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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 6

India 2008 : Continuing Paradox

Saturday 26 January 2008, by Karuna Thakur


A Constitution for India framed by the Indians was arguably the best gift to Indians on the eve of independence. The transcendent goal of racial revolution was presented by Jawaharlal Nehru to the members of the Constituent Assembly in the following words:

The first task of this assembly is to free India through a new Constitution, to feed the starving people and to clothe the naked masses and to give every Indian the fullest opportunity to develop himself according to his capacity. (Austin 2000: 27)

S. Radhakrishnan believed that a socio- economic revolution that only brought about the satisfaction of the fundamental needs of the common man was not enough. He favoured a resolution that would go much deeper to bring about a fundamental change in the structure of the Indian society. (CAD 11, 1,269-73).

After sixty years of India’s independence and some five-and-a-half decades after the commencement of the Constitution, it becomes necessary to take stock of our goals of social revolution—that were promised to our people. The revolution aimed at bringing about a fundamental change in the structure of the Indian society and to develop national unity and solidarity.

The social revolution for making fundamental changes in the structure of society in India presents a hazy picture. The Constitution gave no right to citizens for enforcing their right to equality in respect of discrimination and disparities that existed before the dawn of independence. Assurance, however, was given in the Directive Principles of State Policy. Despite the little that the government has done to give effect to these directives, we find that the rich have become richer and the poor poorer. Millions of them continue to be homeless. The minimum wages are hardly enough for their existence. They do not have the means to educate their children. As a result poverty and squalor are perpetuated from generation to generation. Slogans of ‘Garibi Hatao’ have proved futile. Starvation deaths continue to be reported as much as those due to heat and cold. Millions do not have drinking water and are forced to use rain water collected in ponds. Vast number of villages still cook food by using cow- dung cakes and yet we claim that a social revolution has taken place and opportunity has been provided to everyone in qualitative terms.

The right to life was guaranteed to citizens. Article 21 lays down that no person can be deprived of his life and liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law. However, public health, medical aid and nutrition was only made a directive, which could not be enforced by law though it would be fundamental in the governance of the country. Denial of proper medical and public health facilities can endanger life and can tantamount to the very denial of the right to life.

India’s public health system presents a bizarre spectacle. Medical aid is either absent or so deficient that human lives cannot be saved. Hundreds of patients wait on the pavements in the premises of government hospitals, which have no infrastructure to meet the health care needs of the patients. Patients with serious ailments requiring immediate surgery are given long dates which many of them fail to keep as they are dead by then. Private hospitals are highly expensive and unaffordable to the poor. Lands are taken by private hospitals on concessional rates from the government but do not admit poor patients because of their inability to pay huge sums of money. Dead bodies of the patients are not handed over to the successors till the payments are cleared.

Pavement dwellers and hawkers were to have a right to life too which is violated by not providing them suitable shelter. The poor have no place in the system. They walk on the roads; when run over by vehicles, they cannot afford litigation or a competent lawyer and lose out to their rich rivals.

EQUALITY is a glorious virtue which differentiates a democracy from dictatorship, monarchy, aristocracy or oligarchy. Equality was guaranteed under three Articles (14, 15 and 16) of the Constitution. Article 14 lays down that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of law within the territory of India.

It is unmistakably clear from the above Article that it is prospective in nature and takes care of the future only. Inequalities and social injustice which have existed for centuries are not remedied. These inequalities continue to stare on our face even after sixty years of independence. The provision is meaningless for those who have been the victims of injustice for centuries. Equality is not possible when the social structure of the country is involved in class conflict between a factory owner and a wage earner, landlord and the peasant, labourer and contractor. There is no equality between the child of a labourer and that of a contractor. How the law can be applied equally is difficult to appreciate. A protection of law meant for the weaker sections of the society cannot be made equally available to the affluent and prosperous sections of the society. If equality were to be necessarily among the similarly circumstanced, even then it is a problem. Indian polity and social structure has variations at socio-economic and political levels. No classification is practicable because of the fundamental diversities of the Indian society.

Equality of opportunity under Article 16 is also a hoax. In an age of competition the only way public employment is secured is by competing with others. The competition between the high and the low is ill-founded. The rural/urban, mass/elite, dichotomy has polarised the society. These Articles are significant for theoretical purposes; when applied to specific situations, equality remains a far cry.

Reservations under Article 16 for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are no panacea for social transformation. There are more than 73 parliamentary constituencies reserved for SCs and STs. Reservations have been continuing ever since the commencement of the Constitution. During this period a few thousand members of this community have found a place in the service of the country, but the entry of some cannot ensure the benefit of the entire class. Whenever a man from the rural background is drawn out of his milieu, he abandons his intention to return to his roots. He is gradually delinked from his kith and kin and the milieu. The present mode of upliftment is illusionary and has been continued under political pressure without much benefit to the SCs and STs.

The other backward classes have been added to Article 16(IV) for reservations. The grounds for such reservations are almost the same as those of the SCs and STs, namely, economic and educational backwardness. Such a criteria of backwardness among the backward classes is wholly incorrect. Over a period of 50 years, things have changed marginally because of which every member of such backward classes, if not better, at least is not less advanced than the common rural folk belonging to the community and caste other than the notified backward classes. There is no rational basis for picking up a notified class alone for a favourable treatment as those similarly circumstanced and belonging to other castes such as Brahmins and Kashtriyas have been left out.

Over a little more than half-a-century the entire approach in public service has substantially changed. Politics has become a lucrative profession. ‘Self’ is the pivot around which public life moves. The regard for decency and integrity has eroded. Corruption is becoming the order of the day in every sphere of public relation and administration. Corruption, nepotism and favouritism have reached the peak notwithstanding the existence of laws such as Prevention of Corruption Act. Every such act of nepotism leads to an undue favour to one who does not deserve it and undue loss to another who does. The real remedy of this ugly face of the Indian society is to have an all- embracing programme for the social, educational and economic progress for the marginal segments of society. A decisive impact can be made by an all-embracing multi-pronged attack at the micro level—especially the education system. Also the fundamental rights have to be put on a higher pedestal than the ordinary law of the land. Any violation of these rights should be treated as a ‘fraud on the Constitution’ and a constitutional offence. Above all, political will to eradicate the colossal disparities would make a substantial difference. Nehru’s words to the members of the Constituent Assembly regarding the achievement of the goal of social change are worth recalling in conclusion. India’s survival, he believed, depended on this social change:

If we cannot solve this problem soon, all our paper Constitution will become useless and purposeless … If India goes down, all will go down, if India thrives, all will thrive; and if India lives, all will live.
(CAD 11, 1, 317-18)

India, no doubt has survived. It continues to live too. Whether it thrives is for all of us to reflect upon. Indeed, at the beginning of yet another year of independent India, we can pat our backs for giving to ourselves one of the most comprehensive and liberal Constitutions framed by us according to our indigenous needs. Ironically, we would also at the same time rue the fact that we, the people, failed the same.

The author is a Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Jammu.

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