Sunday, June 05, 2005

Individual freedom - India vs America

Gaurav Sabnis talks about Freedom Vs Sovereignty and compares the freedom Americans enjoy to do their own things as long as it doesn't affect others. Indians, he says, tend to think of freedom in the sense of sovereignty, in a free from British way, whereas Americans value personal freedom. I agree with him. One of the reasons that we Indians don't have the kind of freedom Americans enjoy is our constitution gives our government a lot of power to restrict it. It bears noting that the American consitution is all of 5000 odd words and has been amended 27 times in 200+ years. We are now at 82, I think, after 55 years. The US Congress has enormous power to make laws no doubt. But the laws aren't there in the constitution. So if the Congress there wants to enact a law to restrict freedom, some would say like the PATRIOT ACT, their constituents can raise a stink and make them think twice about enacting the law. There is also the check on their power in the form of the President excercising his veto. In India, on the other hand, many laws are hardwired into the constitution. It is a humongous constitution, maybe the longest in the world.

I am reading a book on the history of our Constitution by Granville Austin. I have just finished the first part dealing with the Nehru years and am surprised by what I've read. Nehru and Patel and his cabinet had a huge fight with the Judiciary over the Government's right to restrict property rights (redistributing Zamindar lands etc) and also many speech rights. Nehru wanted to be able to prosecute papers which endangered national security, by their reporting, or caused disorder or for a few other things. Rajendra Prasad was very concerned about this and consulted a lot of legal experts before signing his assent to those laws.

The Supreme Court and many High Courts struck down many laws made by the state and central governments of the day. The American first amendment guarantees free speech amond other things. In contrast our first amendment, which is an absolute mess to read for an engineer like me because it makes additions and modifications to an existing statute in the consitution, takes away freedom and gives the government the right to make some laws without Court interference. It was written specifically with a lot of court decisions (which went against the government) in mind. They tried to undercut the judicial review of laws made by placing them in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, which apparently puts those laws out of the purview of the judiciary. The author says that it took the courts about 30 years to find a way around the Ninth Schedule. He says he deals with it in later chapters, which I haven't come to yet.

It might be politically incorrect to say this, but the huge illiteracy numbers in our country make it easier for the government to restrict freedom and not pay a price for it. If you don't know rights, how do you know if they have been taken away?.

There are reasons to love America and there are reasons to hate it. Their constitution is one thing we can admire them for. I am not a lawyer and I don't play one on the internet. But the American constitution is a fantastic document, while ours is a bigger, fatter, uglier 5th cousin. A lot of intelligent, smart and honest people worked on writing our constitution, but a lot of geniuses worked on the American one.

31 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess the American way is to have a strong, vibrant democracy at home and prop up tinpot dictators and bloody mullahs overseas! That's not a comment on American people, but that's how it works as a country.

Nanda Kishore

Friday, June 10, 2005 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Atlantean said...

Strange how you guys parade the American example as the best example of freedom. You guys seem to forget that the United States till yesterday was one of the most racist nations in the world. A nation which had had segregated schools for blacks till just about three decades ago can hardly be thought of as the best example of freedom. Till yesterday, freedom was only for the whites there.

When you say America is the epitome of freedom, say it to an African American. Chances are that you will have an egg on your face as soon as you say that.

America is the same nation which once went to war on black slavery (the American Civil War). Atleast India never discriminated between fair skinned and darker skinned people when it came to freedom - social , economic or political.

Sunday, August 13, 2006 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger Rajagopal said...

America's had a very checkered history with regard to te freedoms its citizens enjoyed - some were infact not even considered citizens and african-americans were treated as property. Women were not allowed to vote till the 1920's if I am not mistaken. There is no question of sweeping these signficant parts of America's history.

But it does not mean America's achievements in establishing one of the first democracies in 1789. This has served as the model for many countries and thanks to them for that. Also their constitution is a model of brevity, simplicity and elegance.

Monday, August 14, 2006 8:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Sameer said...

All you guys bashing American history. You'll simply miss the point. The blogger is pointing out to the current American Democracy. Not the path that led it to where it is now. I know that there were a lot of civil rights' movements. Right from MLK and Malcom X for African American rights, till Rosie O'Donnel today for Gay, Lesbian and Transexual rights. There have also been civil rights movements for the handicapped (physically and mentally challenged, both), and women rights. But all these are things the blogger is not writing about, so why bash him about something he has not written about. He is talking about the end product, which is right now.
Who says that there was no bias in the Indian Society. In fact, there still is bias among hindus itself starting from Bhramin-Dalit to the North Indians whose parents will "Pick a suitable" bride/groom for their children, to Hindu - Muslim (Lets not even go there).
So what can't we adopt the "NOW" version of the american constitution. Adopting anything blindly is also wrong, so of course it will be modified (for the good of everybody Indian). Also everything should be transparent. Like how much money public figures (like politicians) make. They should be allowed to be on the boards of companies. (eg Bush of Halliburton) We do need good managers to run OUR country. Also by transparent, check this site out.(Covers the corporation's practices including cronyism and corruption. www.halliburtonwatch.org). We can always exclude them from Govt Contracts, like those companies which prohibit employees and their relatives to participate in promotions and contests.
This I know, will not instantaneously make India into America, but it most definately will make it a better place to live in.

Thursday, August 17, 2006 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous yogesh pratap singh said...

i just wanted to draw attention towards a book written by the Charles Epp, naming the "The Rights Revolution" where he has campared the four nations, USA, Canada, UK and India which is reputed as the rights revolution spots in the world. i feel that this book is very wonderful literature on the social developments in all the four nations. However i dont agree with his conclusion that India was a country where there was a good conditions for the occurance of rights revolution but it could not succeded due to the lack of support structure. My opinion in this regard is you can compare all the states in a single plane, but it must be campared in the respective frewuency and movememt.

Monday, July 23, 2007 12:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nehru and party at that time were highly influenced by Communist Russia and so they were trying their best to alter our constitution by surgical experiments. FOR WHICH WE SUFFER TODAY. They drastically cut our individual freedom and the just power of judiciary, like communist.

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