Ahmedabad— “The framers of the Constitution rejected the notion of a Hindu India and a Muslim India. They recognised only the Republic of India,” said senior judge of the Supreme Court of India Justice Dr D Y Chandrachud.
He was speaking on “The Hues That Make India: From Plurality to Pluralism” as part of the 15th Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture organised here on February 15.
Elaborating his topic, Justice Chandrachud said: “As one member of the Constituent Assembly said: ‘we should proceed towards a compact nation, not divided into different compartments, but one where ―every sign of separatism should go’. As another member said: ‘There will be no divisions amongst Indians. United we stand; divided we fall.”
“The framers provided safeguards for the protection of individual identity as a part of a group and placed trust in future generations to create a common bond of what it meant to be Indian that shunned homogeneity and celebrated diversity in a manner that is not divisive. It is that trust of the framers that we strive to live up to today,” said the judge who is due to become Chief Justice of India in 2022.
“An example of this constitutional trust and obligation is evident in the divergent view of the relations between majorities and minorities upon India gaining her independence. During the colonial rule, the Morley-Minto reforms recommended separate electorates for ‘minorities’. This recommendation for the first time introduced identity politics into the Indian regime by classifying groups as majority and minority. Minto justified the provision of separate electorates for Muslims because according to him they were ‘a separate community, distinct by marriage, food and custom, and claiming in many cases to belong to a race different from the Hindus’. The emphasis was on the magnification of differences between different groups on the assumption by the British that a group will only protect its own interests. However, the Constituent Assembly dealt with the question of ‘plurality’ in a significantly different manner. When the Constituent Assembly was called to decide the fate of separate electorates in independent India, they decided that its inclusion was not essential to and even contrary to the requirements of a pluralistic society. They rejected separate electorates and dismissed the relevance of numerical disadvantage in a polity.”
“Fraternity can only be realised when there exists a nation where different groups do not merely coexist, but also share a common thread of tolerance, love, respect and affection. For example, the Rakhi protest called by Rabindranath Tagore prevented the partition of Bengal with people exercising a token of solidarity and harmony. Historian Arnold Toynbee sums up this message when he says that we must learn to recognize and understand the different cultural configurations in which our common human nature has expressed itself. However, we must move beyond understanding them and value them and love them as being parts of mankind’s common treasure and therefore being ours too.”
Dissent A Safety Valve of Democracy
Calling dissent a “safety valve” of democracy, Justice Chandrachud said “blanket labelling” of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the “heart” of the country’s commitment to protect Constitutional values and promote deliberative democracy.
“The commitment to civil liberty flows directly from the manner in which the State treats dissent. A state committed to the rule of law ensures that the state apparatus is not employed to curb legitimate and peaceful protest but to create spaces conducive for deliberation. Within the bounds of law, liberal democracies ensure that their citizens enjoy the right to express their views in every conceivable manner, including the right to protest and express dissent against prevailing laws. The blanket labelling of such dissent as ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-democratic’ strikes at the heart of our commitment to the protection of constitutional values and the promotion of a deliberative democracy,” said the SC judge.
“Protecting dissent is but a reminder that while democratically elected governments offer us a legitimate tool for development and social coordination, they can never claim a monopoly over the values and identities that define our plural society. The employment of state machinery to curb dissent, instills fear and creates a chilling atmosphere on free speech which violates the rule of law and detracts from the constitutional vision of a pluralist society,” he said.
Destruction of Spaces for Questions Destroys Basis of All Growth — Political, Economic, Cultural and Social
“The destruction of spaces for questions and dissent destroys the basis of all growth — political, economic, cultural and social. In this sense, dissent is the safety valve of democracy. The silencing of dissent and the generation of fear in the minds of people go beyond the violation of personal liberty and a commitment to constitutional values – it strikes at the heart of a dialogue-based democratic society which accords to every individual equal respect and consideration,” said Justice Chandrachud.
“A commitment to pluralism requires positive action in the form of social arrangements where the goal is ―to incorporate difference, coexist with it, allow it a share of social space. There is thus a positive obligation on the state to ensure the deployment of its machinery to protect the freedom of expression within the bounds of law and dismantle any attempt by individuals or other actors to instil fear or chill free speech. This includes not just protecting free speech, but actively welcoming and encouraging it,” he said.