Bengaluru: Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud on Saturday said identity and its recognition by the State plays a crucial part in what resources people get and their ability to express their grievances and demand their rights.
Delivering the keynote speech at the plenary session of the 36th ‘LAWASIA’ conference virtually, he spoke on “Identity, the Individual and the State – New Paths to liberty”.
LAWASIA is a regional association of lawyers, judges, jurists and legal organisations which advocates for the interests and concerns of the Asia Pacific legal progression.
He also spoke on how in the digital age “we are faced with several fascinating aspects of Artificial Intelligence.”
“There is a complex interplay between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and personhood where we find ourselves navigating uncharted territories that demand both philosophical reflection and practical considerations.”
In contemplating the intersection of AI and personhood, “we are confronted with fundamental questions about the ethical treatment of these technologies….”
He cited an example of a human-robot (Sophia) that was granted citizenship (in Saudi Arabia) and said, “We must reflect on whether all humans who live, breathe and walk are entitled to personhood and citizenship based on their identity.”
Talking about the caste system, the Chief Justice said that caste, far from being a vestige of the past, continues to exert significant influence on contemporary socio-economic and political landscapes. Its resilience is evident in the social stratification, economic disparities and access to opportunities by different caste groups.
Caste dynamics in the region are not exclusively shaped by religious affiliations; the intricate caste system is not merely a response to historical inequality but functions as an important tool for disrupting entrenched societal structures, he said.
Citing various reports including the one by Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, he said it draws attention to the widespread abuse which are faced by marginalised social segregation, untouchability, limited access to education and under representation.
These findings underscore the pressing need for affirmative action to address the deeply rooted discrimination within this complex tapestry, affirmative action emerges as a transformative force challenging the established caste dynamics. It goes beyond the misconception of caste as a solely cultural phenomenon and serves as a catalyst for change.
“I remember that one of my predecessor Chief Justice Sharad Bobde recognised the necessity to consider the social exclusion of Christians and Muslims from the Scheduled Caste reinforcing the urgency of addressing these issues; the argument unfolds cohesively illustrating how affirmative actions act as a beacon of hope working to dismantle an age-old caste-based inequalities and paving the way for a more equitable future.”
Noting that liberty is the ability to make choices for oneself and change our course of life, Chief Justice Chandrachud said identity intersects with the person’s agency and life choices.
“As lawyers, we are constantly confronted with this intersection and the role of the State to limit or expand the life opportunities of the people. While the relationship between the state and liberty has been understood widely, the task of establishing and explaining the relationship between identity and liberty is incomplete,” he said.
Traditionally, liberty has been understood as the absence of State interference in a person’s right to make choices. However, contemporary scholars have come to the conclusion that the role of the State in perpetuating social prejudices and hierarchies cannot be ignored, Chief Justice Chandrachud said.
“In effect, whether the state does not intervene, it automatically allows communities with social and economic capital to exercise dominance over communities who have been historically marginalised.”
He also said people who face marginalisation because of their caste, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation will always face oppression in a traditional, liberal paradigm. This empowers the socially dominant.
Citing English philosopher John Stuart Mill’s book on Liberty published in 1859, he said the author discussed the historical struggle between liberty and authority describing the tyranny of the government which in his view needs to be controlled by the liberty of citizens.
Mill devised this control of authority into two mechanisms. Firstly, necessary rights belonging to the citizens and secondly there must be constitutional checks for the community to consent to the impacts of the governing path, according to him.
The idea of liberty, the Chief Justice said can be summarised in the phrase: “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”
Highlighting the problems faced by people with disabilities, he referred to the “division” of people with disability to afford state benefits instead of making accessible infrastructure and disability-friendly education and employment sectors.
People with disabilities are forced to get a certificate of entitlements under the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016, Chief Justice Chandrachud said. This has led to the problem of creating a benchmark for disability to avail of state benefits.
This has led to many disabled people falling through the cracks because they cannot be boxed into a benchmark scale. Second, it has destructed… distracted from the larger solution of fixing our overall physical infrastructure and, third, person with disability are still relegated to an inferior status in need of state rescue because it has taken for granted that they are an exception to normal, (and) will require special accommodations.