Connect with us

Opinion

The Western Himalayan Kinnaura Tribe – Composition, Customs and Social Transformation

Published

on

By- Dr. Devender Sharma, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Centre of Excellence Government College Sanjauli, Shimla (Himachal Pradesh).

The focus of this piece is on the Western Himalayan Kinnaura tribe, majorly concerning their composition, customs and social transformation. Their ethnic-religious and socio-linguistic composition has been discussed as well as birth, death and marriage related customs of the tribe have been elaborated. Also, a brief evaluation concerning their recent social transformation has been done and issues related to the modernization and developmental drives furthered by the mainland has been highlighted. Lastly, a discussion has been laid concerning how all this directly or indirectly impacts the socio-cultural compactness of this tribe in many ways.

Ethnic-Religious Composition

The major tribes of Himachal Pradesh include Kinnaura, Lahaula, Gaddi and Gujjar. These groups were included in the schedule of the tribes at different point of time and under different presidential orders. These tribes as well as other related minor tribes fall in the scheduled list under the Fifth schedule of the Indian constitution. Sticking to the Kinnauras they are considered active, generous, frank, peace loving and hospitable people who are the inhabitants of the border district of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. Since time immemorial this area has been outward looking and has economic, social, and cultural ties with other parts of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and even Western Tibet (specifically its Ngari Prefecture). They belong to the Mongoloid race but have been considerably intermingled with the Indo-Aryans and are strongly marked with features of the Tartar physiognomy. The people of Upper Kinnaur are of a fair complexion and have small oblong eyes. Then, Central Kinnaur is inhabited by a slightly fair muscular race of mixed origin known as Kunets. In Lower Kinnaur the people vary in color and are mostly dark brown or yellowish white.

Co-existence of Unorthodox Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism defines the religious space of Kinnaur. While, Lower and Central Kinnaur have large influences of Hinduism which in many ways is very separate from the mainland Hinduism practiced in specifically the Hindi Belt states, as mainly deity worship is followed. On the other hand, in Upper Kinnaur Buddhism is what is dominant. But overall an amalgamated culture exists in the area where the tribal people mostly live-in peace and harmony.

 Socio-Linguistic Composition

The Buddhists who are majorly in Upper Kinnaur do not follow the caste system, but the caste system is followed by the Hindus which are mostly in Lower Kinnaur and in some areas of Central Kinnaur. The Hindus divide themselves into the Khasia or Khasas and Berus. The Khasas are treated as upper caste and includes Rajputs or Kanets and has been at the highest rung of the social ladder for generations. Meanwhile, the Berus are treated as lower castes and includes Chamangs, Domangs, Ores and Kolis. The Chamangs were traditionally shoemakers and weavers, the Domangs were blacksmiths as well as gold and silversmiths, and the Ores were carpenters.

Concerning the linguistic composition of the Kinnauras they basically speak the Kinnauri language which is part of the Tibeto-Kinnauri language family which includes languages spoken in neighboring Lahaul as well as Western Tibet, Ladakh and even Baltistan. Mainly Kinnauri/ Hamskad or Milchan is the most spoken linguistic dialect and is majorly spoken in Lower Kinnaur. According to some experts, this linguistic dialect shows close affinities to Mundari (spoken in Chota Nagpur), as they believe long back an amalgamation in this area had taken place between the Munda aboriginal tribes and a Tibetan tribe. Then, the Chitkuli dialect is mostly spoken by people living on the Indo-China border in the Baspa Valley, the Jangshung dialect is spoken mostly in the Morang tehsil and the Sumcho, Sunnam and Chhoyuli dialect is spoken in the Poh administrative division. Bhoti Kinnauri is spoken in border areas with Lahaul-Spiti, and Pahari Kinnauri which has some similarity with the Western Pahari languages is spoken by mainly the scheduled caste groups of Nichar, Kalpa, and Sangla tehsils in Kinnaur.

Birth, Death and Marriage Related Customs

After the birth of a child in the Kinnaura tribe, the naming ceremony is performed by a Buddhist Lama (For Hindus also in majority cases, as due to absence of Brahmins in Kinnaur the Lamas are given that status). In most areas when the child is of one or two years his head is shaved and this ceremony is called karachogmig. An auspicious date is taken from the Lama for removing the child’s hair, during that time the Lama also performs the ceremony of hom after which a feast is held and khura, luchi and chhoma is cooked and distributed.

