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Majority will have its way, but minority must have its say in democracy: CJI

Majority will have its way, but minority must have its say in democracy: CJI

New Delhi: The Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud on Saturday said that for all citizens to feel free in a democracy, the State must side with the weaker population which may be a numerical or a social minority, and while the majority will have its way, “the minority must have its say”.

He was speaking on ‘democracy, debate and dissent’ while delivering the Justice Keshav Chandra Dhulia memorial lecture in Dehradun.

The CJI said his emphasis that the state should side with the minority might at first appear to be at odds with the democratic principle of majority rule.

“However, a mere rule by majority can be established by many forms of government. The beauty of a democracy is the sense of moral status with which all citizens can participate in a country and the consensus in its decision-making. In a democracy, the majority will have its way but the minority must have its say,” he said.

The CJI said that just because a body is elected, that does not ensure it acts in the best interest of those it governs. “Democracy is messy and imperfect but inherent in it are the postulates of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity.”

He said the appeal to voting and governance by those elected to power will remain an incomplete endeavour in “the democratic experiment” unless liberty, equality and fraternity are upheld.

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“They are upheld in two ways — first, by robust institutions that carry out democratic functions, and second, by introducing procedural guarantees which prevent seepage of bias and unfairness in the process of decision making,” he said.

“Additionally, democracy requires constant dialogue between differing opinions and civil society organisations to fulfil the aspirations of the people. Deliberation is the difference between a majoritarian decision that is foisted on an unwilling electorate and a decision that the people are willing to accept, engage with and hopefully alter one day”, the CJI said.

He pointed out that the indignity of inequality often comes not in the form of a policy or a law but in exclusion from informal workplace gatherings or even social groups in school and university due to religion, caste, gender or sexual orientation.

CJI Chandrachud cautioned that a participative democracy “liberates a democracy from its majoritarian impulses”.

On free speech, the CJI said that its relevance in a democracy “lies in deliberation with the uncomfortable aspects of our realities. If a democracy cannot safeguard discourse around the needs of all its people, it falls short of its promise. Thus, in order to resolve their discontents, a democracy must begin with hearing them”.

“While social harmony among citizens is a pre-requisite to democracy, it cannot be manufactured by removing conditions under which dissent may be freely expressed. A society is often known by its great dissenters because dissenters inform us of the location and direction of a democracy,” CJI Chandrachud said.

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