On 21 February, A supreme court bench led by Justice Kishan Kaul issued notice to the centre and state government to respond to a petition filed by supreme court lawyer Durga Dutt to enforce Fundamental Duties. The petition filed through advocate Karunakar Mahalik said:
“The need to enforce fundamental duties arises due to new illegal trend of protests by protestors in the garb of freedom of speech and expression by way of blocking of road and rail routes in order to compel the government to meet their demands.”
The petition also referred to Bhagavat Gita and the constitution of the erstwhile Soviet Union’s emphasis on the importance of duty to be fulfilled by citizens. This petition was a direct outcome of PM Modi’s address in the launch of Brahma Kumari’s year-long programme of events. Mr Modi in his speech said:
“In the last 75 years, we kept only talking about rights and wasting time. The talk of rights, to some extent, for some time, may be right in a particular circumstance, but forgetting one’s duties completely has played a huge role in keeping India weak.”
In the last 75 years, India’s progress towards one of the largest and fastest developing economies with a GDP of more than 2.5 trillion USD is evidence that citizens of India fulfilled their duty of developing the nation enthusiastically. At the same time they kept alive the largest democracy by not allowing dictatorial power to manifest, it is this democracy that Mr Modi is promoting in every international meeting.
In a constitutional democracy, elections and protests keep the authorities in check. Freedom guaranteed by the constitution allows citizens to create and explore opportunities. With the availability of ample amount of opportunities, citizens tend to use them humanely and responsibly. India’s advancement in Global Innovation Index 2021 is important to be analysed because even with a lack of investment in domestic innovation infrastructure by the state, citizens fulfilled their duty of advancing India forward in innovation. But citizens were called illegal protestors when they demanded the rights and opportunities guaranteed by the constitution denied by the state authorities.
When female Muslim students performed their duty of pursuing education, it was the state authority that denied entry to them and violated their fundamental rights in the educational institutions when the constitution allows them the right to preserve their minority religious identity. From the year 2016, the state authority never awarded the required number of scholarships to the students from SC, ST and landless agricultural labour families for overseas education, which the state authority is obliged to award to 125 students through the national overseas scholarship scheme. The state not only failed to award scholarships to the eligible candidates, but it also excluded courses concerning Indian culture, heritage, history and social studies in India.
This action of denying students of their rights by the state authority obstructs students from developing their scientific temper. In the Global Innovation Index, 2021 India was positioned 81st in infrastructure, 68th in creative outputs, 62nd in institutions, this clearly indicates the lack of investment by the state authorities on developing domestic infrastructure for innovation.
Without investment in domestic infrastructure, scientific temperament cannot be improved for a large mass of students. Even with the rapid increase in GDP India’s higher education is seriously underfunded, from this higher education funding from 2016-2018, institutions such as IITs, IIMs, NITs which trains 3% of students received 50% of funding. This skewed method of funding leaves out 97% of students without proper facilities to explore and create. This government which owns the narrative of improving women’s and other gender minorities’ livelihood, shrunk the gender budget for the financial year 2023 from 4.4% – to 4.3%.
This shrinkage will result in a lack of infrastructure and employment for women and other gender minorities which were already either lacking or not available in India. India made record exports of food grains during 2020-2021 on the same years when farmers were protesting, this shows that farmers did their duty while protesting for rights, but at the same time India slipped to 101st rank in the global hunger index, 2021.
This lack of distribution of food grains is directly resulting in hunger deaths, maternal mortality among women, infant mortality, stunting and wasting among children belonging to vulnerable sections of society such as SC, ST and other vulnerable communities like Muslims who were already listed as multidimensionally poor by United Nations report. This shows the state authority’s apathy towards the plight of common people created by state authority’s inefficiency and perception of common people as meddlesome outsiders.
With the available freedom, people had done their duty to keep this country on foot by improving its economy. But on the other hand, the state authority entertains and helps the Brahmin-Baniya corporate lobby groups, whereas unemployment among the working-class belonging to vulnerable communities is rising, 90% of Indian families have seen their incomes shrink in 2021 and at the same government saw record collection of GST in April 2021. When common people demand the constitutional rights guaranteed to them and fruit of their labour to improve their livelihood through protests, the state authority which obstructs the transfer of rights and its reactionary elements in the civil society label the protestors as tukde-tukde gang, Andolan jivi, Urban Naxals, puncture wallas and anti-Indians.
To scare common people from protesting, the state uses sedition laws, AFSPA and UAPA to arrest protestors. The low conviction rate is a clear indication that these cases are fabricated to scare common people from mass mobilization. When people critique state authority in a democracy like India, they’re labelled as anti-Indians. The anti-state propaganda promulgated by the state against a critique can only happen in a fascist and authoritarian state which masks itself as a democracy because fascists and authoritarian governance never allow freedom of speech and expression by their citizens who criticizes state action for its failure to help people in people’s democracy.
The whole freedom struggle of India was based on demand for rights and freedom from colonizers. Today Mr Modi was dictating common people not to talk about rights but to do their assigned duty. In a democracy, the existence of state machinery is to serve its citizens not to coerce and suppress them through existing administrative structures. But the process of referring to the mythical monarchical past to coerce people to do the duty assigned by the state authority without providing the common people with their constitutional rights and other benefits, clearly shows that the state authority is slipping to authoritarian, dictatorial and autocratic governance.
The state authority also requires common people to be spectators only by doing their assigned duties like paying taxes, voting and working tirelessly to increase the wealth of the nation which don’t trickle down to the common people. If we want to cherish the ideals and actions of the freedom struggle, protesting for rights and better democracy is not illegal but a duty and a right.
But when this state authority tries to suppress critique and mass mobilization for the demand of rights, it means it is not in the ideology of the party which forms the state authority and not in the interest of the Brahmin-Baniya corporate lobby groups which forms the backbone of the state authority to extend rights and democracy to common people. The fight for rights by common people did not make this country instead it revealed the ideology of the party is less inclusive and it is a government not for common people but for elite few.
The state authority considers common people as slaves to the state by demanding only duty without giving them rights and freedom to live a responsible, dignified and humane life. It is with this lack of rights in society for common people due to obstruction of rights and benefits by state authority lack of opportunity are prevailing in society.
When the state authority sensibly invests the fruit of the labour of common people for the benefit of common people, there will be the creation of enough opportunity. This can reduce the egoistic competition for limited opportunities among common people. The reduction of egoistic competition will lead to a reduction of crime against vulnerable communities such as SC, ST and Muslims based on their identity and historical basis.
T Rajapandian is a student, pursuing Master’s in Public Administration at the University of Madras, Chennai