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.
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.
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!