe that the word “neo-liberal” is not appropriate for the current regime of colonialism. N. Venugopal’s argument in his article “What is Liberal in Neoliberal Policies?” , historizes the origins of the word liberal and points out that the current neo-liberal regime is more illiberal in the terms of rights, freedom of expression and acceptance than the original liberal regimes. Market freedom must be defined as just options provided by the market which serve the interests of imperialism. Defining freedom, Mao Tse-tung said that, “freedom is knowledge of necessity-this is the proposition of the philosophers of the past. Freedom is knowledge of necessity and the transformation of the world-this is Marx’s proposition. It is a poor Marxist who does not understand that knowledge of the world is premised on the transformation of the world, and that the transformation of the world is premised on knowledge of the world.”
In India, most people are ready to handover their information to the government without any hesitation in the name of social service schemes and other procurement. Framing a nominally progressive constitution was never enough to develop the democratic consciousness of the Indian peoples. In one instance, a leader from Bihar was questioned by a journalist on why would he want to go to the Lok Sabha after winning elections. He replied, “when I become a member of the Lok Sabha, I will travel through flight frequently. I have always wanted to go to Delhi by flight.” The people beside him, surprisingly, laughed and gave their affirmation to this, due to the fact that the leader was a big landlord belonging to the same caste as them.
Development of democratic consciousness results from the struggle against odds and feudal contradictions of the society. But when we investigate the development of Indian people’s psychology, we find that the development of democratic consciousness is not yet developed at a certain stage where they question their individual rights and liberty. The formation of psychology, or we can say mass psychology is the reflection of dominating class nature of any society. Historically, after the 1980s, the right based movements in India have been largely governed through the tactic of neo-colonialism, meaning that the idea of freedom and rights are being superimposed from above and not coming from the contradictions emerging in the society. The few movements which started taking basic questions of the masses have been brutally muzzled by the Indian state. In fact, anytime when rights-based movements emerged in India, they have been muzzled along with the imposition of the idea of duty and responsibilities of the citizens, with Brahmanical casteist ideology like karma and dharma providing impetus and justification. In a processed manner, we feel that the government is doing us a favour when they provide any service to us. But, the realm of reality is far beyond.
In 1991, after the LPG reform of the Indian economy, many economic thinkers rejected the viewpoint of capitulation of the Indian economy under the guidelines of IMF. The then secretariat, Montek Singh Ahluwaliya said that the current economic reform has grown indigenously. Similar kind of claims came from the Chile and Mexico governments, when they just handed over the whole economy under the guidance of IMF and World Bank groups to imperialism.
If it was evident that the reform was backed by the IMF, why did Ahluwaliya and other sarkari economists push the agenda of indigenous model of economic development? There were continuous connections between the IMF and Indian government before the 1990s reform. Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwaliya, Raghuram Rajan all the IMF developed economists were appointed by the government directly to the chief economic posts of India including policy formation. Is it sufficient for the Indian people that an Indian is proposing our economic policy and framework? Is it not our duty to investigate the imperialist policies being pushed through these Indian agents? Vertical movement of Indianization of psychology has helped to create the false perception of belief. This only happens when mass psychology is created on an immaterial basis and morality justifies retrospectively.
Similar policy formation under the Aadhar card plan, when the government took every citizen’s bio-metric information in the name of social security occurred recently. Most interesting thing is that the recent Union budget failed to make any mentions of the Jan Dhan Yojana or any direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme, with the exception of MNREGA for which funding has reduced drastically. The ulterior motive of the state was to form a centralized database of the citizens to surveil them properly, under the garb of these schemes. But what if they want to collect your data from you? Whose interest is getting affected through this data collection?
The ever-developing fascist state in India is using personal data to target the dissenters and persons uphold pro-democratic values. Disha Ravi, an environment activist, was targeted by the Indian state under the “tool-kit case” during the Kisan Andolan where she had tweeted against the farm law because of its hazardous impact on climate change. The Indian state-owned media circulated this tweet as “anti-national propaganda” and as an “internal matter of security”. But Indian media never talks about the growing imperial market of fertilizers and pesticides in India. Concurrently, a horizontal line of orientalist understanding propelled by the state ideologues against the liberal values like freedom, rights, equality is pushed. A brain child of Edward Said, these neo-colonial tactics have utilized Said’s theory of orientalism and cultural imperialism to justify the oppression of the third world state in the name of native. Since the likes of Said uphold the idea that independence for the former colonies translates to any form of rule by ‘the native’, semi-colonial states still mired by imperialism’s neo-colonial tactics become justifiable states due to the managers of imperialism, the comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie running the state of affairs for the imperialists versus the imperialists directly doing it as in the past. In real terms, the Indian state is heavily dependent upon the world powers for their technological and capital needs. The new upsurge of fascism and chauvinistic trends of the masses have been fueled by the Indian state with the help of big words like, Rashtra-Suraksha, Bharat ki Videsh Niti, Rashtriya Samridhi etc.
What if you are fired from your job due to wrongful malicious charges due to corruption in your office and you try to organize people who have faced similar discrimination before? What if the government responds by putting you behind the bars because you were doing “anti-national activities to malign the image of India”, a conclusion they derived by way of their extensive data collection? What if the thumb impression that government employees give is then used to fabricate cases against them? Khan Majdoor Karmchari Union (KMKU) had raised a serious concern regarding bio-metric entry of the employees and chip installation over their caps. They said that it’s easy for the authority to delete the data of attendance of the workers and marginalized workers from their basic rights. The government has even been known to plant incriminating data on the devices of activists, as was found in the case of the deceased Father Stan Swamy. The state is spending thousands of crores of rupees on bio-metric technologies and cameras but are unable to provide permanent employment to these very workers. All these cameras and technology is being used to curtail the freedom of workers and exploit their conditions.
The goons of Hindu nationalists must question their patriotism when they enjoy the disinvestment of country’s property and enslavement of foreign control. The mass surveillance policy is also against the middle class workers of urban areas, under the private sector, where hiring and firing are in the hands of owners. The growing inflation and depleting manufacturing conditions will aggravate the tendency of mass surveillance. The discontent is inevitable in the era of imperialism. Multi-national companies are under the deepest threat of revolt and revolutionary conditions. This surveillance mechanism helps the government and multinationals to track the demands of consumers and suppress the growing organized challenges against them.
The essential need of the hour is for mass resistance against this encroachment of the state into the realm of the personal. To rouse the consciousness of the masses against the state’s policies and against the feudal suppression of the individual for the sake of the communal, which is only possible through a New Democratic struggle, is the only way forward for guiding a mass resistance.
by Nishant Anand, student of law at Delhi University
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