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Our democracy has a long way to go

Vignesh Karthik Rajahmani | Updated on March 17, 2013

Equality is a far cry when gender and caste systems are still the basis for political mobilisation

In the wake of hooliganism, the ill-treatment of women, numerous cases relating to them and the media’s confusion on how to balance hype and hoopla with truth-telling, a look at our own constitution and the legal system seemed interesting. In the pre-independence era, minorities consisted mostly of Muslims, who were actively led by a party; their rights, among others, bore the hint of ‘personal law’, laws that weren’t governed by any specific parts of the Constitution but that of certain ethnic groups. For example, while bigamy and polygamy were deemed illegal post-independence, the successive transition of the Muslim personal law gave way to deem polygamy as a legal subset of Muslim law. This may not seem as a powerful statement for stretching the rights of minorities, but it is fundamentally flawed as it removes the right to equality of women. So sometimes, rights which are meant for the upliftment of a particular set of people (a minority community in this case) now turns out to be a danger in disguise for its own class.'

Very often, it is seen that the sheer idea of a nation has not been embedded into the public conscience. People still identify with their religions, castes and families. These are more predominant than the concept of citizenship.What needs to be understood is that India, as a nation, is moving from a feudalistic tradition to a democratic set-up. This is what the constitution is trying to establish. The fact that not enough has been done to teach people what democracy is or what the Constitution is should be kept in mind while talking about the evolution of democracy. A possible argument against the makers of the Constitution could be that a highly intellectual piece of work has been given to a nation without teaching its users the way or method of using it. However the argument cannot be completely validated. The idea of becoming a great liberal democracy is a slow and a gradual process. It is a slow process. Transcending polarisation and the concept of inclusiveness can be regarded as vital in the process.

The way in which the gender and caste system was made a breeding ground for political surge is a pitiful state of affairs in the country, the way in which a particular community modulates its stance according to the social status has made it almost a mandatory insistence of being partial in a judicial system while on the outset, right to equality was promoted as a face value rather than a concept of moral issues and social fragility.

With regard to law and justice, India is lost because of its primary contradiction between two elements – Belief and Knowledge. The makers knew what the terms and laws meant. The implementers didn't know; neither did they want to know and therefore believed that they knew.

A revolution that has rewritten or impacted practices that have been there for centuries is just around 60 years old. It needs time for it is a gradual process. Another evident point that signifies the brilliance of the Indian system can be understood when the state of the nation is compared with other former British colonies like Kenya or Malaysia, which are democracies on paper but predominantly governed with an ardent inclination towards ethnicity as a means to governance.

(Vignesh studies at King’s India Institute, King’s College London.)

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Published on March 17, 2013
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