“The diffusion of ‘constitutional morality’, not merely among the majority of any community, but throughout the whole is the indispensable condition of a government at once free and peaceable; since even any powerful and obstinate minority may render the working of a free institution impracticable, without being strong enough to conquer ascendance for themselves.”
After the Pulwama incident, people from Kashmir were targeted all over the country. Nearly 160 Kashmiri students who had nothing to do with the incident left college and returned to the Valley after sensing a ‘charged atmosphere’ building up against them. The Supreme Court has directed the states and the Centre to take necessary steps to prevent violent acts and discrimination against Kashmiris. It is pertinent to ask tough questions.
Are the Kashmiris being treated so unfairly only because they come from Kashmir? How, in these times of turmoil, can we treat innocent people so insensitively, irrationally and illegally? Does the fact that society is easily ignoring their innocence and treating them like culprits tell us something about the huddled masses? For one, it surely tells us that people are still to imbibe a legal culture within themselves. To understand this, it is important that we first understand the meaning of what is a ‘legal culture’.
In ‘The Legal System: A Social Science Perspective’, Prof Lawrence Friedman defines ‘legal culture’ as the “public knowledge of and attitudes and behaviour patterns toward the legal system”. It includes the faith of people in the judiciary and the law and the general population’s knowledge about the law.
Similarly, B R Ambedkar recognized that the working of the Constitution does not depend wholly on its nature alone, rather it depends on the people and political parties, too. Therefore, what we need, after some 70 good years of Independence, is the creation of a ‘Constitutional Culture’. That is, a culture of respecting and adhering to constitutional principles and values at all times.
Why do we need it? In a society where a legal culture is not yet inculcated, mis-happenings are inevitable. Certain mis-happenings the Indian society is aware of include mob lynching over beef, moral policing and chauvinistic ultra-nationalism. The preference for a chauvinistic sense of majoritarian nationalism over the idea of inclusive pluralism enshrined in the Constitution has given rise to horrendous conflicts on an unprecedented scale.
The framers enacted the Constitution with a vision and promise to transform the ways in which the people of India would henceforth relate to one another. Despite the centrality of the Constitution to public and private lives, the masses have failed to show their allegiance to its spirit. It is essential in these trying times that, when confronted with difficulties, we stick to our constitutional identity and not dissolve into hordes of marauders trying to assert our own constricted notions.
If the scholar Joseph Raz is correct in stating that “constitutional theories are [only] valid, if at all, against the background of the political and constitutional arrangements of one country or another,” then it is our responsibility not to easily give up our constitutional identity. Therefore, to make our society just, there is a need to create a culture which essentially focuses on the adherence to the principles and values embedded in our Constitution.
In the US, as Prof Jason Mazzone argues in his paper ’The Creation of a Constitutional Culture’, establishment of different societies in America helped it create a constitutional culture. Since the working of the societies were usually governed by a document which enlisted rights, powers, procedures and rules for different posts and administrative tasks, people who were a part of these societies better understood the working of this establishing document and hence were better able to understand the United States Constitution, too.
Therefore, one step towards creating such a culture is to increase awareness of the law and its working. For this, the education system needs to be revamped. Currently, legal education is not mandatory, because of which people, other than lawyers and jurists, lack in understanding of foundational principles and doctrines, rights and duties, powers and privileges, limitations and shortcomings of the institutions, and such individuals often fail to act in accordance with constitutional ideals. Incidents where constitutional principles were blatantly violated have shown us that it is important to inculcate a legal culture in society.
Creation of legal culture
Therefore, there is a need to make legal education mandatory, since knowledge of the law is one of the parameters for the creation of legal culture. The insemination of constitutional methods and ideals among the masses must be seen as an instrument for consolidating a secular democratic republic and obviating renewed collapse into majoritarian authoritarianism.
The Compulsory Teaching of Legal Education in Educational Institutions Bill, 2016, is pending in the Lok Sabha. The bill reflects on problems that arise due to lack of legal awareness and knowledge and aims to make legal education mandatory. Often, the rights of people are violated and the common man suffers due to sheer ignorance, not knowing that he has certain inalienable rights which no one can take away from him, not even the State.
The responsibility rests upon the people India and the governing machinery to allow the Constitution to dominate, structure, frame and constrain everyday life in India. The seeds of conflict and disharmony have always existed in implementing constitutional goals. It is almost inevitable to face disharmony in the deeply inegalitarian and sectarian social structure that the Constitution has tried to transform.
Fortunately, the Constitution promotes the idea of inclusive pluralism for the resolution of conflicts. We, the people of India, need to acknowledge that we have responsibilities to the ethos of the Constitution. We cannot allow the spirit of the Constitution to die by ignoring it to achieve our narrow goals.
(The writers are students at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru)