Majority tendencies must be tested against constitutional promises: Judge Chandrachud

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On the occasion of the 101st anniversary of the birth of (the late) Mr. Yashwantrao Vinshu Chandrachud, the longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Justice DY Chandrachud spoke at an online seminar organized by Shikshana Prasarak Mandali. Alongside Judge DY Chandrachud, Judge UULalit also marked his presence at the seminar presenting the landmark judgments delivered by the late Judge YV Chandrachud.

Judge Dr. DY Chandrachud’s address was on the topic “Students as vanguards of the Constitution”. He began by quoting Socrates where he described education as “lighting a flame, not filling a vessel”. In honor of his father’s 101st century birth, he chose to speak about reading the Indian Constitution. At the very beginning, he paid tribute to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution. He called Dr Ambedkar “India’s greatest anti-caste advocate”. He revisited Dr. Ambedkar’s early struggles to access education that belonged to an untouchable Dalit caste. He revisited his journey to obtain 26 degrees and titles and become one of the most educated people of his generation. He further added,

“He had a hard time getting even primary education. His main memories of his schooling are humiliation and segregation; when he had to attend his classes sitting outside the classroom and sitting outside the classroom. make sure he did not touch the notebooks and water that belonged to the upper caste student ”

He said Babasaheb’s education was not a vehicle for his own advancement but left its mark in transforming the potential of the Indian Constitution. It provided the oppressed class with the “necessary vocabulary” and aspirations to push back against the disparaging structures of caste and patriarchy. While reminding students that the privilege of education we enjoy today is the fruit of the oldest struggles and dreams of our ancestors, he also recalled the contribution of Savitri Bai Phule, Jyoti Bai Phule, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousfzai for their radical quest for education. .

He expressed his firm belief in the potential of students to herald progressive politics and cultures by using their formative years to challenge existing systems and hierarchy. He noted,

“The Constitution gives you the right and the duty to question. Your education gives you the capacity not to accept the way things have been and continue in society.”

He remembers his father saying “My Oxford was Nutan Marathi Vidyalay” when asked about his mastery of English literature.

Judge DY Chandrachud recalled the history of student movements until the formation of the Academic Association in 1828 at the Undivided Hindu College of Bengal. He also attributed the propulsion of liberal thought in India to the contribution of the Young India Group of Free Thinkers to the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century. He recalled the courageous pursuit of justice by the students against colonial rule,

“The student movements were key players and mass participants in the struggle for Indian freedom. They went on to hold leadership positions in the non-cooperation movement of 1920, the civil disobedience movement of 1930 and the movement. of cessation of India of 1940. ”

He praised the unprecedented idealism and optimism of the younger generation, setting the example of the Independence Movement and the advent of universal adult franchising in India.

He drew attention to the introduction of civil liberties, substantive equality and fundamental freedoms of speech and expression as fundamental rights in the Constitution of India. He revisited the objectives of the Constitution listed in the Guiding Principle of State Practice. He noted the guarantee of recourse to the courts because,

“It is often assumed that a person’s inability to rush to court to demand the application of the objectives enumerated in the guiding principle of state policy is proof of their futility. However, a study of the Constitution and its finely contested structures reveals that these objectives are to serve as an educational structure for future governance to enable their progressive realization. ”

He stressed the need to study constitutional history and engage with the framework as the country enters its 71st year as a constitutional republic. He called the Constitution a “north star” offering a benchmark for judging the conformity of every state action or inaction in times of peace or crisis, regardless of the government’s electoral legitimacy.

He rethought the colossal task of achieving a state when a post-colonial economy with semi-feudal conditions had to modernize its economic relations. He called the task of forming a national identity “of indescribable complexity” given the absence of a common ethnicity uniting its people. He observed that in a melting pot of cultures, the premise of a democratic nation-state could be truly tested.

