Fraternity in the Constitution: Cultural Policing in Dakshina Kannada

A recent report by the PUCL-Karnataka on ‘Cultural Policing in Dakshina Kannada: Vigilante Attacks on Women and Minorities 2008-9‘ released in March 2009 fills in the gaps on the cultural policing debate by providing valuable evidence that led upto the Ram Sene pub attack in Mangalore, and its aftermath, by locating it in a wider politico-cultural context. This blog has discussed the issue previously in the following two respects:

1. One of us had taken exception to the media referring to the incidents as ‘moral policing’. The Report rightly uses the term ‘cultural policing’ rather than moral policing. Cultural policing essentialises the cultural practices of a particular group as the aspirational culture of a place and imposes it on everyone else. The Report says that ‘The aim of cultural policing is to produce a form of social apartheid where the various communities become self-enclosed structures with inter-community social interaction being actively discouraged.’ (p 2)

2. Another post on this blog had said that progressive movement should take mode of protests and their efficacy seriously, in light of the ‘pink chaddi campaign’ to oppose the attacks. Chapter V of the Report makes an interesting read in this regard.

Our readers would find Chapter IV of the Report titled Cultural Policing leading to Social Apartheid: Violation of the Constitutional Order’ particularly interesting. This chapter conceptualizes cultural policing as a form of social apartheid which attacks the idea of fraternity in the Indian Constitution:

Dr. Ambedkar recognized how difficult, yet important, the principle of fraternity was. As he put it, “Fraternity means a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians—if Indians are seen as being one people. It is the principle which gives unity and solidarity to social life. It is a difficult thing to achieve.’ He goes on to underline the centrality of fraternity by noting that that ‘ Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than a coat of paint.”
Cultural policing, in its insistence that communities should not interact with each other and in its attempts to punish all those who try to live out the meaning of the Preamble’s promise of ‘fraternity’, is a fundamental attack on the very Constitutional order. The promise of fraternity held out in the Preamble is what is contested at its very roots by cultural policing. What cultural policing wants to produce are monolithic self-enclosed communities with no form of social interaction between them. It is antithetical to the idea of ‘We, the people of India’ and insists that India is no more one nation, but rather a conglomeration of separate peoples. (p 40)

The chapter then goes on to outline the various rights within the fundamental rights framework (right to form intimate association, right to freedom of speech and expression, right against discrimination, and the right to education) as providing the content to the preambular idea of fraternity.

As Sudhir Krishnaswamy puts it, fraternity is perhaps the least talked-about ideal in the Preamble to the Constitution. With its roots in the French Revolution, the importance of fraternity (and related notions of solidarity, cohesion and social inclusion) is receiving increasing academic attention in the English-speaking world. One of the most notable legal treatments of the idea is by Hugh Collins in two articles: (i) ‘Discrimination, Equality and Social Inclusion’ 66 (1) Modern Law Review 2003 (16), and (ii) ‘Social Inclusion: A Better Approach to Equality Issues?’ 14 Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems (2004-5) 897.

The Report must be commended for highlighting this oft-forgetten pillar of our constitutional framework, and may be seen as the beginning of civil society, academic (and hopefully, judicial) conversations on fraternity.

Finally, certain specific legal strategies outlined in Chapter VI will also be of interest to some readers.

Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.