WE pride ourselves as the largest democracy in the world which provides for fundamental rights of people enshrined in the constitution. We talk of a free media, an independent judiciary and strict provisions for legal enforcement of laws.
We talk of enough safeguards and checks and balances to ensure that the three pillars of democracy – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – function independently. We also boast of conducting free and fair elections and claim that there is no discrimination in delivery of justice.
But are we a real functioning democracy? Do our various institutions have a free hand? Are these working in the letter and spirit of the constitution? There are serious doubts.
There are frequent reports of the violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens, including free speech.
Journalists, writers, teachers, opinion leaders and social activists face the threat of getting booked under sedition laws or other draconian laws if they speak against the government.
Last week a metropolitan magistrate in Delhi gave lessons to authorities on free speech which must be made mandatory reading by police and judicial officers in the country.
While dealing with a bail matter, chief metropolitan magistrate Siddhartha Malik remarked that another person’s view may offend you but that doesn’t mean that person has committed an offence, and a democracy is nothing without a wide diversity of opinion.
He went on to say that with over 130 crore Indians, any issue can have 130 crore different views and that feelings of hurt nursed by an individual cannot be equated with targeting an entire group or community.
The bail petition pertained to the British era sedition law. Significantly there is a sharp increase in the number of people booked under this law while there is an equally sharp decline in the number of convictions under this particular law which proves that most such charges are frivolous.
Against 861 cases of sedition under investigation in 2015, there were no less than 3,026 cases under investigation by 2020, as per the latest data available. The conviction rate remains around only 20 per cent.
The judicial system itself is in a bad shape. Over four crore cases are pending in various courts of the country including those pending for over 10 years. Our jails are overflowing with undertrials.
Infact, 75 per cent of those in jails are only facing trial due to delay in hearings and have not been convicted. Does it show a healthy democracy at work ?
At the same time there are huge number of vacancies of judges at all levels which are not filled despite sanctioned strength and availability of law graduates and lawyers willing to enrol for judicial services.
All concerned including state governments, high courts, Supreme Court and the central government must share blame for such a sorry state of affairs.
Functioning of our legislature wing is also far from satisfactory. Governments don’t allow free debates and discussions and push through laws without adequate application of mind.
Opposition parties too are to be blamed for not playing a constructive role. Important bills are not referred to parliamentary committees.
The number of hours of the functioning of assemblies and parliament has been declining and quality debates are altogether missing. Even our system of first past the post has resulted in political parties winning merely 30 per cent or less votes to form governments.
As regards media, which is considered the fourth pillar of democracy, the less said the better. Barring some honourable exceptions, media is increasingly taking sides with the government either out of fear or favours.
It is a matter of debate whether the founders of our constitution had envisaged the kind of democracy that we are practising these days.
Is it the kind of independence for which martyrs like Kartar Singh Sarabha laid down his life at the age of 19 years or Bhagat Singh faced the gallows at the age of 23 and countless others who sacrificed their lives for ushering in independence and democracy for the citizens of the country. The answer, unfortunately, is no.
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