New Delhi, Nov 26 : On the historic occasion of India’s Constitution Day, Supreme Court judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud delivered a special lecture to mark the event.
The Constitution Day Lecture was held as part of the ongoing Global Conference ‘Reimagining & Transforming the Future of Law Schools and Legal Education: Confluence of Ideas During & Beyond COVID-19’, organised by the Jindal Global Law School of O.P. Jindal Global University from November 25-27.
“The framers of our Constitution laid down the cornerstones to create a legal and an institutional infrastructure to promote a culture of constitutionalism and liberal democracy and it now falls on each of us to play our part. The ability of the Constitution to inspire citizens’ movement is unique. They recognised that for our Constitution to endure and liberal democracy to survive, the state must do its duty of ensuring an equal distribution of resources and welfare for all.”
“It must eliminate institutional and societal barriers imposed on individuals and groups that prevent their ability to fully participate in our vibrant democracy. To ensure the resilience of Constitutional methods for expressing discontent, the state must remain committed to achieving equality and protecting its minorities. Our Constitution is a mobilisation tool for social movements and its aspiration is captured in its Preamble,” he said.
Justice Chandrachud deliberated on a range of issues quoting leading global and Indian luminaries while explaining how liberal democracy and enlightened citizenship endures. “The values of the Constitution provide a unifying force in recognising and respecting our diversity and plural culture. It is unique as a powerful moral register to inspire citizens’ movements. The Constitution does not belong solely to lawyers and judges.”
Justice Chandrachud emphasised the role of citizens and social movements in realising constitutional aspirations. Quoting many international legal experts and legendary judges, whose judgements have informed and influenced democratic principles, Justice Chandrachud highlighted that for minorities whose concerns are not addressed through the political process, courts may be the only forum for the realisation of their rights where even the legal recognition of rights does not change the reality of those oppressed.
He also touched upon the rights of the LGBTQ community, gender rights, security of women, rights of tribal communities and more in this context.
However, he also opined that a clear-eyed assessment of the Supreme Court’s function of the limits of what it can do and the doctrinal and procedural constraints that inform its functioning can help ensure that citizens channel their energy in seeking societal reform through multiple fora rather than just through the courts. He then shared at length a series of case studies which amply demonstrate the vital role courts can play in fostering constitutional values and in protection liberal democratic ideals.
Justice Chandrachud observed, “The Supreme Court has to act as an oversight body to ensure that executive action does not result in Constitutional rights being sacrificed at the altar of market forces,” he added.
“Social action litigation has served as a powerful tool to correct inefficiencies in government delivery and to protect the interest of those at the receiving end of repression and absence of legal protection. Through wide stakeholder consultation we can persuasively counter the concern that social action litigation is being transformed from an instrument to empower the impoverished and neglected into a means to entrench and exacerbate existing social inequities. Courts can set forth a thought process for reform, use social action litigation to broaden the conversation and provide voice and representation to those whose interests might otherwise be ignored in decisions impacting them.”
C. Raj Kumar, Founding Vice Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University, reflecting on the words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, said, “Dr B.R. Ambedkar had a prophetic imagination of what could potentially be the future and the state in which India was in 1949 and the journey we had to travel to strengthen our democratic institutions that will fulfill the values of constitutionalism. Dr Ambedkar spoke about three critical dangers that the young Indian democracy was about to witness and needed to effectively respond to.
“He cautioned that if we wish to maintain democracy, not merely in form but also in fact, we need to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. To avoid hero-worship, which can be a harbinger of dictatorship, he said that there is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered lifelong service to the country, but devotion in politics can play an unequal part.
“Religious devotion can lead to the salvation of the soul but in politics it is a sure road to degradation. Emphasising social democracy, he stressed the need to ensure democratic principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. There is a delicate and critical relationship between constitutionalism, liberal democracy and enlightened citizenship.”
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