Restrictions, rather than rights, are what’s fundamental today in citizens’ lives, feels prominent human rights lawyer, academic and activist Usha Ramanathan, echoing the thoughts of another great civil rights activist and lawyer, the late K G Kannabiran.
In November 2013, Ramanathan delivered an address titled "Sovereign, Citizen, Subject: An exploration of the relationship between the people and the state” at the annual Constitutional Day Lecture organised by Bangalore-based non profit organisation Daksh, which has been working to improve accountability in politics and governance.
Any constitution is only as good as it works, says Harish Narasappa, co-founder of Daksh, and in order for it to function well, it is important to reiterate the fundamental values it espouses and explore new agendas and methodologies to have those values reinforced. That is one of the core-objectives of the lecture series conceived of by Daksh and organised on 26 November every year, where eminent speakers articulate all that needs to be done to renew and reinvigorate the values enshrined in the Indian constitution.
In her lecture, Ramanathan drew upon various axioms postulated by academics such as Kannabiran as well as examples from the contemporary Indian juridical landscape to show how pragmatism has gained precedence over Constitutional principles. In a scathing critique of both state functions and recent trends in jurisprudence, she asserts that “One thing that keeps getting forgotten or overlooked all too frequently is that the Constitution is not about the powers of the state but about the limits to the power of the State.”
Studded with references to incidents and judgments most people are familiar with, Ramanathan’s talk illustrated how the state has changed from being a law-making body to a contractual one, and in the process vested in itself the sovereignty that should actually rest with the people.
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