Concerning death, again the Lamas are consulted, and advice is taken from them concerning the method to be followed for the disposal of the dead. There are three methods prevalent among Kinnauras for the disposal of the dead i.e., Dubant (drowning), Phukant (burning), Bhakhant, (eating by vultures and birds). However due to rapidly increasing contact with the mainland, they are abandoning these old customs concerning death and are mostly burning the dead bodies. The elder son or the nearest relatives lit a person’s funeral pyre and then the ashes are collected and thrown in the river Sutlej or taken to either Rewalsar in Mandi District of Himachal Pradesh or to Mansarowar in Western Tibet. On the thirteenth day a ceremony locally called damkochung which literally means the good and bad has been performed. A feast is then offered to relatives and friends and after that the family leads a normal life. After one year of the death a ceremony called ukhyang or phulech something like an annual shradh is performed by especially the Hindus. At that time, the Lama receives food and clothes in the name of deceased and a goat dressed in a dead man’s clothes is sacrificed and eaten by the members of his kindred. This finally ends the period of mourning.

Though variations in the performance of the custom of birth and death exist from village to village both in Hindus and Buddhists but this description is widely applicable. In relation to marriage there are four recognized forms of marriage through which Kinnauras marry namely the janetang or janckang (arranged marriage), the dam tangshisor or jushis (love marriage), the daroshor dab-dab or kuchis (marriage by capture), and har (enticing away some one’s wife). But in the modern times arranged and love marriages are the most common. Marriage alliances in the especially the Buddhists does not concern caste but in the Hindus caste and gotra system is followed like elsewhere in India. The marriage ceremony is done again by the Lamas by chanting certain Hymns. Shockingly, polyandrous marriages are also still happening in the Kinnaura tribe and in some places several brothers share one wife. The eldest brother marries, and his wife becomes the common wife to the rest of the brothers. The male children of a polyandrous marriage inherit the property jointly and it remains intact from generation to generation.

Social transformation of the Kinnaura Tribe

Currently, since the last few decades the Kinnaura tribe is in the phase of transition. Kinnaur had old trade relations with the Western Tibet which was primarily based on trade of woolen cloths but since the late 1960’s there has been a change in their economic activities especially after the Indo-Sino war which led to the establishment of more connectivity with mainland India. A significant change which has been noted since then is the transformation of the tribe from a pastoral community to an agricultural community. Also, the tourism and hospitality sector has been on the rise and such an economic transformation combined with education and awareness related efforts of the governments as well as NGOs has further propelled socio-cultural transformation in the region and a lot of progress has taken place. Polyandry and Polygamy marriage practices are on the decline and the proportion of social and economic progression is on the rise amongst especially the youth, housing and sanitation conditions have also improved considerably. The tribal people who earlier shied away from outsiders have now become more sociable and confident and are more receptive to new ideas and technological innovations. Electrification and internet connectivity has also added to the economic potential and prosperity of the tribal area.

On the flip side, with this transformation new classes have emerged in the region which have created further differentiation in the peasantry. A new rich class who entered economic activities like tourism, hydal projects, government services, and cash crops have come up, while to serve them a new local workforce has also emerged which is creating more class divide within the tribe. Simultaneously, the caste-based discrimination in especially Central and Lower Kinnaur has still not gone away and progressive modernization has not arrived even after more connectivity. Allegedly, according to some locals many ultra-left organizations are running ideological agendas using discrimination on caste and class-based lines to create cades which according to them invariably is worsening the situation more. On the flipside, again allegedly according to many local’s mainland Hinduism’s sanskritization element is creeping in through ultra-right organizations, who are trying hard to influence the unorthodox deity-based Hinduism practiced in Kinnaur and are imposing Vaishnavism based practices which according to them is creating more divide between the Hindus and Buddhists and are hampering the harmonious religious and cultural linkages prevalent in the tribal region for centuries. All this may further lead to more divisions in the Kinnaura tribe, majority of whom till now believe that the tribe comes first for them over religion or any ideological inclination.

