The Centre telling the Supreme Court, that is hearing a petition against the Aadhaar-PAN linkage, that an individual’s right to her body wasn’t an absolute right won’t exactly win over support for Aadhaar. To be sure, the petition arguing that Aadhaar is a bodily intrusion, and thus the PAN-Aadhaar linkage violates the rights of the individual to her body, could have forced the government to respond in the manner it did. The problem is that the response is devoid of nuance and, in fact, is perhaps even potentially harmful in the manner the Times of India reports it has been worded.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi relied on several laws to argue that Indian law already treats right to one’s body as less than absolute. He told the Supreme Court that if that were an absolute right, then suicide would have been permitted. This is not to argue that an individual has the right to end her life, but the government has already decriminalised attempts to suicide. In any case, a successful suicide attempt would always frustrate the law even if it made the right to body less than absolute. In the case of capital punishment, the law breaches the individual’s right to her body and life only as a form of punishment, and that too in the rarest of rare cases.
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And as for the law debarring women from terminating pregnancies at a late stage of gestation, the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court last year let two separate rape survivors terminate their pregnancies that resulted because of the rapes even though their respective pregnancies were well past the 20-week ceiling because that clouded their right to life that also includes their right to body. Though both pregnancies had resulted from rape, which could be considered extenuating circumstances, both the SC and the HC had upheld the women’s right to life.
All this is not to say that people be allowed to opt out of Aadhaar, but given how limiting the right to body will not only greatly impair progressive stands, on, say, euthanasia or surrogacy, but also fuel the opposition to Aadhaar, the government should have taken a more tempered stand.