INDIA: The promise and pretence of democracy 

The Constitution of India explicitly states that the right to life, equality, education, and to participate in elections as fundamental rights. When these rights are violated, the Indian system does not uphold the right to justice as a fundamental right. However, the right to justice is an essential feature of democracy.

India may be pursuing a democratic system of governance, but there is a deep-seated history that has created a culture of caste hierarchies, which present structural and developmental hurdles. The promise of democracy that ensured an egalitarian society is yet to be fulfilled.

The following cases expose the short selling of democracy:

(1) When the cotton mill workers in Mumbai attempted negotiations with the management seeking better wages, health care and tenure rights, their peaceful appeals were met with indifference from the management and the government. The workers were displaced and the mill-lands are now used for other purposes;

(2) The women from Uttarakhand state relied on the forest for their livelihood, and treated it as a sacred place. However, the government leased the forest to manufacturers of cricket bats and tennis rackets. The deforestation that followed nearly wiped out the forest. This prompted the protesting women to resort to desperate measures to save the trees to prevent the contractors’ from decimating the forest;

(3) Welspun, a private company acquired agricultural lands for the purpose of constructing a thermal power plant in Katni district of Madhya Pradesh. This resulted in the combined effort of the company and the government in displacing residents, who resorted to sitting on the funeral pyre, willing to give up their lives should officials attempt to acquire their land forcibly;

(4) Ms. Madhuri is a social activist from the Jagrut Adivasi Dalit Sanghatan, a peoples’ organisation fighting to end irregularities in MNREGS. The administration, in an attempt to prevent her entering the district, served Madhuri, with an expulsion and exile notice, so that Madhuri will no more be able to expose corruption that stems out from the illicit relationship between the administration and politicians;

(5) Residents near the Bargi dam in Madhya Pradesh were forcefully displaced without compensation or rehabilitation. Three hundred tribal representatives from the Khandwa and Harda districts protested by staying in the water for 18 days, enduring the cold water, insects, worms and fish eating into their flesh. The government promised to compensate the people with land, but never kept the promise;

(6) Children from Jhabua district made thirty applications to the government for a teacher to be appointed in their school. The government ignored the children’s request. The children resorted to building an earthen idol of a teacher, adapted from the mythological story of Eklavya and Dronacharya, which finally prompted the government to transfer a teacher from an adjacent village. However, this in turn deprived the children from the adjacent village of their teacher.

The role of the government and its responsibilities in the Indian democracy are clearly laid out in the Constitution. However, the ideals of democracy have only been spoken about, but not acted upon. Prioritisation of power over the people has created a corrupt and exploitative administration in India. The only sources of hope that remain for a democratic India are the ethical principles and creative tactics of the ordinary people, which could have the power to initiate a mass movement for revolutionary changes and restore the original disposition of the Constitution.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-071-2013
Countries : India,
Issues : Child rights, Corruption, Democracy, Judicial system, Right to education, Right to food, Right to health,