Equally, more developmental projects have led to increased governmental interference creating more ecological damage in the region. Especially hydro-power projects in the name of development, are spelling doom in the tribal area and ruining the environmental balance. Those opposing these projects argue that a mere visit by tourists or a heavy influx of vehicles can damage the fragile ecology of the area and that the building up of massive hydropower projects will simply ruin the beautiful environment of the area forever. A recent study conducted by Indian Council of Forestry Research and many other organizations found out that out of the 38 hydro projects taken for study in Satluj basin of Kinnaur district, 20 have threatened the faunal species. Out of 368 bird species recorded, 51 are broad endemics distributed in South Asian mainland. Also, these projects are causing climate change in the region which is affecting the agricultural sector in a massive way.

Therefore, the ongoing social transformation of the Kinnauri tribe has many pro’s and con’s, on the one hand more connectivity has opened additional avenues for the tribal people by connecting them to the outer world. But on the other hand, the same has created serious problems for the tribal people and their area which may have a lot of consequences in the long run.

Image Credit: Palash Kapoor

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

Opinion

Rabindranath Tagore and Translation Studies: The Perpetual Impact of South Asian Culture on World Literature

Published

on

tagore ji 2

By- Dr. Faisal Barkat, Islamic University of Science & Technology, Awantipora, Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir

Translation studies has bought world cultures together to be recognized as a single culture. It is this delicate and sophisticated thread that has brought world literature under one roof by transcending cultural, ethnic, religious, social, and regional barriers. South Asian writing has reserved a significant place in world literature and translation works have played a vital role in the same. The translation of South Asian literature into English by regional or foreign writers ultimately gave birth to a variety of English literature now recognized and acknowledged as South Asian English Literature. The compilation of all the great poets of  South Asian Literature has been translated into many languages and one such great South Asian literary figure is Rabindranath Tagore; his work has set records and has crossed the oceans to let other parts of the world concede the vastness of South Asian diversity. His poetry in the form of pearls has always inspired the arid and restless souls. His poetry has no limitations, it guides and consoles every restive soul and during the current pandemic times when everyone is destitute, his poetry could be the source of calmness and ultimate composure. Thus, this write-up focuses on the English translations of Tagore’s work and invariably pays a tribute to him on his Birth Anniversary.

 

Rabindranath Tagore is a world-famous literary figure who doesn’t need any introduction. He occupies a considerable place in South Asian Literature on account of his world class literary contribution. Although behind the firm recognition of South Asian Literature there are many gigantic literary figures from almost every corner of the Indian Subcontinent however, Tagore’s contribution played a major and vital role in the recognition of South Asian Literature as a part of Global Literature. His vision, scholarship, universal outlook, and profundity won him many accolades from the East to the West. His contribution to South Asian literature spans over a vast body of writings that developed a cautious and visionary balance between tradition and modernity. His iconic work Gitanjali, Song Offerings is without any doubt a masterpiece that has stimulated many Western poets.

The following poem titled, ‘Where the mind is without fear’ originally written in Bengali is one among the most discussed poems of Tagore, the choice of words used to convey a desire, a wish to see undivided India as a free country, exhibits the gist of real freedom. The golden words of this poem hold a great significance if related to our current scenario:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. (Where the Mind Is Without Fear)

It was Tagore’s artistic vision that fascinated many foreign writers and readers who wanted to imbibe and interact with the poetic insight of Tagore but were unable to ensue because of the great linguistic walls. Thus, what inspired Tagore to translate his work into English was his willingness to share his thoughts, feelings, and ideas with the global audience. English being a universal language catalysed his thoughts and beliefs to reach his readers across the world. Regarding the translation of his own poems, Krishna Kripalani very aptly summarizes the birth of Tagore’s translation works: Tagore was due to sail from Calcutta, on March 19, but suddenly fell ill on the night before his departure and the doctors forbade an immediate voyage. His luggage, already on board, had to be sent back from Madras where the ship halted next. Disappointed at this unforeseen postponement of his voyage, he sought consolation and strength, as of old, by retiring to Shelidah on the bank of his beloved river Padma. It was here that he began to translate, for the first time, some of his Gitanjali songs into English.  (Kripalani, 2011, p.122)

