The action against the Lucknow passport officer was a hasty reckless decision taken by an establishment playing to the gallery to appease the pseudo-secular elite of the country, the Lutyens Delhi lobby intent on discrediting the Hindu identity, and an action that blatantly violated the basic tenets of justice, argues Vivek Gumaste.
Political Correctness is the prevailing mantra of our current times; an informal social code with no legal sanction, nevertheless an all-consuming and powerful diktat that has the unrestrained capacity to make or break the career of a person in the wink of an eye.
Carried away by the strong and infectious tides of political correctness and acutely intimidated by its overbearing influence to enforce conformity to an arbitrary dominant social norm, individuals in authority are coerced into acting in a knee-jerk fashion, and prompted to make decisions that skirt the basic tenets of ethical rectitude and throw due process to the winds.
The case of Vikas Mishra, the Lucknow passport officer in the eye of a storm for allegedly making politically incorrect statements to a Hindu woman who had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man is a classic example of how due process and justice can get sidelined by this social stipulation.
But first, certain details of the case: Tanvi Seth married Mohammad Anas Siddiqui and changed her name to 'Shadia Anas' as per her nikahnama (Islamic marriage contract).
She alleged that she was harassed at the Lucknow passport office by an officer named Vikas Mishra; an occurrence that she narrated in a 5-part tweet to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (parts reproduced below):
'@SushmaSwaraj hello ma'am I type this tweet with immense faith in justice and in you and ironically with a lot of anger/hurt and agony in my heart because of the way I was treated at the Lucknow passport office at Ratan Square by Mr. Vikas Mishra the reason because I married a Muslim and not changed my name ever.'
'He spoke to me very rudely and was loud enough for others to hear while discussing my case. I have never felt so harassed ever before.'
'The other workers at the office acknowledged his rude demeanor, Ma'am I never ever imagined that in a place like passport office we would have a people who are moral policing the citizens'
'It is my personal choice to choose a name I want to after marriage. This is our family matter and last thing I expected to hear at the passport office was it is your duty to change your name after marriage.'
'The person who spoke to my husband later said if your wife's case would have come to me there wouldn't have been issues because her papers are complete.'
Building on this narrative, her husband Mohammed Anas Siddiqui told News18.com that Mishra not only humiliated him and his wife over the issuing of passports, but made remarks that can only be termed as bigoted (external link).
'When he read the spouse's name as Mohammed Anas Siddiqui, he started shouting at her and said that she should not have married me. He said that I will have to convert to Hinduism else my marriage won't be accepted. He asked, You have to take the pheras and get converted to our religion, will you do so?'
Disturbed by the tweet and the buzz created on social media, the ministry of external affairs swung into prompt action: Within 24 hours Vikas Mishra was transferred, issued a show cause notice and the passports were delivered to the complainants.
Regional Passport Officer Peeyush Verma expressed regret over the matter and surmised: 'Religion of the applicant does not matter at all while applying for a passport.'
I fully agree. No one can have an argument with this remark.
But the disturbing aspect is, did religion play a role in this unsavoury episode in the form of reverse discrimination?
Were the authorities too quick to transfer Vikas Mishra, and did the fact that he was a Hindu ranged against a Muslim couple contribute to this knee-jerk reaction?
Would they have exhibited the same alacrity if the official happened to be a non-Hindu?
Was this a case of misplaced political correctness that trumped the concept of due process and justice for all?
These are some troubling questions that boggle the mind.
At the outset this episode has impropriety by the establishment written all over it.
For one, official action was not the consequence of a proper investigation.
Punitive action and corrective measures, while prompt, preceded the investigation and not the other way around as should be the case.
The cardinal rule is that a person is innocent until found guilty.
Moreover, Vikas Mishra was not given a chance to explain his version, which came later via news interviews and a response to the show cause notice. <?p>
The whole concept of due process was turned on its head.
Finally, Vikas Mishra's version came to light after he had been transferred and the passports issued. Please read this report (external link) from the Hindustan Times’s Lucknow edition of June 24. Strangely this report does not appear in the Delhi edition:
'In reply to the notice that was served to him after a controversy on June 20, senior assistant in the passport office Vikas Mishra has denied all allegations levelled against him by an inter-faith couple Tanvi Seth and her husband Anas Siddiqui.
'According to sources, in his reply, Mishra has pointed out that the objections he raised while cross-examining Tanvi Seth's documents were valid.
'According to passport officials, Mishra also pointed out that Tanvi Seth did not want to endorse her other name Shadia Anas in the passport form which is mandatory.
'Shadia Anas is the name mentioned in Tanvi Seth's nikahnama.
'Mishra has said in his reply that Tanvi Seth levelled the allegations when her documents were forwarded to the assistant passport officer for clearance.
'According to passport officials, Mishra's objections were in accordance with the law and had he not objected or overlooked gaps in Tanvi Seth's documents, it would have been a gross anomaly on his part.
'Moreover, information has surfaced about irregularities of address and name (Lucknow address given while the couple live in Noida, and differing names on different ID cards) in the application filed by Tanvi Seth.
'There is also a question about her being denied a H1-B visa. These details must be scrutinised in the interest of national security.'
It appears from this report that Vikas Mishra had acted appropriately and according to the rules. As it stands, Vikas Mishra's guilt has not been confirmed.
One can only conclude from this train of events that this was a case of hastily enacted political correctness designed to appease an irate complainant at the cost of due process, justice and national security, with religion being a dangerous catalyst.
This lends credence to the charge that Hindus can be discriminated against in an overwhelmingly Hindu majority country -- a warped consequence of Nehruvian secularism that dominated India for the last 70 years and the vestiges of which linger on even under a supposedly pro-Hindu government, and the suffocating environment nurtured by Lutyens Delhi.
I have great respect for Ms Swaraj and greatly admire her for adding that all important compassionate touch to this BJP government. She has undoubtedly performed exceedingly well in the duties of her ministry.
But at a time when the BJP is being unjustly targeted by its enemies and finds itself being viewed with increasing scepticism by its own core constituency of not safeguarding the legitimate (I repeat legitimate, not unjustifiable majoritarian influence) rights of Hindus, whether it be in Kashmir, Kerala or West Bengal, this present action by her ministry cannot be justified morally, legally or administratively.
In conclusion, this was a hasty reckless decision by an establishment playing to the gallery to appease the pseudo-secular elite of the country, the Lutyens Delhi lobby intent on discrediting the Hindu identity, and an action that blatantly violated the basic tenets of justice.
Taking cognisance also of the crucial timing of this incident that can have far-reaching electoral impact on the fortunes of her party, not only must Sushma Swaraj apologise for depriving an individual of due process in a democracy but must accept responsibility for this disastrous, unethical faux pas.
Vivek Gumaste is a US-based academic, political commentator and the author of My India: Musings of a Patriot.