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India is a country with immense goodness. It has values that many other countries in the world envy. We are proud to be the largest democracy in the world. When many of our neighbouring countries fallen prey to dictatorships or military rulers, India kept up political democracy intact for more than sixty eight years. It’s a great achievement for a country with much diversity.
We have witnessed the conduct of successful elections, peaceful changes of government at the Centre and in the States, people exercising freedom of expression, culture, movement and religion. Over the years India has also been developing and transforming economically and socially. At the same time we still confront large scale inequalities, injustice or non-fulfillment of expectations of certain sections of the society. These include all sections of people, especially the minorities, Dalits, Adivasis and women. Very often they do not feel themselves participative in the democratic process. You may ask why it is so. Democracy means ‘government of the people, for the people, and by the people’. It means democracy is not limited to just a process of election, but also fulfilling social and economic aspirations of the people. In India we keep on debating these various aspects of democracy and its achievements and challenges. What is democracy? In order to understand the meaning of democracy in its different aspects; we must appreciate the introduction and development of democracy in India; identify major problems and challenges being faced by Indian democracy; recognize the corrective measures for improving the Indian democratic system; and explain the roles of citizens in making an efficient and successful democracy.
Let us begin with understanding the meaning of democracy and the conditions that are essential for its successful functioning. This will help us in appreciating the challenges to Indian democracy. Abraham Lincoln said, “Democracy is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.” The term ‘democracy’ comes from the Greek word demokratia which means “rule of the people”. Demokratia contains two words; demos and kratos. Demos means “people” and Kratos means “power”. That is, in a democracy the power rests with the people. We can say democracy means people’s power. This meaning is based on the experiences of the governments that existed in some of the Greek city-states, notably Athens. And, today also, democracy is defined as a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodic free elections. When you examine the definitions of democracy, as suggested above, you will find that most of those definitions define democracy as a form of government which is run by the elected representatives. This statement defines democracy in the political context, but should democracy be defined only in the political context? Does this concept not have equal, if not more, relevance, in the social context or even in relation to self in our daily life? Democracy has been defined in many ways. Bryce believes that “Democracy really means nothing more or less than the rule of the whole people, expressing their Sovereign will by their votes”. MacIver observes, “Democracy is not a way of governing, whether by majority or otherwise, but primarily a way of determining, who shall govern, and broadly to what ends”.
In our time democracy is just not limited to political democracy. It means more than a mere form of government. In its comprehensive form, democracy means, or ought to mean, (i) a form of government, (ii) a type of state, (iii) a pattern of social system, (iv) a design of economic order, and (v) a way of life and culture. Therefore, when we say that India is a democracy, we mean not only that its political institutions and processes are democratic but also that the Indian society and every Indian citizen is democratic, reflecting basic democratic values of equality, liberty, fraternity, secularism and justice in the social environment and individual behaviour. Remember all who live in this land are Indians, no matter whether one believes in a religion or not, one’s culture, belief system, language and status may be different than the other, yet all are Indians.
Essential Conditions for Democracy
There are certain essential conditions for the success of democracy. All people must be able to experience a participatory role in decision making. There may be two major categories: (a) political conditions, and (b) social and economic conditions – the fulfillment of the first leads to political democracy and the second as social democracy. Obviously, the first and the foremost is political conditions of democracy. It is essential that for a system to be democratic, we must adopt a Constitution and laws that vest supreme power in the people. The human rights and fundamental rights, such as equality, liberty of thought and expression, belief, movement, communication and association must be protected by the Constitution. India has universal adult franchise as the basis of electing representatives at various levels of the government. Opportunities for political participation of all the citizens not only in elections at regular interval, but also in other aspects of the political process have to be made available. There has to be a responsible government in which the executive is answerable to the legislature, the legislature to the people and the Judiciary to remain independent. Political institutions like political parties media and interest and pressure groups like various non-governmental organizations, must be functional for expressing popular needs, demands and grievances. A democratic system is strengthened if it maintains an enlightened public opinion in its various forms through free print and electronic and other communication processes. Political democracy is thus one which incorporates all the above political traits.
A democratic system has to ensure that the social development is in tune with democratic values and norms reflecting equality of social status and opportunities for development, social security and social welfare. Citizens must avail opportunities of universal and compulsory education. They must also be enabled to utilize means of economic development. The fruits of economic development must reach all and especially to the poor and the deprived sections of the society. One sided growth cannot be a sign of mature democracy. Socio-economic development of all the people only can strengthen social democracy.
CHALLENGES TO INDIAN DEMOCRACY TODAY
Since independence India has been functioning as a responsible democracy. We are considered as the largest democracy in the world with multi-party system of representation. It has successfully adapted to the challenging situations. There have been free and fair periodic elections for all political offices from the panchayats to the President of India. There has been smooth transfer of political power from one political party or set of political parties to others, both at national and state levels on many occasions. The legislative, executive and judicial organs have been functioning properly.