Over time Tagore took up the translation works keenly and religiously and started to translate songs from Gitanjali. In one of his letters written to his niece Indira Devi, Tagore shares: So, I took up the poems of Gitanjali and set myself to translate them one by one. You may wonder why such a crazy ambition should possess one in such a weak state of health. But believe me, I did not undertake this task in a spirit of reckless bravado. I felt an urge to recapture through the medium of another language the feelings and sentiments which had created such a feast of joy within me in the days gone by. The pages of a small exercise-book came to be filled gradually, and with it in my pocket I boarded the ship.(Radice, 2011). It is worth mentioning here that around the 1900s Tagore’s translations were not established for publication by the British in their journals keeping in view their lack of curiosity in oriental style.

While Tagore was translating his songs, he could have never envisaged the fact that these translations are going to influence the world literature so deeply. In the year 1913 when Tagore’s Gitanjali won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Tagore transformed into a star with eternal luminosity. These translations indeed made him the poet of the world. In fact, one of the great Western poets W.B. Yeats acknowledged the universality and greatness of Gitanjali in these words: I have carried the manuscript of these translations with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the tops of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger sees how much it moved me. These lyrics -which are in the original, many Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention – display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes. (Saha, 2009)

It is also very important to note that Tagore started his translations long before he was awarded the Noble Prize. One of his friends namely Ramananda Chatterjee published a literary journal titled The Modern Review in the year 1907. This journal was published from Calcutta having many readers both in America and England. The Modern Review played a significant role in promoting Tagore’s translations to the people of the West thereby stimulating interesting discussions among them. As time passed the number of translators translating Tagore’s work increased among which included some distinguished personalities like Debendranath Mitra, Sister Nivedita, Jadunath Sarkar, Lokendranath Palit and Ajitkumar Chakraborty (Chakravarty, 1961).

While Tagore’s work was being translated by many of his admirers, the complicated task was all about the sincere translation of his poems. In view of this difficult task, Ramananda Chatterjee requested Tagore to translate his own poems into English. At the same time, Tagore felt the emptiness in the translations of his poems by translators which gradually ignited a desire in him to translate his poems more seriously. All his seriousness towards his translations paved the path for his greatest achievement in the form of Gitanjali, Song Offerings. Of the many forms of translation like word-for-word and literal translation, Tagore opted for his English version of Gitanjali a form that retained the true essence and beauty of the original text, ‘a rhythmically free’ [ and] ‘slightly biblical style of prose-poetry’ (Radice, 2011, p.282). 

Tagore confesses in his letter to Dinesh Chandra Sen about the prejudice to any work being translated by others, where he remarked, “I feel translation can never be satisfactory unless done by myself. Since the melody of the Bengali language and Bengali rhythm cannot be transferred to English, the rendering of ideas in simple English can only bring out its inner beauty. I can easily do this work without any mistake”. This clearly reflects the earnest attitude of Tagore towards his original text the originality of which could have lost if he would have not taken the task of translation on himself.

Reviewing the poems of Gitanjali, Ezra Pound expresses: “It is a little over a month since I went to Mr. Yeats’ rooms and found him much excited over the advent of a great poet, someone ‘greater than any one of us.’ It is hard to tell where to begin…We have found our new Greece, suddenly. As the sense of balance came back upon Europe in the days before the Renaissance, so it seems to me does this sense of saner stillness come now to us during our clangour of mechanism. I am not saying this hastily, nor in an emotional flurry,… I have had a month to think it over…There is in him the stillness of nature. The poems do not seem to have been produced by storm or by ignition but seem to show the normal habit of his mind. He is at one with nature and finds no contradictions. And this is in sharp contrast with the Western mode, where man must be shown attempting to master nature if we are to have ‘great drama’….” (Kripalani, 2011, p.125-126).

In conclusion, this write-up inculcates that Tagore’s literature is the repository of rare gems and pearls; each word he uses has an unfathomable meaning. The fact of the matter is that it is due to these translations that I was able to read and grasp Tagore. That being said, there is much more to explore, and his literature envisions further scope which could certainly untie many knots overlooked by scholars and philosophers so far.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

Continue Reading

Opinion

The Western Himalayan Beda Tribe and their Struggle for Existence

Published

on

By- Prof. Harish K Thakur, Chairman, Department of Political Science, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. He is currently researching on the Beda Tribe and this piece highlights some of his findings.

