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2021 Census in England and The Quest of Pahari Speaking People to Preserve Their Linguistic Heritage

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By- Vishal Sharma who holds an LL.M. in Legal & Political Aspects of International Affairs from Cardiff University (UK). He is currently working under Dr. Serena Hussain as a Visiting Researcher at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University (UK).

This piece has been published in collaboration with The Wire.

Pahari (Western Pahari) surprisingly is one of the largest minority languages in the United Kingdom. Close to a million people living in the country speak dialects of the language which is mostly  spoken in parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir as well as the areas of bordering Pakistan, which together lead to the formation of the Western Pahari Belt. The recent efforts of the Pahari speaking people of England to have this significant community language recognised in the UK, through encouraging people to state their language as Pahari in the national census, deserves praise and the people of the entire Western Pahari Belt, especially Himachal Pradesh, can also learn from this move in order to preserve our linguistic heritage.

Western Pahari Language System

Western Pahari was classified as a language category by renowned linguist Sir George Abraham Grierson for languages spoken in what can be referred to as the Western Pahari Belt, which includes parts of present day Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and areas of Pakistan. Due to migration, the language is also spoken in the United Kingdom. Western Pahari dialects were written mostly in the Tankri script before the 19th century, but now uses multiple scripts. Its written form is said to have originated in Sharda. Dialects of Western Pahari include Pahari-Pothwari, Mirpuri, Poonchi, Hindko, Gaddki, Chambeali, Kangri, Mandeali, Kulluvi, Bilaspuri, Mahasu Pahari and many others. 

Pahari speaking people of the United Kingdom

Dialects of Pahari (Western Pahari) are spoken by nearly a million people living in the United Kingdom, which is reported to be the second most spoken mother tongue in the UK after English.  The Pahari speakers of the United Kingdom mostly comprise of people who originated from the Mirpur District of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir princely state, currently administered by Pakistan. They started settling in Britain in the 1960s, transferring their workmanship on British merchant navy ships to the industrial needs of the growing British economy. The migration fast-tracked after the construction of the Mangla Dam in 1966, in the Mirpur district due to which massive flooding left many villages submerged, leading to the displacement of over 100,000 people. Simultaneously, Britain was experiencing an acute labour shortage in many sectors due to the aftermath of World War II, and thus visas were offered to those who would fill positions. Many of the displaced Mirpuri Paharis travelled to England for work, having already established links during the days of the Merchant Navy. They would, generally, travel back and forth to their homeland every few years or so. However, because of stricter immigration laws, their families joined them in the UK and both the opportunity and necessity to travel was decreased as children commenced schooling and communities became more established. As a result, by the end of the 1970s it became common for Mirpuri Paharis to be settled in the UK, leading to a massive increase in the number of people from the community living in the United Kingdom. Today, their population stands at 1 million with many members of this Pahari community serving in influential positions of the country.

Preservation of Pahari language in the United Kingdom and the 2021 Census

The Pahari speaking people of the United Kingdom have worked for years on the preservation and promotion of the Pahari language in the country, which has also resulted in a number of a lot of language initiatives including, the Alami Pahari Adabi Sangat, established by Adalat Ali, a well-known Pahari writer; and scholarly studies on the sociological and linguistic aspects concerning the Pahari language, such as the works produced by British academicians like Dr Serena Hussain and Dr Farah Nazir. Also, organisations like Portmir Heritage Foundation which was founded by Reiss Haider have come up aiming to preserve the cultural heritage of British Paharis. Furthermore, numerous social media influencers like Ruksar Naaz known for her Award-winning YouTube Channel Browngirl problems1 , and Tehseen who runs the Tik Tok and YouTube favourite the Nana G Show have also worked on promoting the language through Pahari language content.

However, the current 2021 Census has taken the efforts of the Pahari speaking people in the United Kingdom to an all-new level. Taking place every 10 years, people in England are currently filling in the census forms, which will be mainly online for the first time since it started in 1801. The Census asks questions on topics such as a person’s age, ethnicity, language, occupation, and relationship status. In that connection the Pahari community is seeing this Census as a golden opportunity for them to make their voices heard concerning the preservation, promotion and who knows a possible official recognition of their Pahari (Western Pahari) language.

