DEMOCRACY – GIFT TO HUMANITY?
Harikeshav. Narayan, Delhi Public School
High School Student
ESSAY TOPIC: Is it important to live in a democracy?
Democracy, an intriguing concept with a vast multitude of interpretations. Common man would define democracy as a ‘Free Government’. My definition - ‘People’s Government’; not necessarily free. Modern day democracies tend to take a little action for a lot and a lot of action for a little, Confused? This may seem like a bit of an ambiguous statement, but it conveys one very simple message, democracy covers a very wide spectrum, ranging from national economic policies to people’s problems with a brand of toothpaste. Seeing that it covers such a large spectrum, it is only natural for certain aspects to take primary importance. ‘Democracy is flawless’, has and will never be a factually or logically accurate, problems will erupt and hinder continuity, even push a country to the brink of chaos. When we look around us, strong man politics are suddenly essentials in elections and only some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it. Those in power seek to undermine every institution and norm that gives democracy meaning. In the west, there are rightist parties – focusing on forms of protectionism and closed borders. These are rising concerns of modern day scenarios, which throw into question the very concept of democracy. Similarly, one may point out a plethora of shortcomings in a democracy. But ‘Democracy’s positives outweigh its negatives’, this is a valid and debatable point, to be scrutinized on in this essay.
What is the basis of democracy? Academically, ‘Of the people, by the people, for the people’. Alternatively, I would state the very basis of a democracy to be morality, usually associated with the Rule of Law. This seems fair, one cannot chose which laws to follow and which to violate, if we could, I would never stop for a red light. On a more serious note, I would like to explicate a rather sophisticated experience with a friend, his father was one of those people who stands between us and chaos, a reverent police officer, gunned down in a line of duty attempting to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country. His lifeless body collapsed onto No-man’s land (outside the government’s jurisdiction). His sacrifice was not honored, I felt deep sorrow for my friend and moreover, I saw the look on his face, an expression of pure disdain. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘An act which undermines the law can never have moral intentions, no matter what we call it’. That night I pondered the implications of this statement, one question reverberated in my mind, ‘Is the rule of law always just?’ Henry David Thoreau stated that, ‘A man with a differing opinion from his neighbors constitutes a majority of one’, Thoreau the idealist didn’t realize that Adolf Hitler would agree with him. Majorities decide the moral solutions to issues not a majority of one. If a majority of one decided, the ‘democratic’ government would transfigure into a dictatorship.
Is this the beauty as well as the burden of a democracy? But again, why must the oppressed kneel down before the oppressors? For we must never surrender to a tyranny of a majority. There seemed no answer to these questions, until I realized something. ‘Neither a majority nor a majority of one (an individual) decides what is right, wrong, moral or immoral, your conscience does’; so why must the citizens give up their consciences to a legislator. This calls for a correction in my friend’s previously mentioned statement, ‘An act that undermines the law without dignity, can have moral intentions, no matter what we call it’. The ideal government is an entity which represents a culmination of the consciences of the millions of people residing in the country and by extension is the key to a successful democracy.
A democracy doesn’t have to blow out the candles around it to make its own shine brighter. Riots, protests and demonstrations do not hamper democratic progress, instead provides direction for solutions. Civil disobedience and violent uprisings are common undertakings that help build as well as destroy democracies. One such harrowing example is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which took place on the 13 of April 1919 at Amritsar. The troops of the British – Indian Army under command of General Reginald Dyer open fired into a crowd of civilians, gathered to celebrate the Baisakhi festival. Considering this was a period of unrest, General Dyer claimed it was a, ‘Moral lesson’. Was this ‘Moral’? Is it ‘Moral’ to use violence to convey a message?
From 1914 to 1918, every single minute the world was at war, 240 brave youngsters laid down their lives every hour of every day for 4 long years. 8,241,000 casualties, here was a slaughter exponentially larger than what happened at Amritsar. And this war stopped Germany from enslaving all of Europe, wasn’t this moral, one might argue that using violence to defend his or her country is deeply moral, demanding the greatest sacrifice of all, Life itself. On the contrary, we have honorable freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi’s perspective, after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Gandhi and his followers responded not with violence but Civil disobedience. He was arrested and subsequently released due to civilian non – cooperation, he called this a ‘Moral victory’. When questioned, Dyer proclaimed, ‘Non-violence is the mask civil disobedience wears to conceal its true face, Anarchy’. Gandhi had two primary beliefs, firstly, one must always act with love and respect even for his opponent, secondly, lawbreakers must act with dignity and accept the legal consequences of their action; do these sound like anarchy? While Gandhi disrupted railways, picketed government buildings and banned symbols of the British raj, Dyer resorted to mass genocide, claiming the lives of hundreds of innocent men, women and children. Use of violence to defend one’s country can be moral, but shooting down numerous defenseless civilians and resorting to violence in order to strengthen the British raj is quite the opposite. A dictator will isolate the opinions of millions and use violence to suppress all forms of rebellion in order himself to the top, but a democracy is obligated to view civil disobedience as a form of tension; to be resolved through dialogue and negotiations. In our world, ‘An unjust law no law at all’ (St. Augustine), which means as citizens; we have a right even a duty to resist if wronged, through violence or civil disobedience.
Is it important to live in a democracy? Common man will give us a big yes with various reasons and explanations. But the basic reason is that a democracy returns to its people their long-lost minds, how one might ask. The answer we must date back to the black suppression period in the United States of America. There was a brief period, when the White overlords of Virginia had problems ‘controlling their slaves’, so they sent for Mr. William Lynch. William Lynch was a vicious slave trader from the West Indies, who followed a very simple strategy, ‘Keep your slave physically strong but psychologically weak and dependent on their slave masters’. For perspective, in front of all slaves, take the most headstrong and restless black man, strip him of his clothes, tar and feather him. Berate and ridicule him until he falls to his knees and emotionally breaks. Subsequently, tie each limb to a horse and beat both horses until they tear the man apart. Flog and harass the remaining slaves, do not kill them but put the fear of god in them, for they can be useful for future breeding and creating the next generation of slaves. Feed the body, take the mind. Our ancestors underwent such forms of dissension and separation for change, that change took the form of democracy. The USA is now a superpower in this world and the former black slaves, are no longer just some color in the American fabric, they are the very thread that holds society together. Would we have had this without a democracy? I think the answer is pretty clear, a democracy will always help us find, take back and keep our minds. With this I conclude democracy is indeed gift to humanity, but the best characteristic of this gift is that it can be returned.
Henry David Thoreau – Walden and Civil Disobedience
Jallianwala Bagh - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jallianwala_Bagh_massacre
William Lynch –https://www.dictionary.com/browse/lynch-laws