Tribal people have over the centuries undergone stages of unplanned development and have suffered a great deal from the changes made to their natural habitats. Even the planned efforts from within and outside have many a times changed the complexion of the tribe for all the wrong reasons, which have been done without proper insights on the specific tribal lifestyle and hence the desired results were not achieved. The government of India also has many a times introduced certain changes to protect the indigeneity of tribal life with the aim to help them integrate with the mainland, but the socio-economic problems of the tribes still evade solutions and require reconsideration and readjustments. As in this age of technology the sanctity of the tribal life has been seriously endangered. However, the ones who have so far survived are being marginalized and many are at the verge of extinction. Beda is one such tribe of Ladakh which has witnessed a drastic dilution over the recent decades and is struggling for existence.

 Origins and Composition

The origins of the Beda tribe of Ladakh are unclear, but they are considered as the first settlers of Ladakh. Also, many from within the tribe approve of their origins in Himachal Pradesh mainly from the Kaza area of the Lahaul Spiti District. Ethnically they reflect strong Mongoloid features with a broad flat face, wide nostrils, broad nose, and prominent cheeks. According to the latest Census Report of 2011 their number is said to be 420. They live primarily in Nubra and Indus valleys of Leh and speak languages of the Western Himalayish language family which includes languages spoken in neighboring Kargil District as well as Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur, Western Tibet and even Baltistan. Majority of these people were Buddhists but many in the recent decades have embraced Islam. The primary reason behind this shift was societal segregation as a many people from within the tribe believed that shifting into a newer identity would change their fortunes. As according to many members of the tribe the Ladakhi mainstream community have been quite ruthless and indifferent towards them. The Beda people are placed at the lowest rung among the Ladakhis, especially in Leh as the other people of the district do not participate in their funeral ceremonies and this forms the height of discrimination. However, the services of the Lamas (to the Buddhists) are always available on such occasions, but this poor social placing of the tribe seems to be one major reason behind the deliberate attempt to assimilate with the Muslim community. But even Muslim Beda’s are called by the name ‘Beda’ and face discrimination which does not completely make them discrimination free.

 Estrangement and Disenchantment

The people from this tribe used to earn through musical performances by playing upon lutes (Surna) and drums (Daman, Dhap) and by doing such kind of performances they would beg for grains, sattu or coins. Now a days, many of them have been earning their livelihood through other ways. The followers of the traditional Beda culture from within the tribe are significantly declining over the years, while the factors behind the decrease in numbers primarily seems to be social discrimination, poverty, unemployment, impact of globalization, non-ownership of land, technological advancement, increased literacy, and unacceptability among especially the Beda youth. But according to the field investigations the primary reason which has led to the dilution in the number of their population adopting their traditional culture, seems to be the trans-migration of the members from the Orthodox-Buddhist community in the Beda majority areas. These orthodox influencers according to the Beda’s question their cultural beliefs, and that invariably gives them an inferiority complex, many say that those people are too rigid and even after the consistent appeals by the Dalai Lama himself to those people things remain the same. In addition to that the general indifference towards the community is very high and their non-acceptance on egalitarian basis at different social, economic, political, and cultural levels has led to the Beda estrangement from the larger order and disenchantment from the whole system.

Effects of Globalization

It is not a hidden fact that globalization annihilates localism and cultures of closed societies and at the same time also endanger the very existence of tribes and remotely inhabited autonomous cultural groups which have sustained themselves through centuries through their close relationship with the geography and environment of the area. This globalization and the resultant consumerism, marketing, increased tourism and most importantly the development drives on account of projects, infrastructural facilities, defense build up and exploitation of natural resources have endangered the Beda identity over the years. With the availability of the latest means of entertainment, musical instruments, and performers the significance of the Beda performers has gone down especially in the areas of origin. In the investigations it was found that many members of the tribe were disinterested in their traditional occupation since it did not fetch them much monetarily and thus wanted to migrate.