He remembered the promise of commitments and rights to every citizen reiterating the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of India. He noted,

“Majority trends, regardless of when and how they arise, must be tested in the context of this constitutional promise. Any semblance of authoritarianism, repression of civil liberties, sexism, casteism, otherness because of religion or the region upsets a sacred promise made to our ancestors who accepted India as their constitutional republic “

The danger to your freedoms can come from those who are charged with governing, but it can also come from intolerance in society. The Constitution provides you with both a shield and a guard, ”he said in his speech.

He informed the student participants that whatever field they choose to pursue, they must study the history, spirit and morality of the Constitution. It’s not just the constitution of a lawyer, he noted.

He shares that being a lawyer, and now a judge, requires a lot of complex reading on a wide range of issues. He launches his judgment of the Single Identification Authority of India to determine the constitutionality of Aadhar or the complex process of vaccine development and production, while understanding the feasibility of compulsory licensing and technology transfer that could potentially increase the production of COVID-19 vaccines.

He reiterated that lawyers do not occupy this unique link where they interact with all aspects of our society, through the constitutional prism. He stressed.

“Each of us, regardless of our age, profession or socio-economic status, unwittingly engages with the constitution every day. When we lead our lives free from intrusive and unwarranted interference from the state , when everyone – regardless of their caste identity exercises their right to access public places – whether they are shops, parks, wells or temples, or when we enjoy the right to express ourselves and to profess our job – we assert our constitutional freedoms. reality, less than 75 years ago. The Constitution marked a breakthrough; it embodied a vision and an educational purpose when it formulated a framework that was ambitious and a work in progress .

He also discussed the constitutional amendment process, calling it “relatively easy” in India, having enabled the advent of enforceable basic rights for children under section 21A. During this time, he also referred to the limits imposed by the Kesavananda Bharti judgment in proposing the doctrine of the basic structure.

He commented on how technology has radically altered the social landscape, now becoming the “main window to the world” amid the COVID19 pandemic. He shared his experience of defending the right to privacy as a fundamental right,

“I have to interact with the constitution in innovative ways, every day. One of these challenges was to determine whether Indian citizens have the right to privacy. This right to privacy would embody our free ability to make our own decisions, to access information and to freedom of public or private surveillance. These problems are born from our life mediated by digital, which is a new medium that did not exist before the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989! The Constitution, written in 1950, would not be compatible with our lives today if we saw it as a dead letter that should be applied as a rigid formula to assess realities that were previously unfathomable. My conclusion in the Supreme Court ruling, recognizing a right to privacy as an essential component of the ‘right to life’ under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, was a recognition of the constitution as the foundation on which future generations had to rely – as opposed to a rigid text which was applied literally, separated from its historical context “.

The Constitution, he noted, seeks to define the contours of our democratic institutions, providing certain operational rules and constraints, based on a commitment to equality, freedom and justice for all, as an enduring vision. . He entrusted the task to subsequent generations to interpret its spirit and apply it to their lived realities. He reiterated the importance of the constitutional spirit as a means of protecting individuals from hegemonic power structures, whatever their forms.

He advised the students to keep the constitution and its teachings close, as they will matter no matter what vocation they choose. He showcased ways in which students can take the initiative in remembering Greta Thuberg’s trip,

“A committed citizenship, in particular its students, can be confronted with several material interests which will have to subject them to the existence of our species. Greta Thunberg, who is one of the 11 strongest voices in civil society against climate change, began her journey, as a lone 15-year-old, sitting outside the Swedish Parliament demanding government action against the risks looming global warming. His example, in addition to that of many others, shows us how no one is too young or too insignificant to make a big change. ”

He concluded by quoting Martha Nussbaum, a distinguished academic jurist,

“It would be catastrophic to become a nation of technically competent people who have lost the ability to think critically, examine themselves and respect the humanity and diversity of others.”

Click here to download the text of the speech

(Some statements not found in the text of the speech were also made by Judge Chandrachud in his speech. Video of the event given below)

Read the speech


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