Citizens Role in a Democratic Society

Citizens Role in a Democratic Society

By Justice Sh. E.S. Venkataramiah – Former Chief Justice of India

Rights and Duties-two sides of the same coin

For the successful and efficient running of a democratic system, is important that its members, viz, citizens take an active interest in its functioning. Again, the attitude of a society’s citizens is extremely important for all the people belonging to that society. Many of country’s current problems are due to the ignorance of the rulers and the ruled and to the non-appreciation of the true meaning self-government. If their general approach to everday’s problems is based on narrow consideration of which we have abundant evidence today, the society can never prosper.

In a democratic society, citizens have not only rights but also duties. According to traditional Indian philosophy it is only the performance of duties that gives rise to rights. May I at this stage refer to the advice tendered by Justice Frankfurter and Judge Learned Hand to Shri B.N. Rau, the Constitutional Adviser of the Constituent Assembly when he met them in the U.S.A. at the time when the Constitution was on the anvil. They told him that the Fundamental Rights should not be enforceable as such but should however be respected by the state as it has to do in regard to matters covered by the Directive Principles of State Policy. But the Constituent Assembly decided otherwise. While Fundamental Rights are made enforceable through courts, the Directive Principles cannot be so enforced. But the Directive Principles should still be treated as fundamental to the governance of the country

Fundamental Duties in the Indian Constitution

In the Indian Constitution, Fundamental Rights have been set out in Part III of the Constitution. The State cannot abridge those rights. The Constitution envisaged a rights-oriented society. The Constitution, however, did not spell out Fundamental Duties. It was only the Forty-Second Amendment of the Constitution carried out during the emergency period which introduced into the Constitution a new article-Article 51A, spelting out the Fundamental Duties of citizens. Happily it was not deleted by the Forty-Fourth Amendment. I do not propose to go into the contents of Article 51A except saying that there are three different sets of do’s contained in this Article. One set talk about the obligations of a citizen towards the State as such.  Another one discusses codes of social behavior and a third one refers   need for each citizen to pull his weight, adopt a scientific temper and achieve excellence so that the community as a whole benefits from the resulting economic and social developments

While we all agree that efforts should be made to promote citizenship values within the community, the question arises as to how to achieve this objective. The answer is not simpleIt is somewhat easier to educate a person in the matter of acquisition of knowledge or performance of a function than to make him change his habits and traits. Mere precepts cannot take us very far. It is a challenging task to instil among play the people this regard the values of goods citizenship. The parent and the teacher have a big role to play in this regard.

We have only to look to the conditions of society and of the educational institution today to find out that there is good deal to be desired in both of them.  Some positive action is called for to set things right and to prevent them from further deterioration. 

We have adopted for ourselves a Constitution based democracy and the rule of law. We very much cherish these ideals but for these ideals to be achieved, an alert and responsible citizenry is absolutely necessary.

The Citizenship Development Society in its humble way has taken in hand the work of promoting citizenship values in the community. It is a new organisation and as such has been working in the community under constraints. At any rate it can at best work as an institution. What is essential is the formation of citizens forums at different levels throughout India.

When we light a small earthen lamp, it sheds its light all around without trying find out whether any other lamp shedding its lustre or not. We should learn from this lamp that each one of us should continue to do one’s own duties as good citizens, irrespective of the fact whether our neighbours are doing their duties or not.

  • Source: CDS Publication- Turning over a new leaf in nation building

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