Many of them also have been doing kuligiri (labor work) with construction companies or the Indian army that helps them earn more. Lack of government jobs on a permanent basis is another area of complaint for Beda’s and they regard unemployment as one of the major reasons behind the decline of their traditional role and culture. On the other hand, the same has also led to most of the youth being engaged in formally educating themselves. The Beda’s have understood the significance of education in this era of globalization and hence, are sending their children to school. But with that being said, again massive discrimination has been reported against them in schools, specifically concerning non-deliverance of scholarships to their children. Thus, even in this era of globalization, social discrimination is rampant at this needs to be dealt strictly, so that the confidence of the community could be restored back in the system.

The Way Forward

Inclusion of marginalized people especially of an area that carries a strategic importance becomes more significant on account of national development and security and thus to safeguard the cultural heritage of the Beda’s a lot needs to be done. Thus, in this concern, it is strongly recommended that at least one member of every Beda household (the total number of posts required may not exceed 100) should be ensured in a governmental or semi-governmental job. Similarly, jobs regarding Beda music and practices could be reserved in the departments of Youth and Services, Cultural Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, Drama Division, Radio Stations, Public Relations etc. Also, more Beda’s should be encouraged to get their wards registered in schools, but this can only be achieved by effectively utilizing different scholarship schemes, provision of free uniforms and mid-day meals to children. Education should be made free for them till the matric level to remove the financial burden on this poor tribe. Also, the youth of the Beda tribe should be encouraged to especially get technical education so that their career safety could be ensured. Different long and short-term career-oriented courses (diplomas and certificates) should also be introduced according to the actual requirements of the UT. They should also be made aware of different tribal welfare programs and schemes through school and college education.

Thus, the government should do whatever is in their arsenal to halt the final obliteration of the Beda people and help the tribe in their struggle for survival.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

Continue Reading

Opinion

Need for Greater Public Participation in the Law Making Process

Published

on

public participation in lawmaknig f

By– Arsh Dhanotia, who holds an LL.M in Constitutional and Administrative Law from the Symbiosis Law School, Pune and is currently practicing as an Advocate in the Supreme Court of India, High Court of Delhi and other Tribunals.

The article deals with how public participation is significant and essential towards lawmaking in especially uncertain times like these. The Covid crisis has made us realize the fact that the basic tenant of healthy democracy is more participation of the public in decision making. Numerous incidents guide us in this direction and thus, in this concern the piece tries to showcase how such participation can be vital for both the government and the public.

Lawmaking in India and How it is Incomprehensible

Laws tend to rely on different perspectives which makes the understanding of it complex. As one starts to acknowledge its real essence one must investigate so many concepts, which makes laws so ambiguous, at the same time what we extract out of it in most cases tends to be semantic and the same becomes indeterminate. In reality, laws simply are nothing but opinions, past experiences, current scenarios, future possibilities, thoughts, etc., and the list is non-exhaustive. The major concern is law-making is manipulated by the ones who are in power to serve agendas which are not for the betterment of the masses. In this connection, law making has seen the lowest of lows in India, as the problem is not only associated with the current law making, but has been prevalent since a very long time. For example, laws made during the emergency period can be seen in this concern, as lawmakers approved laws which were totally against the fundamentals of the Indian constitution especially violating civil liberties like the freedom of speech and expression. One such law was the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971-1977, this act was amended several times to complement the agenda of the then government in power and included draconian provisions related to the search and seizure of property including detention of individuals. The provisions were used as a tool for arresting, torturing and in some cases shockingly sterilizing people. It is believed that around 1 lakh people which included opposition politicians, scholars and journalists were arrested and detained without giving a fair trial. All this showcases how law making can be molded by the one’s in power to satisfy their agendas.

