Justice DY Chandrachud
Justice DY Chandrachud
Litigation News

State cannot claim monopoly over values that define our plural society: DY Chandrachud J. on why dissent is important

The Judge was speaking at the Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture held at the Gujarat High Court on Saturday.

Bar & Bench

Justice DY Chandrachud on Saturday commented on the need to preserve the pluralistic heritage characteristic of India while rendering the Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture at the Gujarat High Court.

Speaking on the theme, “The hues that are India: from Plurality to Pluralism”, at the Gujarat High Court, the Supreme Court judge said,

Justice P. D. Desai Memorial Lecture
Justice P. D. Desai Memorial Lecture
What is of utmost relevance today, is our ability and commitment to preserve, conserve and build on the rich pluralist history we have inherited. Homogeneity is not the defining feature of Indianness.
Justice DY Chandrachud

Dissent in a plural society 

To the end of realising the ideals of pluralism and democracy, Justice Chandrachud spoke extensively on the need to create safe spaces for dissent and opposing views. He noted that,

"The commitment to civil liberty flows directly from the manner in which the State treats dissent. A state committed to the rule of law ensures that the state apparatus is not employed to curb legitimate and peaceful protest but to create spaces conducive for deliberation. Within the bounds of law, liberal democracies ensure that their citizens enjoy the right to express their views in every conceivable manner, including the right to protest and express dissent against prevailing laws.”

He went on to remark,

The blanket labelling of such dissent as ‘anti- national’ or ‘anti-democratic’ strikes at the heart of our commitment to the protection of constitutional values and the promotion of a deliberative democracy. Protecting dissent is but a reminder that while democratically elected governments offer us a legitimate tool for development and social coordination, they can never claim a monopoly over the values and identities that define our plural society.
Justice DY Chandrachud

He further emphasised that the destruction of such spaces for dissent would also destroy growth. In this regard, he said,

In this sense, dissent is the safety valve of democracy. The silencing of dissent and the generation of fear in the minds of people go beyond the violation of personal liberty and a commitment to constitutional values. It strikes at the heart of a democratic dialogue-based society which affords to every individual, equal respect and consideration.

Moreover, he also opined that the true test of a democracy is its ability to ensure the creation and protection of spaces where every individual can voice their opinion without the fear of retribution.

"If you wish to deliberate, you must be willing to hear all sides to the story. That is part of our gospel doctrine in courts. A legitimate government committed to deliberate dialogue does not seek to restrict political contestation but welcomes it,” he added.

Tackling misconceptions about pluralism in India

Among the various academic observations made by the judge during the course of his address was a note of on two distinct understandings of pluralism in the Indian polity, which the judge opined was crucial in tackling misconceptions of the meaning of pluralism in Indian society.

The first dimension was ameliorative, which involved an understanding that a commitment to pluralism did not imply non-interference where group practices hinder another’s constitutional rights, equal dignity, worth and liberty.

The second, the constitutive dimension, involves understanding that group identity and cultural differences play a significant role in shaping individual identity. To explain, the judge referred to the significance of language in shaping identity. He explained, how “language and its idiosyncrasies fundamentally structure the way we think.”

In a historically multilingual society like India where language is so intrinsic to one’s own self of history and identity – the plurality of language is the plurality of thought itself.
Justice DY Chandrachud
DY chandrachud
DY chandrachud

The threats to pluralism

The foremost threat to pluralism, Justice Chandrachud said was the suppression of differences. He observed,

"The great threat to pluralism is the suppression of difference and the silencing of popular and unpopular voices offering alternate or opposing views. Suppression of intellect is the suppression of the conscience of the nation.”

The second threat, the judge observed, was the “the belief that homogenization presupposes the unity of the nation”; in other words, the “eradication of diversity and the assimilation of all identities.”

Disagreeing with this notion, Justice Chandrachud said,

“A united India is not one characterized by a single identity devoid of its rich plurality, both of cultures and of values … No single individual or institution can claim a monopoly over the idea of India.”

Justice DY Chandrachud

On the celebration of pluralism in India

Ultimately, Justice Chandrachud spoke of how the commitment to pluralism lies in the “constitutional trust expressed by the framers on every individual.” He went on to speak of how the greatest triumph of pluralism is reflected in the continued existence of India.

Anybody truly conversant with Indian history will tell you that the single defining hallmark of ‘ancient India’ was its divergent, scattered and fragmented nature. It has been for centuries a land of vibrant diversity of religion, language and culture.”

Pluralism has already achieved its greatest triumph – the existence of India...The nation’s continued survival shows us that our desire for a shared pursuit of happiness outweighs the differences in the colour of our skin, the languages we speak or the name we give the almighty.
Justice DY Chandrachud

As he concluded his address, Justice Chandrachud also added that, “Pluralism is not the toleration of diversity; it is its celebration.”

[Read the text of the Full Speech]

Justice DY Chandrachud - Justice PD Desai Memorial Speech.pdf
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