We the people gave unto ourselves the Constitution of India. The Constituent Assembly was not constituted on the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ and hence not truly representative of the people. Yet, judged on the final outcome, the Constituent Assembly spoke for all the people of India. It is a Constitution that has proved resilient in times of extreme stress like the Emergency (1975-77) or the premature collapse of the Central government (1979-80); and it has survived many amendments without losing its basic structure.
When Nani Palkhivala propounded the theory of an unalterable and unamendable “basic structure” of the Constitution, several scholars and legal experts scoffed at the argument. How can the power of a sovereign Parliament to amend the Constitution (Article 368) be curtailed or subjected to a review by judges appointed by the Executive, they asked. At the end of the day, only seven out of 13 judges on the Bench bought Palkhivala’s then-novel argument. Today, we can say, thank god they bought the argument.
Whither Justice for All?
It is the Constitution of India that has resolved to secure to all its citizens JUSTICE, social, economic and political. Each phrase — e.g. social justice — has profound meaning. The phrases ignited the fire of ambition in millions of hearts and continue to do so. On January 26, 2020, we will celebrate the Constitution’s 70th anniversary.
It is time to ask hard questions: who has got social justice and who has not? What is economic justice and do all citizens get economic justice? Even when all citizens have a political vote, do all get political justice?
For centuries, the people at the bottom of the pyramid have been the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. The Other Backward Classes, and among them the Most Backward Classes, and the minorities are other disadvantaged categories. The blacks in the United States were, for over a hundred years, in the same position as the Dalits, tribals and Muslims are in India today. It took a civil war to abolish slavery and a Civil Rights Act in 1963 to begin the long process of acceptance, affirmative action and providing equal opportunity. In India, we have a Constitution that frowns upon untouchability, outlaws discrimination on the basis of religion, and provides for reservation for SC/STs. Yet the reality is that social justice, in terms of access to education and health care (among other Human Development Indicators) and appointments to government jobs, is beyond the reach of the neglected sections.
Discriminated Against and Poor
I have not referred to data on housing, crime, undertrials, representation in sports teams etc. which will conclusively establish that SCs, STs and Muslims are socially discriminated against and are subjected to neglect, humiliation and violence.
Economic justice is an offspring of social justice. The neglected and disadvantaged groups have lower educational attainments, less property, fewer government or quality jobs and lower incomes/expenditure, as the numbers in the table illustrate:
The Worst Casualty
The third promise of political justice is the worst casualty. Thanks to reserved constituencies, SCs and STs have a fair proportion of seats in elected bodies including the state legislatures and Parliament, but political justice seems to have stopped there. In many political parties, representation of SCs and STs in decision-making bodies or levels is no more than tokenism. Even if the SCs found their own party (the BSP, VCK), their support base is limited to SC voters and, unless they form broader social alliances (Bahujan), or political coalitions, they are stuck where they are. In the case of minorities, especially Muslims, the position is worse. Mainstream political parties have ‘minority cells’, but rarely frontline leaders of the party. The BJP openly shuns Muslims and intimidates them with NRC-CAA-NPR. On the other hand, a Muslim-promoted party like the IUML or the AIMIM can be a coalition partner or a spoiler but never a winner.
Causes that are central to Muslims get little support or provoke virulent opposition. Consider the case of Jammu & Kashmir. It seems to me that the cause of 7.5 million people living in the Kashmir valley is fast becoming a lost cause. The Valley (reduced to half a Union Territory) is under siege since August 5. Terrorist incidents touched a new high in 10 years in 2019. So did the number of civilians killed and civilians injured. Six hundred and nine people continue to be in custody, including three former chief ministers, without charges. The media ‘reports’ official handouts on ‘normalcy’. The rest of the country seems to have forgotten the Kashmiri people and moved on to other pressing concerns. The Supreme Court has reserved the verdict in the habeas corpus petitions filed in August 2019.
The Constitution is breached every day, denying to millions of people minimum justice, social, economic and political. As far as J&K is concerned, it is a case of Constitutional defilement, but we have to wait for the judgment of the Court. Seventy years later, the justice that was promised to all citizens is not available to at least one-half of the citizens and is available in, bits and pieces, to the other half’s.
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