Measure for pleasure 

I welcome the government’s offer to take our measurements so that it can keep our dentures ready for when we need them

I would like to take this opportunity to urge everyone to pressure the government to take more measurements of all Indian citizens, instead of a few select measurements of the privileged few. Yes, I am talking about the new Bill passed by the Lok Sabha last week — the Criminal Procedure (Dentification) Bill, 2022. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t be hard on yourself — people much smarter than you haven’t heard of petrol price hikes, rising unemployment rates, and India’s ranking in the Global Hunger Index. This is nothing.

What this new Bill proposes to do, according to its ‘Objects and Reasons’ section, is “to authorise for taking measurements… for the purpose of dentification”. It essentially means that under this new law, the government will solve a long-standing problem of the common man — taking body measurements. Doesn’t matter if you are male or female, the government knows you take measurements and face problems when you do. I mean, every woman I know has shared discomfiting tales about going to a tailor for measurements and those tailors are often men, which is against Indian culture. As for men, there isn’t a man alive who hasn’t at some point fished out a ruler and measured the length — yes, the length — of his nose, just to assure himself it isn’t too short or unmanly. But these amateurish methods tend not to be very objective, which is why the government will now take your measurements for you.

Dentification-Super Max

The Bill proposes a fairly broad range of measurement services. According to clause 2(b) of the legislation, they include finger-impressions, palm-print impressions, foot-print impressions, photographs, iris and retina scan, physical and biological samples and their analysis, and behavioural attributes such as indifference to the harassment of minorities, persecution complex, and Prime Masochism Index (a metric that measures your capacity to enlarge your love for a politician in direct proportion to the misery he causes you).

While all this is great, the current draft of the Bill falls short on three counts. Firstly, its stated objective — dentification or making dentures — is too narrow. I don’t dispute that all of us will need fresh teeth at some point. I welcome the government’s offer to take our measurements so it can keep our dentures ready for when we need them. But why take a retina scan for dentification purpose? Personally I have no problem, please scan all my retinas. But since you’re collecting all these non-dental measurements also, why not broaden the title of the Bill and call it Dentification-Plus or Dentification-Super Max?

Secondly, it is discriminatory to offer this measurement service only to criminals. Already criminals get extra preference when it comes to tickets for elections, and criminals as a demographic find the greatest representation in Parliament, with nearly 50% of MPs having criminal records — no mean achievement for the world’s largest electoral autocracy. But that doesn’t mean we restrict measurement services to the country’s criminal elite. Let us expand it to include all sections of society because, at the end of the day, everybody — criminals and non-criminals alike — is equal before the loo, which brings me to my final recommendation: define ‘biological samples’.

In glorious memory

If you don’t believe me, Google the Bill yourself — it really doesn’t spell out what all is covered under ‘biological samples’. Such coyness is strange because let me ask you: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term ‘biological sample’? Exactly! So here’s my humble suggestion to the government of India: in keeping with our rich culture, ancient customs, traditional traditions, and in glorious memory of Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan — the world’s greatest mass bowel movement — the Bill should state clearly that the government will provide free collection and analysis of stool samples for every Indian. In return, it can store the stool analysis data (as well as the stool) for 75 years, which the Bill anyway proposes to do for all other categories of data.

I know the Opposition has criticised the draft Bill over outdated things like privacy, saying government has no right to collect and store an individual’s intimate bodily data. I disagree. I believe that, on the grounds of national security if nothing else — I encourage the government to use this justification (after crediting me) if the Bill is challenged in court — the government has a right to collect any citizen’s stool sample. For instance, what if A accuses B of having eaten beef, and B denies it? Only way police can establish the truth is by collecting B’s stool sample and sending it to the National Forensic Laboratory. This is just one use case, and there can be others.

This column is a satirical take on life and society

I hope the government heeds my suggestions, and even if it doesn’t agree with them, the least it can do is to send the Bill to a Standing — or Squatting — Committee and seek public consultations. India is a nation rich in samples and we should make the most of it.

G. Sampath, author of this satire, is Social Affairs Editor , The Hindu.

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