Why is law so important? What’s the fuss all about? Well to begin with let’s go back to Frederic Bastiat’s classic essay, “The Law.” First published in 1850 by the great French economist and journalist, it is as clear a statement as has ever been made of the original ideal of government, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, that the main purpose of any government is the protection of the lives, liberties, and property of its citizens.
Where does the Indian Government stand when it comes to the protection of life, liberty and property of its citizens?
We are in the middle of the World’s largest democratic exercise, the 2019 general elections of India. A process that will determine India’s new prime minister and parliamentarians. But what have been some of the key highlights of the past governments up until this point? For starters, key highlights don’t have to be positive. These are facts that have stood out and believe it or not, in the case of our recent governments, some of these are quite unsettling.
From increasing unemployment to some of the worst government-led scams, including 2G and the commonwealth games to disastrous policy decisions such as ‘demonetization’ that led to a severe shortage of currency and wreaked havoc for migrant workers, farmers, traders and several other such marginalised groups, it has not been all smooth sailing. What’s disturbing is that despite secularism being enshrined in our Indian Constitution, we’ve only seen a rise in communal clashes and targeting of minorities in the last couple of decades. The ones that govern the land are not in the least concentrating on serving the ones that elected them in the first place.
As per a report by Amnesty International India, as of December 2015, 67% of prisoners in India’s prisons were ‘under-trials’ – people who were awaiting trial or whose trials were still ongoing, and who have not been convicted. India continues to have one of the highest under-trial populations in the world and an alarmingly high percentage of under-trials are from the muslim, dalits and tribal communities, that comprise about 53% of the total population of under-trials. In majority of these cases, the right to liberty and fair trial for the detainees is grossly violated. Innocent until proven guilty instead of being the norm, has become the exception.
Very recently, there has been massive crackdown on human rights work in India. Governments instead of promoting and defending individual rights are on the other end intimidating and harassing human rights defenders and civil society organisations, and using repressive laws against them.
For an individual and a citizen of India, what matters the most? I ask this question again. What is law and why is it important? Laws must provide the fundamental framework that lay the foundation and boundaries within which institutions function to protect individuals and promote prosperity.
The Rule of Law Index under the World Justice Project ranks India at the 62nd position out of 113 countries. In terms of criminal justice, it stands at the 66th position, but in the civil justice component it slides to the 97th position.
Let’s shout out these statistics. There’s no need to brainstorm for a manifesto when there are already enough glaring issues that need our attention. There’s lots to be done, very little time and hardly any intent on part of our political parties. We have only one life, let’s make it count. Do what you can. Do what you must. Write, debate, participate. Justice can’t be kept waiting for long.