Online campaigns are being run to create awareness amongst the community especially youngsters who mostly have no clue upon as to what name shall be given to the language they speak with their parents and family members on a day-to-day basis. British Pahari social media influencers are also creating videos to raise awareness on the issue and are being well received by especially the younger second and third generation individuals who were born and brought up in the United Kingdom. Videos from  TikTok star Wafa Hussain (whose real name is Taiba) and The Nana G show, asking people to mark their language as Pahari in the Census form were trending all across the United Kingdom and are being well received.

In this connection, I had the opportunity to talk to an individual who is at the realm of affairs in all of this, British academician Dr. Serena Hussain under whom I am also working as a Visiting Researcher in the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University. She is actively involved with the 2021 Census through a research funded project by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Dr Serena is one of the leading experts on the National Census, a topic on which she completed her PhD, therefore she is fully aware of its importance for identity and language recognition.  She gives an insight on what this is all about, “The Census is one of the most important ways that any community can gain recognition. Even if a category isn’t listed on a Census form there is an option to select ‘Other’ and write in the identity or language you want to be recognised by. One thing we know about the Census is that it’s usually a benchmark for all official government data collection exercises, so in other words, if a category gains recognition on a Census form, that category will make its way into other forms as well.

Dr. Serena Hussain

Dr. Serena Hussain

My research confirmed that Pahari is still very much alive in the UK, it’s one of the largest minority languages and the fact that young, British born people are speaking it after three generations, shows us that it is something which our community takes in pride and enjoys. They identified very strongly with their mother tongue, but also on a practical level, they discussed how it is important for Pahari to gain recognition.A million speakers are not insignificant, and we require interpreters for our growing elderly population in the UK, so that they are able to obtain the services and help they need, as many of them still only speak Pahari.”

How this effort of British Paharis can be of help to Paharis of J&K and HP

Pahari speakers of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh could do something very similar to what the Pahari speakers of United Kingdom have done, as a census like the one currently happening in England is about to take place in India this year which could also be online. In the recent years nothing significant has happened in Himachal Pradesh and J&K concerning the promotion of the Pahari language.

The Pahari language was removed from the list of official languages of J&K by the Indian government recently, after it was made into a Union Territory in August 2019. This was damaging for the Pahari community in J&K, who have asked for Pahari to regain its official language status. On the other hand, the people of Himachal Pradesh have been waiting patiently for Pahari to be officially recognised by the Indian government, under the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution. A resolution was in fact passed in December 1970, by the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly declaring Pahari as the language of the state, but nothing has happened since then. Thus, the people of J&K and Himachal Pradesh could do something similar to what British Paharis are; especially Himachal Pradesh as the dialects of the language system are spoken within most areas of the province and according to the 2011 Census, the populations of nine out of the twelve districts reported their mother tongue as dialects of Western Pahari. Districts like Kangra, Chamba, Mandi, Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Kullu, Shimla, Sirmaur, Solan, listed their dialects as Kangri Pahari, Chambeali, Mandeali, Bilaspuri, Kulvi, Mahasu Pahari and Sirmauri.

All this leads us to the fact that Pahari speaking people of Himachal Pradesh especially the academicians, poets, musicians and social media influencers can work towards the promotion and preservation of the language. Pahari social media influencers can be of a lot of help in this and can do a similar job like that of British Pahari influencers. YouTube channels can follow in the footsteps of  Kangra Girls, Kangra Boys and HI RAI, which are very popular and are loved by the youth of the province. This can help Pahari linguistic heritage in Himachal Pradesh to be preserved and a combined campaign centred around requesting individuals to mark their language as Pahari in the 2021 Census of India, which if successful, can even result in achieving the long-term goal of getting the language recognised under the 8th Schedule, which people across the political spectrum have mooted in the past decades. This would also fulfil the dream of the founding fathers of Himachal Pradesh like Dr YS Parmar and Dr Narain Chand Parashar, who always supported the promotion and preservation of the Pahari language, which later Chief Ministers like Dr Prem Kumar Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh also endorsed in some way or form.

In conclusion, the fate of the Pahari language in the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan is still unknown, but the efforts of Pahari speaking people in the United Kingdom needs to be cherished as they are doing substantially more than the people of the other Western Pahari speaking areas in the current times. Such active efforts should be prioritised in J&K and Himachal Pradesh also, as recognition of community languages is even more important in today’s India, where there is little official support for minority language empowerment movements.

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

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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.

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Opinion

The Western Himalayan Beda Tribe and their Struggle for Existence

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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.

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Opinion

Need for Greater Public Participation in the Law Making Process

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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.

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