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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 11.11.13

Singapore has blocked an extramarital dating website, and the United States of America wants to declare trans fats officially unsafe. Two modern States see themselves as protectors of their citizens from adultery and cholesterol. Morality and health — Singapore and the US feel that in these matters it is alright for the government to deprive adult citizens of their right to choose. How should citizens and the State in a democracy like India align themselves to these prohibitionist moves or deliberations? Moral and physical health: why is it that many adults in today’s world have different kinds of response to the State interfering in these two different areas of human life? And why does it somehow feel right that critically alert citizens of modern nations must be able to distinguish between these two kinds of control and prohibition, and then be able to work out for themselves their attitudes and positions with respect to each.

In all this, being able to negotiate the difference between public and private is crucial, although that difference is blurred in these two cases. If committing adultery is a private act, is the internet, and therefore a website, public or private space? Is accessing a website as private an act as, say, having sex with another person’s spouse? Will accessing the adultery site in a café and in one’s bedroom be different kinds of act, in terms of public and private, which ask for different kinds of ethical consideration? Similarly, is eating — that is the act of consciously ingesting food orally — private or public? So, the distinction between private and public is not always easy to use in order to explain these different reactions to banning a website and to an edible substance. Indians might feel, quite legitimately, that if the government controlled vehicular air pollution as stringently as it censors late-night television and bans smoking in public, then the country would be a lot more healthy. Public discussion and debate on such matters are essential to democracies, if only because most of these issues are unresolvable.