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Of equality and citizenship

On the final day of Difficult Dialogues,  assistant professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU, Ghazala Jamil, was the moderator for the session ‘Discrimination Law and Minorities: Is Justice Done’. Ahead of the session, she made time to talk about the current issues minorities are plagued with, the unrest in the capital city, youth, and more

Danuska Da Gama

At a time when India is facing unrest and several debates play out narratives that influence (and don’t) the minds of people, on citizenship and personal laws, minority educational institutions, freedom of religion, and vigilante violence there is fear about how healthy our country is.

Are judicial review and executive orders being used to chip away at the legal and constitutional protections that were put in place for minorities? Are existing laws adequate to address the issue of discrimination? Ghazala Jamil ponders on the political condition of India…

Excerpts from an interview

Q. What is your take on right to equality in our country today?

Our country’s performance on right to equality is a bit chequered. Despite incredible progress, our society, unfortunately, remains marked by stark inequality. This is something we have been keenly aware of and worried about. In our quest for substantive equality we may have undervalued the power of formal equality before law. It is this idea of formal equality that is under duress in India today.

Q. As a person from a minority community, and also being an expert in law, do you believe our Constitution and the foundation of our country – unity in diversity, is at grave threat?

Our country’s diversity is its most prominent feature. I believe that it is the shared culture constitutionalism that holds the diverse communities together as a nation. And that it is the idea of formal equality before the law, which is the linchpin that holds the elements of the practice of constitutionalism. The test of the constitutional values of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity is whether they work for the smallest minorities in the country – whether of religion or any other identity, or even a minority that holds different opinions. Majoritarianism should not become the rationale for flouting the very character of the Republic.

Q. Delhi in recent times has been in the limelight for protests and uprisings and the election results in a way tell a story of people’s choices and sensibility.

Being the seat of the union government, Delhi is a site of protest for the disaffected from all over the country since Independence. “Dilli Chalo” is a rallying cry for any protesting group that wants the government to listen to its grievances. Delhi’s civil society has also been quite vibrant and a consistent critic of governments of all political hues on matters that concern the masses. The recently concluded assembly elections indicate that while the idea of India remains contested it will also be defended vigorously and passionately.

Q. Crime is seeing a surge in the capital city, where youngsters are taking law in their hands and are fearless. How has your Delhi, changed over time. Can its charm be restored?

Delhi is a city of change. Its long and continuous history is all about rise of powerful regimes, and their eventual and inevitable decline. Its ‘charm’, as you put it, stems from these layered narratives of power that are sometimes tragic, but also of frequent stories of human resilience and cultural progress. Its charm is arguably eternal.

Q. Unlike before, students are vocal, but there is also radicalisation and extremist ideologies being force fed. Your take on this, and how the future of the country can be impacted?

A large section of young citizenry is fearless in defense of constitutional values. They have refused to retaliate in face of brutal repression and police violence. Because of political impunity some youth may be emboldened to violently attack those who they see as having ideas that are without merit, or for bearing unworthy identities. But they will soon see how pointless and devastating their violence is because it has failed to invoke the desirable response of fear of retaliatory violence. I am very encouraged by the responsible reaction of the young people and very optimistic about our shared future.

Q. As a citizen of the country, a protector of law, and as an educationist what do wish for, for this country, the rulers, and our youth?

That all the citizens be accounted for our best potential. That relegation into various categories of exclusion should not be the unavoidable fate of any citizen. Our ‘rulers’ must remember that we are a ‘democracy’ which is not just an instrument of elections but a value. I have learned immensely from young students and scholars in the recent years – more sharply than I have ever learned from books. I have great hopes for their ability to cut to the heart of the matter. I can only thank them for opening an opportunity for a re-discovery of India through their brave attempts to defend the core values of our Constitution.

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