In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly resolved to observe 15 September as the International Day of Democracy—with the purpose of promoting and upholding the principles of democracy. The UN invited all member states and organizations to commemorate the day in an appropriate manner that contributes to raising public awareness.
International Day of Democracy 2020 – Theme
The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has resulted in major social, political and legal challenges globally. The countries of the world are compelled to take emergency measures unitarily to address the said crisis. At such critical times, the existence of democracy is often called into question. Taking this into consideration the theme for International Day of Democracy 2020 is COVID19: A Spotlight on Democracy.
Features of a Democracy
Democracy has been defined by various thinkers and leaders in different manners. One of the most popular, accepted and a simple definition of democracy is given by Abraham Lincoln who said, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” While the definition does describe the gist of what democracy stands for, it is not enough to withhold the spirit of such a government.
A democracy can be called a democracy only if it abides by the principles of rule of law, free, fair and regular elections, the supremacy of the constitution, accountability of the executive to people, due process of law, social, political and economic justice, among others.
India as a Celebrated Democracy
India is the largest democracy in the world. It has the largest number of voters in the world. An independent Election Commission of India ensures that the country conducts free and fair elections at regular intervals, which determines the government. This prevents executive despotism and keeps the government on the ground.
Constitution of India is supreme in the country. Not even the most powerful office can surpass that. The constitution empowers the people of India by allowing them fundamental rights, which are guaranteed against the state to the citizens. The Fundamental Rights state that ‘no order, ordinance, amendment or action that violates, abridges or contravenes the fundamental rights of the citizens can be called as law’. If such action is taken by the state, the Supreme Court of India through its power for Judicial Review can declare it as null and void.
The Supreme Court of India has time and again used this power to declare many of the arbitrary or ambiguous laws passed by the government as ‘ultra vires’ in the interest of citizens.
Questions have been raised in recent times that whether India is still upholding its democratic principles. On this International Day of Democracy, it is important to rehash India as a democracy and remember that it is indeed withholding the democratic principles, that are being demonstrated through various events. Some of these recent events include:
Supreme Court Case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India
In the famous case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, a PIL was filed by a student of the law – Shreya Singhal, to the supreme court of India who questioned the ambiguity of the IT Act which allowed unfair arrest of a young girl in Mumbai over posting something on Social Media. The content of the post was in no manner a threat to public order, sovereignty or security of the country. Nor was it defamatory in nature. However, it caused annoyance to the ruling party in the state of Maharashtra, which led to the arrest. The apex court took account of the case and struck off ambiguous sections of the famous IT Act. The judgement was a huge victory of the constitutional supremacy and democracy of the country.
Decriminalization of Homosexuality in India
Homosexuality in India has been viewed as unnatural for the longest time. In fact, it was considered to be a punishable offence even if the parties involved were together consensually. The unpopular law caused a lot of distress to the LGBTQ community in the country. The infamous law had caused countries such as Canada to allow the members of the community to seek asylum on the basis of unfair persecution.
The popular pressure from the citizen and the solidarity of Indians against the unfair law led the courts to review the law, leading to the decriminalization of homosexuality in the country. This was again a major victory of democracy in the country.
New Education Policy excluding Mandatory Hindi Education in schools
Draft education policy released in June 2019 suggested mandatory Hindi education in schools across the country so that Hindi. The move was an attempt to promote Hindi across the country so that one day, it could be accepted as a national language of the country. While the move made a lot of economic sense, it was highly unpopular in many states who considered it as a forceful imposition of a language and a threat to their culture. The democratically elected government that gained a huge majority, succumbed to the demands of the people of the country and excluded the mandatory education of Hindi from the New Education Policy 2020. This is yet another victory of democracy in India.
Protestors Reciting Preamble of India during Anti CAA protests
The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 and speculations about possible nationwide NRC caused major havoc in the country. The citizens, unwilling to stand for such a law, stood up against the government in solidarity and organised peaceful protests where they recited preamble mentioned in the Constitution of India. The event marks that even though there is a difference in opinion between people and the government, the intent is that of nation-building and national unity. The event was that of pride where citizens proved that in India, we can coexist despite our differences. However, we are not afraid to raise our voices against actions that we do not agree with.