Submitting a proposition that the post-colonial Indian political trajectory could very well be characterised as a contestation for establishing the spirit of social justice as a public value is certainly not an exaggeration.
When one of Indian society’s quintessential characteristics — the vertical social structure — began adapting to the requirements of modernity, grudgingly though during the colonial era, the idea of social justice in its nascent form began creeping into the public realm by seeking to convert the vertical social order into a horizontal structure.
The quest to establish an inclusive, self-conscious political community of equal citizens in India was further fortified with the birth of India’s Constitution. The Constitution elaborately dealt with the vast majority of underprivileged masses and their enduring progress; subsequently the judicial system strengthened all efforts from both institutional and non-institutional initiatives towards reconfiguring social justice as an inevitable normative principle of our public life.
The Indian judiciary’s several interventions emboldened both the State and civil society in proliferating the idea of social justice. In this modest attempt and a timely academic intervention, Mohammed Ashraf Ali has sought to objectively chronicle several judicial responses to the idea of social justice in India.
The author’s preference to contextualise his arguments from the Constitutional Assembly debates facilitates the reader obtaining a comprehensive picture as he delineates the contention over land and property rights. Establishing equality and social justice as axiomatic and non-negotiable principles of the Constitution was indeed an arduous task.
Some of the major issues embedded in the liberation of Indian masses from their long servitude such as land rights, educational rights and other socio-economic rights were confronted by several Courts across the country. The ability of the author to knit his argument while highlighting the insensitivity of the courts, particularly in the early decades of the post-colonial era, towards fulfilling the constitutional promises of equality and social justice by elaborating several landmark cases such as Kameshwar Singh vs. the State of Bihar case, Surya Pal vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh case, to name a few, is indeed incredible. Similarly, the contentious issue of reservation for backward classes has had an eventful legal journey.
The crisp analysis of this issue is perhaps one of the best sections of the volume as the author concisely illustrates various court judgments and explains the near-total failure on the part of the courts to comprehend the profundity and highly insightful meaning of our Constitution.
The elaboration by the author on the State of Madras Vs Champakam Dorairajan case in which the Supreme Court delivered a significant judgment that eventually resulted in the Union Government amending the Constitution as early as 1951 deserves appreciation.
Well-structured and pointed arguments that would give anyone studying contemporary socio-political-legal issues an interesting reading are the book’s hallmark. Stricter editing would have made the volume even more fascinating.
JUDICIAL RESPONSE TO SOCIAL JUSTICE: Mohd. Ashraf Ali; Raj Publications, G-108, 4855/24, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 495.