May 26, 2024

Of Citizenship and Democracy

Uday Narkar

Marathi Editions of Prabir Purkayastha’s Keeping up the Good Fight and Justice K Chandru’s Listen to My Case Released in Mumbai

“DO we want the Constitution of India or do we want a government that will destroy it, is the real question in this election,” were the concluding words of the speech by Justice K Chandru at a function in Mumbai on May 9, 2024. Justice K Chandru was speaking as a special guest at the release of two Marathi books, Phakt Ladh Mhana and Aika Majhi Firyad, published by Janshakti Granth Prakashan. Phakt Ladh Mhana is the Marathi version of Prabir Purkayastha’s Keeping up the Good Fight, and Aika Majhi Firyad is a Marathi version of Justice Chandru’s book Listen to My Case, both originally published by LeftWord Books.

Justice Chandru went on to lucidly talk about the trajectory of the Indian legal system, its intermeshing with politics and the current fascistic challenges to the basic values of the constitution. He came down heavily on the compromising tendencies within the judiciary by citing several examples from the days of the emergency of 1975-77 to the undermining of the rule of law by the BJP government at the centre in the recent past.

He ridiculed the concern of certain judges who were debating on whether the Shaheen Bagh women protesters had the right to agitate 24x7 or whether they should protest from 9 am to 5 pm, instead of the SC judges applying their mind to the question of the constitutionality of the Citizenship Amendment Act itself.

His speech was interspersed with several anecdotes from his own judicial experience laced with witty comments. One such cited incident was how the Mumbai police had the cheek to argue that a book by P G Wodehouse was linked to terror and hence was denied to Gautam Navlakha to read when he was jailed under the yet to be proved charges under the UAPA! This is how humour becomes dark in real life, he quipped.

Justice Chandru also highlighted how certain judgments can bring about changes in people’s daily life, especially those of women and other members of the downtrodden and marginalised sections of society. He drew on his personal experience in dispensing justice in the innumerable cases he dealt with to underline the importance of adhering to constitutional morality.

The evening at the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre in the heart of Mumbai scintillated with fighting ideas expressed by all the speakers at the event. Another legal luminary who spoke on the occasion was Justice Abhay Thipsay, a former judge of the Bombay High Court. “It is a wrong notion”, Justice Thipsay said at the outset, “to equate majoritarianism with democracy.” He went on to elucidate that democracy becomes a misnomer if the citizens of a country are scared to express their honest opinions. A practising democracy has a duty to make its citizens fearless champions of their views, and also to safeguard the rights of its various minorities. As the present dispensation is undermining this very foundational character of the democratic set-up of India, he stressed, it becomes the duty of every citizen to safeguard the constitution.

Apart from these legal experts, other speakers at the seminar titled “Is Democracy and Citizenship in Peril?” included the renowned journalist and founder-editor of PARI P Sainath and the courageous human rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad. P Sainath elucidated with examples how the concentration of wealth in society was endangering the very existence of democracy. Quoting the American Judge Louis Brandeis, he said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” The mainstream media was not covering itself in glory, Sainath rued, when it did not care about India’s sharp decline in the world index of freedom of the media and that of hunger during the last decade under the BJP’s Modi regime.

“Although democracy in India was not perfect in the past,” said Teesta Setalvad, referring to its practice during the pre-2014 period, “people and media were free to express their opinions without fear. Parliament openly discussed various issues and laws were enacted in a democratic spirit. The Modi government is ruthlessly trampling upon this freedom,” Teesta charged.

AIKS president Ashok Dhawale, who chaired the seminar and the books release event, charged the Modi government of undermining democracy and citizenship in its bid to establish a Hindu Rashtra on the basis of the tenets of the Manusmriti. “All these shenanigans are evident from the BJP government enacting a law that removed the chief justice of India from the committee appointing the Election Commissioners, jailing two chief ministers on trumped up charges during the ongoing electoral process, flouting the model code of conduct, the ECI itself turning deaf ears to the complaints in this regard, and the BJP purifying the corrupt by putting them in its by now infamous ‘washing machine’ which itself ran on the most polluted energy supplied by the world’s greatest fraud, viz. electoral bonds.”

All these speakers ended their speeches with an ardent appeal to the electorate, especially from Mumbai, whose constituencies are going to the poll on May 20, to come forward in good numbers and vote for a change that will safeguard the constitution and install a secular government at the centre. 

As a prelude to the main function of the release of these two books and the seminar, Sudhanva Deshpande, managing editor of LeftWord Books, succinctly explained why the BJP government unlawfully put Prabir Purkayastha, the founding editor of NewsClick behind bars. “Prabir is imprisoned because he is a good citizen,” he said. Prabir paid for honestly doing his duty of good citizenship enjoined upon him, like many others, by speaking truth to power, he said. Keeping up the Good Fight becomes an endearing record of dangerous times because of its innate quality of ‘restraint of expression’. 

Maya Pandit, translator of Justice K Chandru’s Listen to My Case and Medha Kale, translator of Prabir Purkayastha’s Keeping up the Good Fight, also spoke about their experience of translation and the appeal of the respective works. All the speakers congratulated them for the good quality of their translation.

Uday Narkar, director of Janshakti Granth Prakashan, apprised the audience of the various publications brought out so far and some of the future projects. Prachi Hatiwlekar, Maharashtra state secretary of the AIDWA compered the function, making it lively. Vijay Patil, managing editor of Janshakti, proposed the vote of thanks.

The highlight of the programme was the large attendance of people coming from various walks of life. They included eminent thinker and writer Anand Teltumbde, senior editor and former MP Kumar Ketkar, dalit writers Arjun Dangle and J V Pawar, Marxist intellectual and a leader of the women’s movement Chhaya Datar, economist Prof Sanjeev Chandorkar, senior journalist Jatin Desai, poet Sanjeev Khandekar, artist Vaishali Narkar, writer on agrarian issues Namita Waikar, Vinutha Mallya of LeftWord and several leaders of the Left and secular parties.  


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