However, we see there is erosion of these democratic values, both political and social. There are political parties without internal democracy. There are political ideology that are bent on dividing and polarizing communities. There are groups and people without attitudinal change. They still keep up the age old caste/ class narrow mindedness. Today there is increasingly corruption at all levels. Religion is a major cause for division and polarization. Opposing voice is not accepted. Increasingly there is intolerance and domination. Mono culture and religious fundamentalism is on the rise. Unemployed youth indulging destructive and harmful works are the order of the day. There is insurgency and extortion all most all the places. Dissenting voice is suppressed. Paid news is confusing people. There is discrimination on the basis of cities and rural areas. There is large scale displacement on the rise without paying adequate compensation to the victims. Unfortunately the majority of the victims are poor tribals and Dalits.
One doubts about the curbing of NGOs and independent press. Workers unions and peoples movements have been under threats. Anyone who speaks for the grass root level is blamed as a Naxalite agent. ‘ If you are not with me you are against me’ attitude is gaining momentum. Law and order becomes a victim to mob violence. Lynching and raping is patronized by groups and parties in certain cases. All these are alarming and frightening.
Role of Youth for Better India
Here comes the responsibility of the future of the nation. There is a large population of youth in India. More than 50 percentage of Indian people belong to the age below 35 years. This is a great hope for the nation. They are looking for a better India, and a new world order. Significant social changes can come through them. They are for socio-economic development. India is a very large country full of diversities – linguistically, culturally, religiously. The level of education of youth is a key to both the successful functioning of democracy and socio-economic development of the country. And perhaps, more importantly, it is an essential condition for human dignity. But the state of formal literacy was almost dismal when India achieved independence. The literacy rate in 1951 was mere 18.33 per cent and female literacy was negligible with 8.9 percent. Today it is better and is on the rise. Universal literacy, according to 2011 Census, is risen to 74.04 per cent, the female literacy rate is still lagging at 65.46 per cent. Only right education makes them conscious of the principles of liberty, equality, secular and democratic. Recently, the Right to Education is provided as a fundamental right. We hope that this will help the cause of educating the children universally. Lack of education is the root cause of all kinds of deprivations and inequalities.
- Sex Ratio, according to 2011 Census, in India is only 914 female children per 1000 male children. This is lower than the 2001 Census which reported child sex ratio of 927 female children per 1000 male children. It has been declining because of several factors, like the prevailing preference for male child, discriminatory treatment against the girl child right after birth, and the increasing incidence of female infanticides and female feticides. By using technology, people are forcing mothers to get the fetus of a female child aborted. The infant mortality rate among girl children is high, as compared to that among boy children.
- Inequality in the society in the name of gender is a curse on India today. Women Reservation Bill (providing 33 per cent of reservation of women in Parliament) has yet to be passed despite a very low ratio of women in both the Houses of the Parliament. The Women Reservation Bill was meant to increase the proportion of women in Parliament to provide opportunities for equal political participation. While most parties agree on the need for such a Bill, none of them has given it a priority.
- Casteism: The caste system which presumably originated in the division of labour in the ancient society has become a more or less rigid group classification, based on birth. This has led to segregation of so called low castes or ‘Dalits’, depriving them of education and other social benefits. The Dalits have been typically performing menial labour and some of the hardest physical work in society. The caste system acts against the roots of democracy. The democratic facilities - like fundamental rights relating to equality, freedom of speech, expression and association, participation in the electoral process, free media and press, and even legislative forums - are misused for maintaining casteist identity. Casteism has also been contributing towards continuation of socio-economic inequalities. It is true that India has been an unequal society from times immemorial. The Scheduled Castes (SCs), the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and the backward classes have suffered down the ages from socio-economic deprivations. The need of the hour is a change of our mindset.
- Communalism: The biggest threat to Indian Democracy and freedom is Communalism and religious fundamentalism. They have acquired a very dangerous form and alarming proportion in India. They divide communities and spread hatred against each other. Communalism is an affront to India’s nationalist identity and a tragic setback to its evolving secular culture. It is subversive of our democratic political stability and destroyer of our glorious heritage of humanism and composite culture. It opposes the secular nature of our composite culture and social fabric. It creates enmity among various religions and considers other as a threat. It is sad to see political patronage to these in many parts of India.
- Religious Fundamentalism also reinforces communalists in exploiting both religion and politics. In fact, fundamentalism acts as an ideology which advocates a return to orthodoxy and a strict compliance to the fundamental tenets of religion. Religious fundamentalists vehemently oppose progressive reforms in order to establish their exclusive control on their respective communities.
- Regionalism: India is a country of many languages and cultures. In order to integrate all these into one we need to have a wider outlook and therefore, regionalism and cultural jingoism cannot be accepted.
- Negative propaganda: Freedom with responsibility is the need of the hour. Citizens must be taught positive thinking. Media and the social agencies must spread positivism to all. Remember positive reinforcement brings positive outcome. Negativity breeds negativity.
- Corruption: We need to uproot the widespread corruption at all levels through imparting values of honesty, commitment, compassion, responsibility and sincerity. We must not involve in corruption however small or big it is.
- Exploitation: In a true democratic free country no one should be a victim of exploitation. The dichotomy between the rich and the poor must be reduced. Life is precious and so we must love and respect human life.
- Drugs and violence: Youth must stand against drug addiction and violence of all sorts. If the youth come forward to campaign against such evils we will have a better country for tomorrow’s children.
I think if our youth heed to these they will be trendsetters for a new India, which will be a beacon to the whole world. Otherwise we will perish as a weak, undemocratic, religion based jingoistic nation. Choice is ours!
Sunny Jacob SJ