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Citizens and the Law

Edited by Kamala Sankaran and Ujjwal Kumar Singh
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 250, Rs. 195.00


‘When we talk about laws, we not only talk about its punitive character, but also about constituting our moral selves’. Foregrounding the historical struggle for ‘equality in law’ the editors of this volume argue for rights based understanding of rule of law rather than its rule-book version. Citing the introduction of several new laws with social justice agenda in India, they assert that this democratic space within the law can be enhanced only when the citizens become alert, conscious of their rights and access the law. Most of the contributions to the volume, by eminent jurists, social scientists and professors of law, are informed by this perspective that this democratic potential of law can be fulfilled, despite the serious problems surrounding the issue of ‘implementation’. The sixteen essays herein give the reader a thoughtful introduction to the structure and framework of the Indian constitution; judiciary, access to the legal system; different sets of laws that pertain to subordinated peoples’ such as Dalits and women; laws that are assuming importance in the globalizing world such as those relating to consumers, environment, cyber laws, anti-terror laws and alternate dispute resolution.   Reflecting critically on the question of legal literacy, Upendra Baxi problematizes common sense assumptions about the concept. He argues that ‘legal illiteracy’ plagues the ruling classes as much as the ruled. While educating the victims of the State about legal entitlements is a worthy objective, the political thrust of the legal literacy programmes should be to ‘remove the constitutional and legal illiteracy among the ruling classes, developmental experts and even some apex adjudicators’. He apprehends that legal literacy projects have a bleak future but insists that there are no short cuts to public education in rights and obligations.   The next three essays introduce the reader to the structure of Indian constitution, Indian judiciary and the unique instrument that the Indian judiciary has allowed to emerge for the citizens against State lawlessness - Public Interest Litigation. Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer, while elaborating on the emergence and the basic structure of the Indian constitution, foregrounds the system of checks and balances that the constitution makers sought to maintain among the legislature, executive and judiciary. But till date, the citizens lack effective instruments of accountability vis-à-vis the judiciary. He raises the important question as to what people should do ‘If the sate fails in its constitutional obligation and the Court blinks at it?’ ...

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