Democracy Today

Democracy has come a long way. It was an idea that developed over the years to be seen as it is today. There is still no specific ‘form’ of democracy. There are however some basic ideas that democracy embraces. All individuals have equal access to power, freedom and liberties.

Democracy has its origins in ancient Greece. However, ancient Rome contributed significantly to its evolution. In Athens, government offices and citizens were held by ordinary individuals and all male Athenians were allowed to vote. This right however did not extend to women and slaves. Also; the votes of the wealthy were given more weight. Hence a major element of democracy, universal suffrage was not exercised completely. Vaishali District in Bihar, India, was one of the first governments in the world to have elements of the present democratic system.

Democracy has many versions. Many anarchists believe that the true form of democracy is direct democracy, when majority decisions are not binding on the minority. This, they believe does not curb individual liberties. American representative democracy is said to have been influenced by the Iroquois society. This however is still being debated. Sortition is another tool of democracy where representatives are chosen randomly, without elections. The belief is that the population at large would be better represented through this process of random selection.

Today, the most common form of democracy is representative democracy where policy makers are elected by the people. The governing bodies however, have specifically defined powers and their rights do not extend over a well defined limit.

India is today recognized as the largest democracy in the world. One of the major reasons on the basis of which we are pressing for a permanent seat in the UN. But should we really pride ourselves on being democratic? Are we really a democracy in the true sense of the word?

There are still factors to be proud of. The press plays an extremely large role in a democracy and ours is one of the most independent in the world. Democracy and suppression however, should be mutually exclusive. Yet, voices are still throttled.

An everyday example that can be taken is of gay rights. A topic which is debated incessantly. If we claim to be a democracy, how come a chunk of the society is still fighting for their rights? They are not fighting for concessions or quotas or representation, but for the basic right to exist as they are. With respect. And with grace. The basic rudiments of democracy like freedom of expression and basic liberties to all come under scrutiny. Is democracy just a huge hypocritical circus?

Two weeks ago, a talk was organized at a popular convention hall in the Capital on what democracy meant to people on the street. A few people from the street were bought by the organizers to tell the audience their stories. Their stories were incoherent due to their thick local accents and no effort was made to properly explain to the audience what they were saying. All the audience saw were a couple of underprivileged people saying something which could have either been in Latin or French as no one could comprehend the meaning of what they said. A picture of a circus again comes to one’s mind. In forums like these, minorities are definitely represented, their presence is felt, but are they really heard?

Later, while the summit was still going on, another man of that particular section of society raised his voice against something he didn’t believe in. He was a bit loud. A bit offbeat perhaps, with that particular bunch of elite academicians. But nevertheless he deserved to say what he believed in. He deserved to be heard. He was however hastily shushed down. And the summit soon resumed its peaceful aura with the group of distinguished looking, well accented intellectuals talking about how to solve the very problems of those they had just suppressed.

Democracy is not a definition or a meaning. It is a process. It has a goal. And we will achieve it. One day, differences will be celebrated and the dissimilar voices will ring out as a beautiful melody.

Vandana Sebastien


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