The word “Republic” comes from the Greek word “Politeia” which means the “rights of citizens.” A Republic is a country in which the supreme power is held by the citizens. It is a representational form of government where the will of the citizens is exercised through their elected representatives. However, given the contemporary socio-political situation of India, can we really call it a true Republic?
Our Idea of the Republic is at Risk
When Indians were fighting for independence from the British colonial rule, the idea of attaining political freedom meant ushering into an era of hope and a better future, where people would reign supreme. A famous poet Ramdhari Singh, “Dinkar” wrote a poem when India adopted the Constitution in 1950, which captured this sentiment precisely. The aforesaid poem was titled “Sinhasan khali karo, ke janata awati hai” (Abdicate the throne, for people are coming). That was a time when freedom was equivalent to a hope for justice and self-determination.
On paper, we have free and fair elections that allow us to democratically choose our representatives, but in reality, there is no guarantee that they would genuinely represent our interests on assuming office, as money and muscle power are increasingly determining electoral outcomes.
On paper, we have free and fair elections that allow us to democratically choose our representatives, but in reality, there is no guarantee that they would genuinely represent our interests on assuming office, as money and muscle power are increasingly determining electoral outcomes. Having seen the country’s transitions over the years, Jagdamba Prasad Mishra, a security guard and a poet, lamenting over the state of the common man says, “Republic means Ganatantra, laws by the people, for the people, of the people. While our leaders eulogize our heritage in speeches, nothing is being done to preserve it. Our freedom fighters fought for independence together. It was a fight by all- men, women of all caste, creed, and religion joined the struggle without any discrimination, but today, we see our country being divided on those lines.“
The Questions That Remain Unanswered
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) regime in India, lead by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has passed certain bills and anti-democratic amendments to laws in the recent past. Moreover, any form of dissent by the people is being targeted, which lead us to question the Republic nature of India. Given below are certain legislations which have been unleashed under the Modi 2.0 regime:
1. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA)
The Parliament has approved the Citizenship (Amendment) Act which laid down the criteria for who could be granted the citizenship of the country. The entire country was thrown into a wave of protests against the passing of this Act and against the creation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Students from various universities and colleges, academicians, women and others have taken to the streets to protest against CAA and NRC on the grounds of it being Islamophobic and unconstitutional. It is being said to be a law that is based on religion, which challenges the secular fabric of our Constitution. However, any attempts by people to resist against the Act are being targeted, students being lathi charged, and peaceful protests being disrupted.
2. National Security Act (NSA) In New Delhi
The National Security Act (NSA) allows the police to detain a person for months if it feels that he/she is a threat to national security. In light of the protests against CAA, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi passed the order to place New Delhi under NSA for three months, from 19 January to 18 April, 2020. The individual detained under the Act need not be informed of the charges for 10 days and it allows the police to detain an individual without a charge for up to 12 months. Usually when a person is arrested, he/she has a basic right to be informed of the charges of arrest, a right to be presented before the court within 24 hours of the arrest, a right to consult a lawyer and so on. However, none of these rights are available to a person detained under the NSA.
3. Amendments To The RTI Act
The proposed amendments to the Right To Information (RTI) Act introduced in the Lok Sabha seek to distort the very spirit of the Act. It seeks to amend the Act in order to empower the Central Government to unilaterally decide the allowances, salary, tenure and other terms of services of the Information Commissioners at the Centre and the State levels. The RTI act provides for a fixed tenure of 5 years for the information commissioners, subject to the age limit of 65 years. It also provides that the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the Chief of the Central Information Commission are same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner. The said provisions are a part of the basic structure of the existing law, and thus, any attempt to amend the same undermines the basic structure of the Act.
4. DNA Profiling Bill
The Cabinet has also cleared the DNA Profiling Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha in January last year, but lapsed due to lack of support in the Rajya Sabha. The said legislation seeks to establish a DNA regulatory board, under which, every laboratory that analyses DNA samples to establish the identity of an individual has to be accredited by the board. The legislation also seeks to establish a National DNA Data Bank and Regional DNA Data Banks where every data bank will maintain indices like the crime scene index, offenders’ index, missing persons’ index and the unknown deceased person’s index. The Bill clearly attempts to violate the privacy and bodily integrity of the citizens as the consent for the collection of DNA samples is not required for offences with the punishment of more than 7 years or death. The Bill is an attempt to treat those accused of certain offences, undeserving of human rights altogether.
With the entire country burning in light of the ongoing protests, with our views, overlooked and our voices, tongue tied, is it justified to say that our elected representatives are representing our interests? And lastly, can India truly be called a Republic in the contemporary times?
5. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (UAPA)
Under the UAPA, any person can be designated as a terrorist on certain ambiguous grounds, such as causing damage to public property, using criminal force against any public functionary, misguiding people through propaganda and “preparing” for terrorism. It gives excessive power to the police to detain such suspects for a period of 180 days in judicial custody, instead of the usual 60-90 days, without any legal justification. It also permits the accused to be detained in police custody for 30 days instead of 15 days. The Congress Party warned that the legislation is “draconian” and could turn India into a “police state.”A careful analysis of the Act can lead one to conclude that it directly infringes the human rights and is very much likely to be abused. Moreover, Amnesty International India has claimed that “it would open the floodgates to harassment of human rights defenders and activists.”
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6. The Transgender Persons’ (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019
The Rajya Sabha passed the Transgender Persons’ (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 on November 25, 2019 which has come under heavy criticism from transgender rights activists. Grace Banu, a Dalit transgender rights activist said that the bill was a “murder of gender justice.” She further stated that, “As a community, we have opposed this Bill from the beginning. We do not want it, and it does not uplift us.” The Bill fails to mention civil rights like marriages, adoption, social security benefits, does not provide for quotas for transgender people in public and is inherent with many other provisions which would work to the detriment of the transgender community.
These are just a few of the anti-democratic, arbitrary, draconian and unconstitutional legislations / amendments proposed/passed by the Parliament under the Modi government. Keeping in mind the true meaning of a Republic, it becomes relevant to ask – Is the will of the citizens truly being exercised? Given the current authoritarian, majoritarian rule by the BJP government, can we say that the supreme power is being held by the citizens? With the entire country burning in light of the ongoing protests, with our views, overlooked and our voices, tongue tied, is it justified to say that our elected representatives are representing our interests? And lastly, can India truly be called a Republic in the contemporary times?
What Can We, The Citizens Of India Do?
The Constitution of India not only guides the functioning of the state, rights of the citizens and lays down certain ideals for our country, but it also specifies certain duties and responsibilities on the part of the citizens.
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There are thousand of small and not-so-small responsibilities that the citizenry has to fulfill, such as taking quick and effective steps to stop sexual atrocities against women, to rid ourselves of caste and communal prejudices, to take care and to stand up for the rights of the differently abled, the aged, the destitute, the marginalized and the oppressed in our society, and so on. With the Republic Day around the corner, which marked the declaration of India a Republic, we the citizens should observe it more as a day of introspection and affixing accountability, than as a day of celebration.
Featured Image Source: Financial Times