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Does India Meet The Conditions Set By Ambedkar For A Successful Democracy?

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As India celebrated its 72nd Republic day recently, I wonder, was it worth the celebration for a particular community that cherishes the Constitution like no other in India? No other community cherishes and celebrates the day, which marks the adoption of the Indian Constitution with the zeal that the Dalit community does. I really feel that the Dalit community celebrates this day with all their heart as the Constitution is the only document that recognises them as humans and it guarantees that they are treated as humans. 

Protest By Dalit Outfit Bhim Army
According to the United Nations Development Programme and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s global multidimensional poverty index (MPI), every second member of the Scheduled Tribe and every third member of the Scheduled Caste remains poor.

I think it won’t be wrong to say that the Constitution is considered the sacred text of Dalits in India. While the Constitution gives them hope, those supposed to protect and implement it fail to improve their conditions even after 7 decades of its implementation.

The architect of India’s Constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar, spoke on the “Conditions Precedent for the Successful Working of Democracy” at Poona on 22 December, 1952. It would be fair to compare the current situation with the pointers which Ambedkar considered as ideals for the working of a democracy.

It is important to know what democracy meant to Ambedkar before dissecting into conditions precedent for the successful working of democracy. He defined democracy as “a form and method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social lives of people are brought about without bloodshed”.

The first condition is that there must be no glaring inequalities in society. There must be no oppression or suppression of any communities in order to have a feeling of equality among the masses. But there is a clear picture of inequality prevalent in India and that too is caste specific. 

According to the United Nations Development Programme and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s global multidimensional poverty index (MPI), every second member of the Scheduled Tribe and every third member of the Scheduled Caste remains poor. This data is factored not only on a financial parameter but also on other indicators like nutrition, health, education, living standards and assets.

The second condition required for the successful working of democracy is the presence of a sound opposition. The BJP garnered 37.4% votes in 2019 general elections. Not a single political party or leader has managed to garner 50% or more votes post-independence in India. That means that the BJP is only stronger than other political parties at the moment. 

While we may consider that political opposition has weakened, the presence of opposition cannot be denied. But with the rise in the “Hindutva” narrative, all political parties are mobilising masses on religious lines. The rise of both the Hindu Right and the Muslim Right is simultaneous and there only can be opposition if Bahujans collectively reject both Brahminism and Syedism. 

All leading political parties which have different ideologies have one absolute thing in common, and that is the Dalits and Adivasis are ghettoised into reserved seats. This pattern is seen in ticket distribution in all non-Bahujan parties. The Congress and the BJP combined gave only three tickets to dalits on a “general” seat in 2004 and 2009 general elections. 

Similarly, the politically underrepresented Muslim community has returned 19 MLAs in the recent Bihar assembly elections out of which 16 are Ashraf’s and only 3 Pasmanda’s. This overrepresentation of Ashraf’s points towards the existence and moreover dominance of the Muslim Right in the political space while the condition of Pasmanda’s remains the same as of dalits.

Indian Farmers Protest In Allahabad
Aam Admi Party (AAP ) activists and supporters shout inside a prison van after getting arrested during a demonstration supporting a nationwide general strike called by farmers to protest against the recent agricultural reforms in Allahabad on December 8, 2020. (Photo by Ritesh Shukla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The third condition required for the successful working of democracy is equality in law and administration. We are well aware of the fact that there are disparities in representation in government administration. There is only one Dalit out of 89 secretaries posted at the Centre.

There are no OBCs and only 3 Scheduled Tribe members. This disparity is seen across all the sectors, including the judiciary. The collegium system has systematically excluded marginalised groups. The appointment of the first Dalit judge Justice Gavai was made in the Supreme Court in 2019 after the retirement of KG Balakrishnan in 2010 who was the first Dalit CJI. 

This data is sufficient to confirm the disparity in representation in the Indian Judiciary, which is the result of the collegium system. The arrests of a foremost public intellectual and a Dalit icon Dr Anand Teltumbde and other social activists makes it seem that the judiciary is used as an extension of state machinery to suppress the voices of the resistance.

The fourth condition precedent for the successful working of a democracy is the observance of constitutional morality. In recent times, the judiciary has proved that when there is a reference to the idea of morality, it tends to bend towards popular or majoritarian morality rather than on constitutional morality. 

The landmark Ayodhya verdict will continue to haunt our future generations. The fact that the majoritarian idea superseded has constitutional legitimacy hints that constitutional morality is as good as dead in the current regime. The attempts to impose a singular identity and destroy the ideas of pluralism and inclusive society goes against the ethos of constitutional democracy.

Another condition which is very necessary for the working of democracy is that there must be no tyranny of the majority over the minority. The CAA-NRC protests can be an example of the tyranny of the majority over the minority. The protests got international attention but failed to convince the BJP led government to consider their demands. 

The rising cases of mob lynching and banning beef in select states reveal Hindutva’s intentions towards minorities in India. India is one of the largest exporters of beef and the fact that Goa, a BJP ruled state, does not have a ban on beef displays the divisive politics of BJP. 

The above conditions and the current scenario makes us question if we are a democracy or not. Public conscience and the functioning of moral order in society are also vital for a democracy. Until the collective conscience of society is alive, there will be a ray of hope to reclaim and establish a moral society built on the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Jaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writer’s Training Program. Head here to know more about the program and to apply for an upcoming batch!

This post is part of theJaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writers' Training Program, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more and apply.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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