Apart from that, in this category one can also include the recently formulated farm laws namely the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment), Act, 2020 which has brought the farmers from their farms to the roads in protest. The main dissatisfaction of the agitating farmers is that these new farm laws will make the Minimum Support Price (MSP) inconsequential and the farmers would not have any assurance as to a fixed income. But their voices are not being heard as the ones in power believe that the ones working in the fields do not know much about what policy and governance mechanism they need. The other legislation which can also be put in this category is the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, as basically this law is said to be unconstitutional, as according to many constitutional experts its passage directly works against the secular nature of the Indian state as stated in the dicta enumerated by the Hon’ble Apex court in Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala (1974). The legislation also goes against numerous international laws like Convention on refugee law 1951 and its 1967 protocol, whose Article 3 clearly states that the state shall not discriminate on the basis of religion and nation when dealing with refugees. The same also points out as to how section 2(1) of the new CAA act is violative of the basic principles of human rights as well as the constitution of India, which clearly without any valid reason excluded persecuted Muslims. Apart from all these laws there is a list of 100 such legislations reported by three organizations i.e. Macro/Finance Group at the national Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Vidhi center for legal policy and Center for Civil Society which reports that all such Indian laws are not valid in today’s day and age. But in that connection, there is nothing which the public can do about it as there is no participation of the public in modifying or replacing laws on a major scale in India and even if they wanted the ones in power would never allow that to happen.

Need for Public Participation in the Law Making Process

When you concentrate all powers in government, it leads to tyranny, incompetence, and mass murder. But when you distribute that power from the government down to the people, it results in much more stability. We in theoretical terms have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It basically means that for things to work properly, people have got to take care of their communities, about who is running the administration and why? but that does not happen at all. Instead, most of us think about escaping such issues, and do not think about fixing things. This would also help us overcome the trauma all of us face after perpetually electing the same incompetent people who push an agenda instead of fixing or addressing our problems. Society requires public participation, it should be our will to rescue our own society instead of having faith in incompetent leaders who fail us every single time. The Coronavirus pandemic and the current situation in India is proof of this and leaders from across the political spectrum are to be blamed.

Coming back to law making, it is true that for almost every infringement there are laws, but the practical applicability is not achieved in most cases because of time constraints and other technical aspects. But if public participation is allowed in the law-making process, it would be the most comprehensive way to provide what the law has always entrusted for, which is justice. The term justice in the current times is so vague that there can be volumes written on it. But in order to achieve actual justice, one must understand the concept of justice first so that we are able to formulate the notion of law and build our common sense upon as to how laws are framed. The same will also help us understand the permutations and combinations of it, and thus after recognizing all this one will understand why there is a need for public participation in law-making. The most logical way to move forward in this direction on an individual level is to come out of our comfort zone and bring a change in one’s surroundings through being vocal and critical which will in many ways create an awakening; desperately needed in these current times. 

Successful Trials

In India, central and state governments are still lacking in including greater public participation in law making, and the current situation in relation to the pandemic is again proof of that. But a lot of can be learnt from countries with direct democratic institutions like Switzerland, whereby any citizen can initiate amendments in the constitution with popular support. It is further evident that the laws made by the Swiss government during the Pandemic concerning coronavirus were subject to a referendum (public opinion). Another prominent democratic state which has stepped up in this direction is Canada where the citizens participate in law making in different ways, there exists a specific legal code which deals with how people will participate in legislative process. The best example in this concern can be the recent poll conducted throughout Canada during the Pandemic where the citizens of Canada were asked upon as to whether they were satisfied with the policy making of Canada, though not clearly concerned with law-making, but at least citizen participation was invited. Such steps can also be taken by the government in India if not binding opinions, then at least advisory opinions can be taken from the public.

Self-Reliance Coupled with Justice is the Key

Thus, during these Covid times where the entire nation is struggling governments must leave aside the tricky dynamics of power politics and should try to accommodate greater public participation in law making to bring an end to their own fallacy. The Pandemic has majorly derailed the country in every sector and hence, the entire community must work together for helping things come back to normal. The citizens of India can collectively give their valuable opinions on how to row this sinking boat so that our society can soar from these unprecedented times, as it is us who must safeguard our own rights and question the government on the numerous legislations they frame. Though I will not give any specific policy suggestion concerning public participation in law making, but what I can suggest is that justice should be the key element present in any such policy framed. Though it also cannot be denied that majoritarian can be one drawback of such an initiation, whereby the people in majority in any composition can try to implement laws which is more suited for them and their inner circle. But if one looks at urgent and emergency issues like the current Coronavirus pandemic such inclusive initiatives in fact can be very useful as the majoritarian notions based on religion, caste, color, race and sex seem to get neutralized as the virus does not make calculations on whom to hit.

Hence, greater public participation in the law-making process in especially the current times is the need of the hour…

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

Continue Reading

Trending