In a democracy, the majority will have its way but the minority must have its say: CJI

Abolition of slavery, annihilation of caste, emancipation of gender minorities, and religious harmony were all once dissenting opinions, says Chief Justice Chandrachud

December 02, 2023 08:50 pm | Updated 09:43 pm IST - NEW DELHI

 Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud. File

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Saturday said that a society which does not encourage its citizens to critically think, question the powers that be, and engage in non-conformist democratic discourse will fail to progress because it will fail to create dissenters.

“Dissents emerge not from thin air but from a democratic culture of fierce debates… Abolition of slavery, annihilation of caste, emancipation of gender minorities, and religious harmony were all once dissenting opinions,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said while speaking on the topic of “Democracy, Debate and Dissent” at an event commemorating Justice Keshav Chandra Dhulia, the father of Supreme Court judge, Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia.

Social harmony in a democracy should not be achieved by flushing out dissent, the Chief Justice said at the event organised at Dehradun in Uttarakhand.

“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,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

The Chief Justice highlighted the importance of state support for the minority population in a democracy.

“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. This may 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,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

Mere appeals to vote them back to power by those elected to power would be meaningless unless they practice and uphold the fundamental and inherent postulates of democracy - justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, the CJI noted.

The Chief Justice said these four postulates are protected and ensured in a democracy by robust institutions that carry out democratic functions and by introducing procedural guarantees which prevent seepage of bias and unfairness in the process of decision-making.

“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,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

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