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Monday, August 08, 2005

Mohammedali Karim Chagla

Many years ago, I read Mr. Mohammedali Carim Chagla's autobiography, "Roses in December" Mr. M.C.Chagla was an eminent lawyer who worked for Jinnah and the Muslim League (Bombay) before it became separatist. He became the Chief Justice of the Bombay High court, Ambassador to the USA, Mexico, Cuba, Vice- chancellor University of Bombay, High Commissioner to England, Minister of Education (UGC pay scales etc. were his creation) and so on. This book was written in 1973-74. and published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. This is an excerpt from Roses in December, one of the truly great autobiographies written by an eminent Indian.

Excerpt begins
p84-88
The Congress government has also often followed what I can only call the old British policy of communalism. In my view, if it is communalism to pass over and ignore a man with merit simply because he happens to be a Muslim or a Christian or a Parsi, it is also communalism to appoint a person merely because he happens to be a Muslim or a member of some other minority community. It is injurious to the interests of the minorities themselves to have posts and offices filled by men who have no merit, merely because they want representation in high offices. The minorities come to expect that they will get certain posts whether the men deserve to get them or not. It is much better that they learnt to work hard and deserve the post.

When I'm told that there is no minority representation in any particular post, I often ask the question; Is there any deserving person who has been passed over? If so, it is injustice, and we must fight against it. But if there is no deserving person, then to clamor for a post is really to be communal. And to yield to that clamour is also to betray a communal spirit. It amounts to a reproduction to the bad old days of discredited British policies. Such policies result in bitterness between majority and minority communities, and lead to a sense of frustration on the part of a member of the majority community, where legitimate claims were overlooked in favor of a less deserving member of a minority community.

Consider the attitude of the government to the question of a Uniform Civil Code. Although the Directive Principles of the State enjoins such a code, Government has refused to do anything about it on the plea that the minorities will resent any attempt at imposition. Unless they are agreeable it would not be fair and proper to make the law applicable to them. I wholly and emphatically disagree with this view. The Constitution is binding on everyone, majority and minority; and if the Constitution contains a directive that directive must be accepted and implemented. Jawaharlal showed great strength and courage in getting the Hindu Reform Bill passed, but he accepted the policy of *laissez-faire* where the Muslims and other minorities were concerned. I am horrified to find that in my country, while monogamy has been made the law for the Hindus, Muslims can still indulge in the luxury of polygamy. It is an insult to womanhood; and Muslim women, I know, resent this discrimination between Muslim women and Hindu women.

I believe in democracy as an article of faith. To me, it is much more than the general elections, adult franchise, parliamentary forms of government, cabinet responsibility, and so on. These are all very important, and they have to be maintained, but more than that, one must have an outlook on life and an attitude which is democratic. I believe in democracy because democracy means freedom, not unbridled freedom but freedom consistent with order and security of the State. It also means respect for the individual and his right to think his own thoughts, to express his thoughts freely and to experiment with his own life in a way that does no harm to others.

I hate regimentation. I cherish the privilege of deciding for myself what my private life should be, how I should spend my leisure, and how I should find my own happiness. The State should lay down the standards of public conduct. But, as regards private conduct, to the extent that it does not interfere with the rights of others and does not impair the safety of the State, it should be entirely the concern of the individual. As I said, I believe not only in the democratic form of government. What is much more important, I also believe in democracy as a philosophy of life. I order to be worthy citizens of a democratic State, we must acquire a democratic outlook and a democratic spirit. In the first place, we must be tolerant. To my mind, tolerance is the greatest of all human virtues. We are so apt to be narrow and fanatical, accepting as right only those things we believe in, and limiting our vision by the experience we have had. We are only too ready to condemn as heterodox or immoral all ways of life which are not our own and all opinions not entertained by us. We refuse to countenance any gods we have not set up, and any standards we have not accepted as the right ones. This certainly is not what is meant by the democratic attitude to life.

We must live and let live. We must recognize the infinite possibilities of human fallibility. So many dogmas, once considered to be unshakable, have been thrown on the scrap-heap. Standards have changed from age to age and even today are different in different countries. The democratic ideology is always willing to concede that there may be an element of truth in every belief held by any particular section of the public; it is not prepared to coerce a minority opinion by the brute force of numbers. It is ever ready to discuss and debate, and is more anxious to get the minority to acquiesce in the decision of the majority than to coerce the minority into an unwilling submission. The democratic temper is also tolerant towards human frailty. A man may aspire to perfection, but he is made of clay, and more often than not, he deviates from the straight and narrow path. The deviation is partly due to his own weakness and partly due to overpowering circumstances created by the society in which he is placed. His errors and his lapses are not always wholly of his making. We need a more sympathetic understanding of human frailty in the sphere of individual relations.

Today, one great problem of democracy is to reconcile the rights of the individual citizens with the rights of the State. The citizen has to be protected against the all powerful State. The citizens rights have to be safeguarded by the judiciary. The fundamental freedoms are the cornerstone of our Constitution. They have to be consistently upheld by the judiciary, which has been constituted as the custodian of these rights. But judges do not and are not expected to live in an ivory tower. They have to be conscious of what Justice Holmes called " the felt necessities of the times" They cannot shut their eyes to the society in which they are living. They cannot be oblivious to the inequalities that exist, and of the terrible poverty that millions of people endure. The State, therefore, has also to be conceded its right to remove these inequalities and remove poverty.

But we must remember that ours is a democratic Republic. When people talk of socialism, they forget that the socialism we want is democratic socialism. We want to bring about socialism by democratic means and not by totalitarian or arbitrary methods. ......

....... The founding-fathers, in their wisdom, made it clear that the Directive principles are not mandatory, while the fundamental rights are sacrosanct. Directive principles are sign posts which indicate to the Government and to the people the direction that the country and the nation should take, but it must always be borne in mind that in implementing the directives of the State we are not to violate Fundamental Rights. In other words, the directives of a State policy must be achieved by democratic means without sacrificing individual liberty or the other liberties guaranteed under the Constitution.

Excerpt concluded

4 Comments:

Blogger Nitin said...

Excellent post. In the end, it may Congress politicians who created the whole resistance to the Uniform Civil Code; by a process of 'induction'.

1:50 AM  
Blogger Quizman said...

Nitin,

Sadly, it is this mistaken notion of secularism that hurts minorities most. The term "pseudo-secular" is rather apt. It is quite disappointing to read the constituent assembly debates where the arguments of eminent persons were ignored.

2:56 PM  
Blogger history_lover said...

Can I expect you guys to support country wide prohibtion as per the Directive Principles ;-)

10:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Chagla represented the concept of Individualism more central than RELIGIOUSNESS. Unfortunately Muslims all over the world surrender to the concept of oneness of God thereby saying good bye to individualism. Thee is whee the conflict arises. India needs many a million UC CHAGLAs to enlighten Muslims to respect individualism then and only then true democracy may prosper in India.

1:17 AM  

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