Tag: constitution

The Judicial Jeopardy

Judicial independence is the bulwark of the system. It gives life to the words in the constitution.

Douglas Abrams

The Judiciary is considered as one of the pillars which upholds democratic systems in a country. It is the ultimate check on absolute executive power and is the guardian of constitutional values. Without the judiciary, there will be no one left to truly protect the interests of the people of a country.

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Dissent, safety valve of Democracy

“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst,” – Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, part of a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

The above quote is from a judgement which was passed by the Supreme Court on the detainment of the five activists who were arrested on the charge of ‘sedition.’ Their arrest had sparked off a debate. Is dissent in India under threat?

What is dissent? The dictionary defines it as, ‘the holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held. 

There are multiple articles on this website which talk about how the people should value the rights they enjoy. But in this article, the primary focus will be laid on how these rights (especially freedom of expression) is indispensable for a nation.

Democracy, is one of the most widely accepted political systems across the world. 123 countries (out of 192) follow this system. It is the only system (till now) where the focus is on the individual. Fundamental rights are granted to the people to ensure their well being. Furthermore, these rights keep the powers of the government in check. Among these rights is the ‘freedom of expression.’ The term is quite self explanatory, it gives anyone the right to express their opinions on the public platform. This also includes ‘dissenting’ opinion.

Dissent has played a vital role in the history of India. ‘Sati Pratha‘ was a prevalent social practice in India during the 19th century.  ‘Sati‘ required the woman to immolate herself on the husband’s pyre. Women were forced to follow this practice. Raja Rammohan Roy dissented from society. He worked hard against conservatism, fought off the forces of the backward mindset society and succeeded into making the British Government listen to him. In 1829, under the Governorship of Lord William Bentinck, ‘Sati Pratha‘ was abolished.

In 1885, the Congress party was formed. It is often argued that this party was ‘allowed‘ to be created by the British. The reason being that it would act as a ‘safety valve‘ for the population they ruled. It gave them an insight into the thinking of Indians and develop a deep understanding of them. What the British did not realize was that this was the first of many mistakes they made. No one could have thought that an organization which was created as an experiment, would overthrow the mighty British Empire without even firing a single shot. Their key weapons were ‘ahimsa‘ (non violence) and ‘satya’ (truth). To this I would like to add, dissent.

If the leaders of the Congress hadn’t dissented from the methods of governance of the ruling dispensation. Then independence may never have come to us.

Another example of how dissent is vital for countries to maintain peace and stability. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). It was a Communist regime where freedom of expression was prohibited.  For a long time the people were denied the right to express their opinion. This pressure kept building and one day it burst. USSR ceased to exist in 1991.

The above example clearly illustrates how the lack of freedom of expression leads to strife and instability. However, does freedom of expression lead to peace? Let us look at the Roman Empire to answer this question.

An empire of three continents, the Roman Empire consisted of a very diverse population. To integrate the people of various ethnicity and cultures, the Roman senate began accepting popular leaders of these provinces as senators (representatives) of that province. This policy allowed the indigenous population to voice out their views in the central authority of the empire. When they realized that their voices were being heard, they would feel a sense of belonging with the foreign empire. If there would be boiling tensions then the ability to dissent and express would act as a safety valve. Things would not explode and peace could be restored easily.

A country is a complex machine. All such machines have a safety valve as a precaution to ensure that if there is a buildup of pressure, the safety valve can be opened up and the pressure can be released. In a country like India where there are people from various ethnicity, cultures, regions, religions; dissent plays an important role in maintaining the unity among the people. When we express ourselves or confide in someone, we feel good. Our mind clears and starts thinking logically and constructively again. This same concept can be applied to a country. When people can speak up, they release their anger and the pressure goes down.

What happens when this same anger is allowed to build up in the minds of the people? It becomes a ticking time bomb. Sooner or later it will explode. When it does, it will be very disastrous for the nation. Sometimes it may even lead to disintegration (as was the case with USSR.)

Does it mean that I am advocating dissent regardless of its repercussions? No. Absolutely not. The core value of dissent is to ensure peace and stability. Expression is a powerful tool and it has to be used wisely. Whoever uses this tool to instigate violence. Under the pretext of patriotism, is not patriotic. Peace and co-existence is enjoyed by very few in this world. I will quote our own Mahatma Gandhi on this, “I object violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

It is necessary that we protect dissent. Especially in a country like ours where diversity is an inherent characteristic. We are a nation built of nations, but we are a people of one nation. Dissent is essential for democracies to survive and thrive. Our ability to voice our opinions makes a lot of difference. It prevents violent and destructive thoughts from manifesting in our minds. Dissent acts as a safety valve, to release the pressure. We must always cherish and protect it.

