Proscription and Prescription – Taboo and Compulsory Geographies (Part 3)

In the previous two articles, I spoke about some taboo geographies and some of their impacts in one particular context.

There are other geographies that are compulsory. These also have an impact on individual lives. Today, a brief introduction to a few of these.

The school

The Indian constitution stipulates that every child, up to age 14 years, should be provided ‘free and compulsory education.’ Based on this constitutional principle, the Government of India has enacted the Right to Education Act (2009; in force from 1 January 2010).

If you are enrolled in a school today, it is also because of this constitutional requirement. If you are being home-schooled also, you are covered by this.

It is in the interests of the country to have a well-educated population. Such a population can contribute to human knowledge and advance our thinking. Such a population can also innovate in different fields – sciences, humanities, arts, and so on. Such innovations can potentially give greater material benefits for life – technologies, techniques, etc. They give us our many modern conveniences (e.g.: mobile phone, trains, refrigerators, etc.), and social goods (e.g.: voting rights, educational rights, geographical rights, the rights of widows to remarry, etc.).

Thus, the human and cultural geographies of a country can benefit greatly in many ways from a well-educated population. That is the larger scale picture. Here I use the geography concept of ‘scale’ to mean ‘level.’

At the personal scale, a good education can help us achieve greater material prosperity and social advancement. – a good job, good phone, better social relationships, greater enjoyment of arts and literature, etc.

I have previously used the term discursive space – spaces we create by our actions, thoughts, and words. You can read an example of it here.

A good education can help to create sustainable and equitable discursive spaces from the personal scale to the national and international scales. Basically, in the good of everyone lies my own personal good also. I cannot advance without my fellow creatures also advancing – Citizen Geography.

The nation makes it compulsory for children to attend school in the hope that such development will be attained.

This also means that child labor is illegal. However, child labor still continues in our country and many others in the world. With the Right to Education Act (2009), the Government of India have tried to take children from the geographies of labor to the geographies of education. Child labor is often a necessity for children coming from extreme poverty. The problem is also that most of them get stuck in that world and never gain access to choice in their lives.

The impact of the Constitution’s requirement and the RTE’s enforcement are still quite far from achieving the results they desire. However, there are attempts to do so.

Incarceration

When people violate the law, they are often deprived of their geographical and other rights as a punishment. This is most visible in the jailing of people. As with many other human endeavors, there is a lot of scope for injustice in this process – political opponents, competitors in business, oppressed populations, etc. are particularly vulnerable to unjust imprisonment.

Jailing (incarceration) of individuals creates enforced (or compulsory) geographies because it reduces the freedoms of individuals.

Passports and visas

There are many cultural barriers to migration. To visit any country, you need a valid passport from your country. The passport connects you to a geography. It says you that country’s citizen, and the government of that country guarantees your rights under international agreements and law. Because citizenship is based on your not having broken laws (at least in theory), your passport may also be considered evidence that you are not a criminal in the eyes of your own country.

This is why, if you commit serious crimes, your passport may be impounded or even cancelled. (This is what happened to Edward Snowden; while he was on a flight from Hong Kong to Moscow … you can read about it here.)

There are different kinds of passports – e.g.: ordinary passports, diplomatic passports.

If you have a diplomatic passport, your luggage will not checked at the customs counter at any port (land, air, or sea). Foreign governments cannot arrest you – they can declare you persona non grata and ask that you get out of their country within a stipulated period. This is called expulsion.

(In most national capitals, foreign diplomats in embassies are the worst offenders when it comes to traffic fines. Their vehicles carry diplomatic license plates. Therefore, they cannot be impounded for traffic violations. The police can issue challans for fines, but the persons responsible for the offence can’t be arrested if they don’t pay. You can imagine the kinds of problems this can cause in a city full of cars. I have read that this is particularly bad in New York City because of the large number of diplomats working at the UN.)

However, a valid passport is not enough for you to travel to another country. Most countries require a visa, that they issue, for you to travel there. Visas have different validity periods; they can be for a week, a month, year, or all the way up for life.

Each type of passport and visa give you certain kinds of rights and responsibilities. These will determine the kinds of places you may or may not visit (e.g.: military, aerospace, and other facilities are restricted access places); the kinds of activities you may or may not engage in (e.g.: businesses, employment, political activities, etc.); and so on. Each of these leads to a different kind of geography.

At least some aspects of these geographies are compulsory (prescribed) and taboo (proscribed).

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 09 August 2017.

Featured image: A diplomatic passport issued by the USA. (Image courtesy: Daily Mail)