The Signifier and the Signified -
Last fortnight the events related to JNU has been the focus of discussion in the media, though certainly not for the masses. Leading media personalities and a bunch of ‘opinion makers’ are too busy discussing the event and its aftermath in electronic as well as print media. The sole focus of discussion has been on the rights of the citizens. What rights the citizens have been given by the Constitution, and what rights by virtue of the fact that they are humans. What are the rights that has been given to them by democracy and Enlightenment, and what are the rights they must have since they are university students. It was the discussion about rights, rights and more rights.
The discussion was in sync with the tenets of the Constitution. The Constitution of India has bestowed certain rights to the citizens in the form of Fundamental rights. The Fundamental Rights not only protect individuals from the tyrannies of the state as well as from other individuals and groups, but also empowers them to act against these entities. Though there are reasonable restrictions to the Fundamental Rights, these restrictions in no way have substantially eroded the efficacy of the Fundamental Rights.
However what is missing from the entire debate, in which even the top legal luminaries participated, is the sense of duty. A chapter through Article Art. 51A, Part IVA named Fundamental Duties was inserted in the Constitution through the 42nd Constitution Amendment in 1976. These Fundamental duties are not enforceable, if a citizens violates it, but these Duties expects and exhorts the citizens to act in a particular manner. These Duties are moral obligations on every citizen to adhere to the ideals if India as enshrined in the Constitution. And one of the Duties of the citizen of the republic is ‘to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India’. (Art.51A, Part IVA: 3) By inserting a chapter on Fundamental Duties the state just tried to make a balance between the rights and duties of the individuals.
However what was disheartening to see that even the best legal minds of the country, who were part of these discussions, never brought the issue of citizen’s fundamental duties in these debates. I am not sure whether this omission was deliberate or unconscious. However it is a fact that people still don’t believe that society is a moral entity.
International scholars also joined the chorus in highlighting the way the rights of students have been compromised. Certain leading scholars who earn their livelihood in USA also spoke in terms of rights. What these people don’t analyse why the USA, whose history is hardly more than 500 years, is a superpower, and why India, that is a civilization from the past 5000 years, is still a backward society. For me the difference lies in the fact that the Americans are as much concerned about fulfilling their duties as they are about safeguarding their rights. All over the world people are aware about the ‘Bill of Rights’ enshrined in the American Constitution, however they are not that much aware about certain duties Americans fulfill even if these duties are not mentioned in the American Constitution.
A young Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville was fascinated by the working of American democracy. After visiting America for about nine months, he wrote a timeless classic named Democracy in America. America was a highly individualistic society, but democracy, that is a social institution, was working so well there. For Tocqueville two factors were responsible for that. One was that Americans were highly religious in nature. They had left Europe due to religious persecution, but when they founded America they were of the opinion that only a secular state would ensure their religious freedom. The second was the unique ability of Americans to form associations, what Tocqueville called the ‘art of associations’. American don’t wait for the state to do everything and believe in self-help. Both these habits instill a sense of duties among the Americans towards their country as well as fellow countrymen. One can see that most of the wealthy Americans are involved in one or another form of philanthropies.
A great nation is born when people are equally, if not more, concerned about their duties as well as about their rights. The foundation of Gandhiji’s idea of India was Ramrajya, and this Ramrajya basically was a society in which man was committed to his dharma. The dharma was nothing but adherence to one’s duty. On the debates around JNU controversy I am witness to Gandhiji once again being assassinated.
What JNU Row (signifier) has signified?
“The moral basis of a backward society has something to do with too much emphasis on rights and too little adherence to duties”.