When India embraced open market philosophy in 1991, it rapidly led to widespread transformation across India, especially in urban India. It has now allowed many urban elites of this third world nation to become first world citizens who can afford Rolexes and Rolls Royces.
While I have nothing against either Rolex or Rolls Royce or any other luxury item imported from developed world by these elites, I am now getting worried about one super luxury item that they have started importing from first world, i.e. Western jurisprudence.
India, an ancient nation with its own traditional sense of justice and home to a billion voiceless poor, is now forced to accept the verdicts based on a brand new jurisprudence.
As judicial activism based on this new thinking rises, it seems to be leading us to a situation that is (either orchestrated-to or due to our historical bad luck) rapidly taking our nation towards a precipice of a disaster from which we may never return.
What I would like to fondly name South Delhi or Veere di wedding girls jurisprudence (as I love the South Delhi Girls, the spoof that is more real than reality itself) needs to be understood from its historical context before we look at its Indian applicability.
This new jurisprudence that is all about celebration of Individuality and freedom of choice is born in West under a very specific condition that can be understood only by looking at history of Western civilisation of last two-three hundred years.
As West took to the sea and started colonising the planet to become obscenely rich, its greed for controlling the planet made it go through two massive wars (that it prefers to call World War I and II). While these wars brought a lot of suffering, they also served as amplifiers of technologies that industrial revolution had already developed in West.
So, in post-world war world, West became even stronger a force to exploit the planet and has now reached a level that survival threat for its citizens are almost non-existent.
This massive psychological shift from dire existential threats of world wars to incredible level of prosperity, power supremacy and safety led to a rebound reaction in the Western society.
The prosperity-induced sense of safety diluted need of the society/collective in the minds of individuals and a new set of jurisprudence was born.
Western jurisprudence in post-world-war world has evolved to focus on freedom of the individual. Modern Supreme Courts are all about protecting individual freedom and “fundamental” rights from the oppression of the society, state, in short any large collective.
Western courts are doing this without (too much) social conflict because there is so much prosperity that individuals are able to harbour the illusion of not having any real need of social bindings, but the question I have for our courts is, is it practical to apply this Western jurisprudence borne of prosperity to this poorest of the poor nation?
Are the men and women fighting to “save” their “God” in Sabrimala same as the Indians who escape from Indian heat by vacationing in Monte Carlo?
Do both sets have matching ideas of what is life, freedom, fundamental rights or law?
If we are honest, the real answer is a resounding NO.
The problem that we have (and that the West doesn’t have at a matching level) is that we are a nation of people completely different than those who have the power to decide. In India, the urban elites are deciding the fate of rural poor.
While the cliché of looking at this phenomenon as neocolonisation by Indian elites have been around since a while, it has always been looked at from the perspective of economic exploitation of the poor by the rich. But, what we are seeing now is far more diabolical.
Till now the elites of India have taken away material wealth from the poor, but now they demand that poor must part with their cultural and traditional wealth too.
Elites fail to understand that life of an Indian poor is completely different. An elite can happily sip champagne and talk about his/her preference for atheism, but a poor Indian needs his God to stay alive.
A poor man has no problem with the society or its “oppressions” as he needs the collective to survive. The Gods, the religions, the traditions, the rituals and the beliefs a poor Indian has are extremely critical survival tools that are evolved over thousands of years.
If elites want to take them away and enforce celebration-of-individual-choice jurisprudence that they think is “good”, they are playing with fire.
India and Indian courts need to start realising that urban and elite jurisprudence can’t be forced on rural India.
The Veere Di Wedding girls and the rural women who need to walk ten kilometres to fetch drinking water are not same, nor can they be forced to accept jurisprudence of each other.
Both are real but are as different as chalk and cheese because they belong to completely different worlds.
If courts really want to apply their honourable minds, they should focus on the issues that are real and practical problems for rural India. Urban India can live for couple of decades without entering a given temple because by not being able to enter a given temple, no one is going to suffering a grave pain that rural India lives with on day-to-day bases.
The elites also need to grasp that with this aggressive judicial activism they are playing a dangerous game here. Poor people don’t break too easily, but when they break, it always means life getting real for the elites as Marie Antoinette found out on a fateful day in France.
Elites may want an India as free and open as Scandinavia, they should realise it is NEVER going to be possible till poor people of India will also have access to matching level of lifestyle.
Law and justice are a luxury that elites enjoy, but if they start usurping its lion’s share and start depriving poor from whatever little they have, it is fodder for a revolutionary fire that will first consume the rich.