Priyamvad Rai

We the people of India, do solemnly resolve to…

In a watershed moment in Indian history. On 15th August 1947, India gained independence from the British Raj. A long and hard battle was finally won. Immediately after we gained independence the work on our constitution began. It took 2 years, 11 months and 18 days to formulate the constitution and in another watershed moment in Indian history, on 26th January, 1950 it was put into force; thereon India was known as a Republic.

The Constitution holds a supreme position. No individual or institution comes above it. Everyone within the borders of India has to abide by it. It provides to us, the people; with protection from oppression and at the same time gives a path for us to follow. It ensures to us, that India will remain true to its spirit of democracy and everyone will be treated equally regardless of their differences. It is because of it, we have survived as a nation, united in wars, crises and numerous other problems throughout the course of our independence. We faced them all, we overcome and emerged from them; victorious every time.

One of the greatest achievements of India and probably the greatest in the world is the protection and upholding of the democratic nature and values of our government. We are one of the miniscule proportion of the nations in the world who have retained their democratic nature since Independence. It is an even greater feat to have held, and continue to do so; free and fair elections from the onset of independence. When the first general elections took place back in 1951. Even the losing candidates and political parties conceded that the elections indeed took place in a free and fair manner. To have sustained this for over a period of 70 years, we the people should be proud.

All these years, the constitution has provided to us, and guaranteed to us various things. One such thing is the fundamental rights. Ever since the Constitution was put into force we have enjoyed our fundamental rights. Today, if anyone felt like criticising the government for some decision they took. They can do so. We can voice our opinions, we can discuss our opinions, and we can try to convince others of our opinion. We can do all of this openly. Even if there occurs a situation where our rights are taken away from us we can have them reinstated under Article 32 (Right to Redressal, a fundamental right), by approaching the Judiciary, specifically the Supreme Court, also called the custodian of the Constitution.

The independence of the judiciary is an intrinsic feature of not just the democratic nature, but the federal status of our country. It certifies that the courts do not come under the control of the government and ensure to us, an opportunity to attain justice if we have been wronged. Judicial Review, is a provision (Article 226-227 for High Courts; Article 13 for Supreme Court) which allows the judiciary to review any decision of the government and check whether it is in alignment with the values of the constitution or not. If not, the court can invalidate it. It has been deemed as a core value, therefore it cannot be overridden by government through legislation. The independence of the judiciary was upheld by the government when the recent crisis in the Supreme Court took place, against the Chief Justice of India. This event highlighted the status of the judiciary in our country. This is something, we the people should be proud of.

In 1991, the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to the rise of many independent nation-states. These nation states tried to formulate their own constitution, but could never do so. Either it was too rigid or too flexible. We the people of India, had achieved this balance between rigidity and flexibility. Our constitution is described as a ‘living document’ i.e. it is able to adapt to changing needs and times. But along with this flexibility comes the rigidity. The core values of the constitution cannot be changed easily. A long and difficult process has to be undertaken to change the core values. This is balance is what lacked in the nation states as aforementioned. This balance is also the beauty of our constitution.

There are numerous other things the constitution has guaranteed to us and we are able to enjoy all of them. However, the credit does not go completely to the constitution itself. Part of it goes to the constitution makers, who so painstakingly discussed and debated over each and every single point in the constitution (Which is the lengthiest in the world). Another part of it goes to the leaders who followed them. Who, no matter what, upheld the values of the constitution. Who did not break its rules under any circumstances. Who passed the baton to the people who were elected after them. In India we see some of the most peaceful transitions of power taking place. Something, most of the countries in the world are yet to experience.

Unfortunately, there are certain sections of our society who question the contributions of the makers of the constitution, who question the democratic nature of our country, who question the constitution itself. It is not their fault that they hold such a perspective. But it is our responsibility to tell them why their perception is incorrect. Not by force or coercion, but by education, by spreading awareness, by eliminating the incorrect, by spreading the correct. It is also the objective of this article, to try and convince those who hold such a view and I do hope that it will achieve it.

On the occasion of our 69th Republic Day, let us come together to vow for stronger unity amongst us. For greater prosperity in our nation. To respect and abide by the constitution and above all; work towards being the greatest nation in the world. Happy Republic Day!

“We are all equal children before our mother; and India asks each one of us, in whatsoever role we play in the complex drama of nation-building, to do our duty with integrity, commitment and unflinching loyalty to the values enshrined in our constitution.” – Pranab Mukherjee, President of India (2012-2017).

-Priyamvad Rai