Is India really a liberal democracy?

Representative image | Photo credit: IANS

As another year begins in the life of an independent India, debates will continue to rage over the many ideas that define it. Is India a nation state or a civilizational state, are we a secular country or is the plural the most appropriate and appropriate term to describe us? We are a democracy, there is no doubt about it, but are we really liberal? Or are we an illiberal democracy that meets the basic criteria of free and fair elections, but falls well short of several other parameters that define a commitment to liberalism? Is the Indian state intrusive and are our fundamental rights under the social contract that we as citizens have entered into with the state under the Constitution really protected? These questions will continue to be asked, as they have been throughout our independent history. There have been enough examples over the past 73 years that seem to indicate that the Liberal edifice upon which our democracy was built has not only developed serious cracks, but has suffered considerable erosion.

Tripurdaman Singh, in his book Sixteen Days of Storm: The Story of India’s First Amendment to the Constitution, relates, with revealing details, the first steps of India towards a descent into illiberalism. After all, the First Amendment, pushed by Jawaharlal Nehru, our first prime minister, achieved the goal of restricting free speech, after Indian courts thwarted his and his government’s efforts to effectively censor criticism of several fronts in terms of governance. In fact, Syama Prasad Mookerji, Nehru’s ideological opponent and someone the BJP holds in great reverence, not only strongly opposed the First Amendment, but warned Nehru of the results of the measure he was taking. “Maybe you will carry on for eternity, in the next generation, for generations to be born; It’s entirely possible. But assuming another party comes into authority? What is the precedent you are setting? He then called on his fellow parliamentarians to speak out against the bill, saying: “The saddest epitaph that can be engraved in memory of a lost freedom is that it was lost because its possessors did not have not reached out time. “

Since then, we have had the Urgency, a far too “liberal” use of the laws against sedition, against the alleged hate speech under section 153A even when there was no direct incitement. violence, against speeches deemed offensive to religious sentiments, against criticism on social media under Article 66A of the Information Technology Law before the law was overturned by the Supreme Court, several banned books, several films urged to cut content to hurt feelings, and the list is only growing. SP Mookerji’s warnings about the disappearance of liberty were aimed at future governments as well – Congress’ record of upholding liberal values ​​allows for an in-depth study of double standards and outright hypocrisy that spans decades in the past. power, but the governments led by the BJP did not cover themselves with glory Either. For a party ostensibly committed to decentralization and “less government,” the state and its stifling grip under the BJP have only intensified.

For starters, the BJP-led states have only consolidated and strengthened the anti-cow slaughter and anti-conversion laws that were first introduced by congressional governments. In fact, a BJP-led government under Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, then backed by the Shiv Sena which is now allied with Congress, had even sought to ban the possession and, therefore, the consumption of beef imported from outside. state, which the Bombay High Court struck down as invading privacy, read as part of the right to life and liberty under section 21. The constitutionality of anti- conversion was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1977, and conversions that are forced, coerced or undertaken through seductions are illegal in several states. But the very fact that a district magistrate or local bureaucrat must be notified at least a month in advance by someone seeking to convert voluntarily, and even the religious priest performing the conversion must do the same, constitutes an interference with freedom of conscience. In addition, a district magistrate is empowered to conduct an investigation through the police to ascertain whether the conversion is genuinely voluntary. The state and the courts have justified the existence of such laws and their criminal liability for abuse, as forced or seduced conversions are also a reality. But the creation of a separate law to govern religious conversions and subject a voluntary act of conversion to official government sanction is an encroachment on an individual’s private space. And it is not liberal.

In Uttar Pradesh alone, since Uttar Pradesh passed the ban on illegal conversion of religion just over a month ago, several cases have come to light in which interfaith marriages have been interrupted. on the basis of complaints from the “moral police” even though the man and woman concerned have consented to the union. Supporters of the law say it has no inherent discrimination as it does not mention any specific religion. But Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, or Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, using the phrase “Love Jihad” in their speeches to justify such laws in their respective states, left us no illusions as to who they are. intended to target. These laws discourage and discourage interfaith marriages in a society already wary of such unions, especially between Muslims and Hindus, and even more so if the woman is Hindu and the man Muslim. Fifty-one people were arrested under the new law in one month in Uttar Pradesh in 14 cases, 13 of which involved Hindu women. Of the 14, according to the reports, two cases are based on complaints from women who alleged a forced attempt to convert them to Islam, while in the others, the complaints were from relatives. The constitutionality of the law has been challenged in the courts, but if polarization was the intention of the law, it is mission accomplished for its advocates.

But why limit yourself to a single anti-conversion legislation? For many intercast and interfaith couples in India, the Special Marriage Act (1954) is a preferred alternative, but it is also a law that only widens the arms of the state and is just as intrusive. Article 5 of the Law on Special Marriage requires the couple concerned to inform the registrar at least one month before the marriage, after which the registrar or the marriage registrar is empowered to publish this notice, also containing the contact details of the couple concerned, to be ‘open for inspection at all reasonable times. Subsequently, under section 7, within 30 days of the publication of the notice, “anyone” may file an objection to the marriage, and the officer, under of section 8, can then investigate the objections and “not perform” the marriage until it is “satisfied” that it should not be prevented from going ahead.

It is no less a government, but a regulatory giant called the Indian State that permeates far too many areas of privacy – so much so that its sanctity as a fundamental right is seriously compromised. How then does that make us a truly liberal democracy?

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