Do All Indians Have Equal Access To The Rule Of Law?

Flip through the pages of a newspaper, and you will come across yet another case where a mob or a khap panchayat took it upon themselves to decide the fate of an individual. There is no dearth of cases where the women or people of marginalised communities yet again became the target of public ire. Theoretically,”Rule of Law” is a central concept of the Constitution of India.  In fact, no society can stay in a functional state without broad applicability of the same.

A.V Dicey in his book “ The Law of the Constitution” has given the following three implications of the rule of law –

1. The absence of arbitrary power, that is, no man is punished except for a breach of the law

2. Equality before the law that is, equal subjection of all citizens (rich or poor, high or low, official or non-official) to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law courts

3. The primacy of the rights of an individual, that is, the constitution is the result of the rights of the individual as defined and enforced by courts of law, rather than constitution being the source of the individual rights

In India, several cases have come up which have raised a big question mark on whether the citizens of the land are enjoying the rule of law. Are the citizens of the largest democracy in the world bestowed by the right to equal access to law besides several other aspects of this broad concept? Well, the rule of law is indeed not the monopoly of a democratic system. But weren’t we guaranteed the access to same on the eve of Independence way back in 1947?

Most of us might believe that we are well versed with the rights that are accorded to us in the lengthiest Constitution of the world. Indeed, rights may be self-evident and to an extent constitutionally secured in today’s era. But in no way whatsoever can they automatically implement themselves. The implementation is the responsibility of not the government at large as well as the microconstituents of the system. Sad reality begins to dawn upon our conscience when we realise how we are utterly failing the human civilisation at large.

In rural areas, non-constitutional bodies like khap panchayats and kangaroo courts have by and large taken over the role of the constitutionally run ones. They announce single statements without much dissent encroaching upon the rights of individuals with unprecedented ease. These infamous bodies sanction violence against women and curtail women’s rights in significant ways. They haven’t helped the marginalised communities much either. As a result, generations pass, but the spot of discrimination sustains and is in fact passed on as “legacy”.

A khap panchayat

Fall in love with a man belonging outside your community, you might get beaten to death. One voice of dissent and your soul is razed to the ground. One cry of empowerment and the entire family becomes an outcast. What kind of values are we promoting in villages which according to Gandhi were the basic building components of the nation? The web of these horrific incidents is not constrained to the boundaries of the so-called “backward” regions. How many of us remember Nirbhaya beyond the candle march that we became a part of with much enthusiasm and flooded our social media profiles with? The audacity of the rapists to comment that “they were just out to have some fun” or a “good time” sends shivers down my spine. This misfortune of lack of access to the law reaches its zenith when the first responders are reluctant to register a case of sexual assault due to the fear of character assassination or even worse of not being heard at all. It is no wonder that India has one of the lowest reporting of rape cases across the world.

On the one hand, the Supreme court of India is passing laws to protect the women, and on the other hand, the institutions like khap panchayat are facilitating crimes. What sort of utter paradox is this? The levels of misogyny that are suggested by the statements of khap panchayats are at stark odds with what the leading courts of the country are articulating.

Freedom of expression is becoming more difficult to attain with each passing day. India needs to stop stifling dissent and treating critics like criminals. The draconian laws, as well as mob lynching, have a chilling effect on dissent. Amartya Sen’s book “The Argumentative Indian” holds more significance today than ever before. What was the fault of Gauri Lankesh, Shujaat Bukhari and several other reporters like them besides unveiling the hidden malice behind the “godly” faces of the politicians? Don’t the majority of reporters who are targeted today represent the unheard voices of the minority sections of the society? Sit down and ponder upon the uncanny similarities the reporters on the targeted list share.

Minorities are in a worse position than ever before. The people from Northeast India are treated like outsiders and do not have access to the basic legal protection. Recently, many cases have surfaced which point at the same. Lawyers beat a woman from Nagaland for reporting a rape case. An engineering student in Bangalore was beaten up brutally by a group of cab drivers because he could not speak in Kannada.

Media trials term a person guilty even before they are presented in the court. The judgements of higher courts are often questioned. Several draconian, outdated and vague laws of the Indian Constitution have only served to further the interests of a selected section of the society and have widened the gap between haves and have-nots.

The situation is not all bad. We do have people who take swift action to uphold the dignity of the nation. Take the instance of a Sikh cop in Uttarakhand who stood in defence of a Muslim youth who had gone to meet his Hindu lover at a temple. We live in a society where women are blamed for wearing clothes that are too short or being out of their homes late at night when they are raped, but two people in love are seen with disdain and are often even beaten to death.

Though certainly, the conditions of the contemporary world force us to have a second thought on the universal applicability of Dicey’s principle of the rule of law, the main crux is quite practical. The application of the main idea, “The rule of law implies that the functions of the government in a free society should be so exercised as to create conditions in which the dignity of man as an individual is upheld. This dignity requires not only the recognition of certain civil or political rights but also creation of certain political, social, economic, educational and cultural conditions which are essential to the full development of his personality” can be enjoyed by the society if we take it upon ourselves to spot the loopholes and find the best possible way to plug them. Merely raising a finger at the dismal situation of the Indian state will not solve the purpose. The only way to end this menace is by robust steps taken by the media houses as well as the general community so that no agent can flee from his responsibilities.

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