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Shah Faesal IAS + Twitter= Enquiry

Shah Faesal IAS + Twitter= Enquiry

Should an IAS officer be free to air views on social media or is it unbecoming behaviour?

A departmental inquiry has been initiated against Kashmir cadre IAS officer Shah Faesal for posting a tweet about rape culture in South Asia. The Department of Personnel and Training found his tweet in violation of the code of conduct for civil servants and has called it “unbecoming.”

“Patriarchy+population+illiteracy+Alcohol+porn+technology+ anarchy= Rapistan”

Faesal, however, said that he did not trade his freedom for a monthly salary and called the notice an invocation of colonial spirit in democratic India.

Calling your country ‘Rapistan’ won’t be accepted even by most liberal dispensation

Sanjay Dixit
Additional chief secretary, Rajasthan

We had a very interesting debate once on how the various conduct rules imposed on the civil servants could be saved under the exceptions to Article 19 that placed restrictions on various freedoms. Article 19 (2) relating to freedom of speech and expression has the widest restrictions possible, but freedom of association has very limited restrictions. So how would a code of conduct be saved?

We finally found that the code of conduct is framed under Article 19 (1) (g), relating to professions, and is saved under Article 19 (6), which outlines restrictions placed in the interest of the general public.

It is idle to contend that there should be no service rules, or that social media should be specially monitored in a manner similar to an Orwellian dystopia described in the epic novel 1984. Both are extreme positions that need to be balanced. It is also naïve for an officer to say that he did not mortgage his freedom for a monthly salary. Of course he did – by taking an oath on the Constitution of India under which the All India Services Act is framed. There is nothing special with respect to social media, and the rules expressly provide avenues for literary, scientific, and other forms of expressions.

What they forbid is also expressly provided – one shall neither criticise the government one is working under, nor the union government. One shall not take part in politics, nor shall indulge in unbecoming behaviour.

This last bit about unbecoming behaviour often gives a pass to both the governments and the officers to test the boundaries of the code. The judicial pronouncements have usually tended to keep the boundary on the side of a liberal interpretation, but calling your country ‘rapistan’ will not be countenanced even by the most liberal dispensation. Maryada should be the keyword.

We can’t base our observations only on Faesal’s tweet

Padamvir Singh
Former director, LBSNAA, and former IAS officer

According to the code of conduct for civil servants, there are different kinds of writing. One is the kind of writing that is permitted (like something creative or scientific). The other is the kind of writing for which one needs to take permission.

And then, there are reflections on the political state of the country, and civil servants are asked to refrain from those. Shah Faesal’s equation seems to fall in the first category.The tweet seems to be just a thought. I would put it in the category of an intellectual exercise of the factors that influence our social atmosphere. In fact, it seems there is nothing in the tweet that reflects the politics of the country.

If the only issue is with the equation that he has put forward, then I don’t know why departmental action has been initiated. There isn’t anything very ‘unbecoming’ in this particular equation. It’s a sociological generalisation, and a sociologist may demolish it. A scientist doesn’t get punished for having a wrong theory.However, as an independent observer, we don’t know if this tweet is the only premise on which the government has initiated action against Faesal.

We can’t base our observations only on Faesal’s tweet. We must consider the possibility that there is something else that he hasn’t put out in the public domain. If this single tweet is the sole cause, then prima facie there isn’t enough evidence to allege ‘unbecoming’ behaviour.

The government should develop a clear policy on social media. But, it can always say that such a policy is already mentioned in the conduct rules.

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