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Friday, September 24, 2021

No democracy without fraternity

Recent incidents show how the space for inter-community interactions is shrinking, backed by regressive laws


Updated: August 19, 2021 6:36:15 pm
A poster outside a house in Moradabad’s Shiv Mandir Colony reads that it is up for sale. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Written by Abhishek Mishra and Hrithwik Singh  

A recent survey by US-based Pew Research Center has indicated that religious communities in India, though they value religious tolerance as important, believe in the segregation of community spaces. The survey makes this observation on the basis of findings on, inter alia, relational factors (majority in the religious communities have friends belonging to the same community), associated living (a sizeable number have reservations against conjoint community living, for example, not preferring a neighbour belonging to a different community) and sharing intimate spaces (having objections against inter-faith marriages). While these findings indicate the resistance towards facilitating inter-community interactions and sharing spaces, some recent events demonstrate the same.

Recently, in Moradabad (western Uttar Pradesh), people belonging to the Hindu community in an 81-house colony threatened an “exodus” after two houses in the same colony were sold to individuals belonging to the Muslim community. Posters of “houses for sale” were put up by the residents of the colony. As said by one individual belonging to the Hindu community, this was done to resist any contamination of the atmosphere of the colony on the basis that the two communities have different cultures and should not be intermixed through associated living. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, this belief has taken political colour in the past.

In another event of what has been suspected as a case of “honour killing” in Karnataka, a Muslim family mercilessly killed their own daughter and a Dalit Hindu youth for loving each other against the wishes of the family. A similar incident was reported in New Delhi when a 23-year old Hindu man was killed by the family of a Muslim girlfriend’s family, since this personal relationship was against the wishes of the family. The reason behind these occurrences could be attributed to the individuals sharing intimate spaces with members belonging to a different religious community, which is (going by the general observation) against the prescribed community codes of different religious communities with respect to maintaining personal relations.

A lot has been written and spoken about the increasing popularity of legislation regulating religious conversions. While the existing templates of these anti-conversion laws in some states were already said to deepen communalism, recent amendments and the introduction of newer legislation in some other states have sought to tighten the control over inter-community interactions. This has been done through a lot of legislative excesses, criminalising conversion for “marriage” being the blatant addition. Inter-religious marriages can be considered as one of the many ways in which community members interact with each other and find ways to consolidate their personal relations for their betterment.

Unfortunately, these personal choices are inhibited by legal instruments designed by state governments. This has not only found support among politico-religious groups but also in a recent protest organised at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar demanding more such anti-conversion laws.

These events are telling. The reluctance on behalf of communities towards cultivating shared spaces takes different forms. The element of ferociousness in the reaction of religious communities is, herein, dependent upon the proximity between them. While sharing living spaces invokes relatively less hostile reactions in the form of protests, sharing of an individual’s intimate self is sometimes condemned to death. Communities aim to exercise control over the last individual, often, coercively. Additionally, legal instruments enforce these community norms, facilitating the segregation of spaces.

Notwithstanding the rise of authoritarian regimes focused on exploiting the fault lines persisting in society, it is important for concerned individuals and society to introspect. What started as mere reluctance to “accept” the “other” into our shared spaces has resulted in the monster of hate we see today.

What needs to be done to close these gaps that impair our ability to build peaceful co-existence and inter-community solidarities? It is, now more than ever, imperative for us to revisit the constitutional commitment of “fraternity” enshrined in the Preamble. As formulated by B R Ambedkar, fraternity is just another name for democracy. Democracy can only be nurtured through “associated living”, “conjoint communicated experience”, and an “attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow persons”. The foundation and progress of a well-oiled democratic system invariably lie on the pillar of fraternity or “bandhuta”. Ambedkar aptly suggested, “Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them.”

Whilst as a society, we must live up to the ideal of fraternal relations to ensure vibrant communal relations across the diverse spectrum, it is indeed the duty of the state to protect and foster constitutional guarantees and the vision of the framers – especially to those inter-faith couples who “dare” to love in this seemingly unconducive, rigid, unflinching society. These individuals are not only messengers of love, they are shining examples of the most intimate form of shared space. The role of the state is not to reinforce the biases and prejudices plaguing the society through such laws as mentioned previously – it is instead to foster more avenues of civic engagement, offering protections to those who choose to venture outside the parochial societal norms.

As is evident, there is an absence of the penetration of the constitutional ethos in inter-community relationships. The framers of the Constitution aspired for social revolution alongside political revolution and laid great stress upon the ideas of fraternity to build a strong, evolving society. But the engagement with the said ideals at the ground level can be said to be barely satisfactory. While the judiciary has fortified rights like privacy and individual autonomy, societal adaptation and internalisation of these values are inadequate.

The idea of fraternal relations does not exist in a vacuum, it is instead the foremost pillar on which a functioning democracy rests and we have somehow glossed over it entirely. In that respect, as we enter the 75th year of our independence, we need a re-imagination of community relations. The focal point of this re-imagination has to be fraternity, providing adequate shared spaces to empathise, evolve and foster a composite culture based on Constitutional and humanitarian ideals. Otherwise, we will be proving Ambedkar’s fears right: “Democracy is just a top dressing on the Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.”

(The writers are students at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, India)

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