Professor Javeed Alam  

Professor Javeed Alam, the Chairperson of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi and former Professor of Political Science at the Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla gave a talk on 1st March 2011 at the Centre on “Democracy and the Quest for Equality.” He retired as Professor at the Centre for European Studies, CIEFL (now The English and Foreign Languages University ) Hyderabad . He completed his postgraduate studies from Osmania University , Hyderabad , and earned his Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University , New Delhi . Professor Alam has been actively associated with the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and has held academic positions and fellowships at the Centre for the Study of Social Sciences, Kolkata, York University , United Kingdom , Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi and the Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi . Professor Alam’s publications include Dissent and Domination: Peasants and Politics (Mandira: Calcutta, 1985); India: Living with Modernity (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999) and Who Wants Democracy? Tracks of the Time No.15 (Orient Longman: Hyderabad , 2004). He is presently working on a book tentatively titled Indispensability of Secularism. Professor Alam is also an ardent activist involved in popular movements for democratic values, human rights, secularism and sustaining the pluralist traditions of society.

            Democracy as practiced and its development in India in the last two decades are in line with the community aspirations. For instance, enfranchisement of the Dalits, empowerment of the oppressed castes, associations of the women, deepening of the popular commitment to the ideas and the potentialities of democracy are some of the things happening. But there also comes up a number of deformities like individualization which disregard community injunction, the ominous practice of the social division along the ritually stratified castes and the stringency placed in the social intercourse in cases of those placed ritually below, the humiliation of the dalits and women, etc. These two paradoxes put a conflicting and contradictory situation of the democracy as seen in India to-day. It can be said that Professor Alam’s work is an effort to understand the things in perspective and to put a workable means to solve the crux of the problem at hand.

            He suggested that rather than evaluating the Indian democracy in its wholeness, as done presently, it would be more revealing if one sees how the democratic universals are getting adjusted to the Indian peculiarities. There are two types of values important in this regard: (i) those like liberty, equality, dignity, etc translate into the course of the policies of the actualized, and (ii) other values like universal franchise, rule of law etc. which come in a body of institution are to be in a working shape. 

            The different perspectives of the democratic rules and ideals and the practices in vogue in Indian society are in an antagonistic situation and is vastly different from any society with modernity. In the spaces provided by democracy in India , those universal values entailed by democracy like rationality, secularism, etc. do no longer remain universal, but become clenched to compete with other commensurable entities for being accepted in the society. The community is still acting as a complete entity to represent its member. No single person is allowed to act individually in a manner against the interest of the community. The value consensus of the individual to exist as a self is reduced to the minimal. So there is lack of personal autonomy when seen in the context of community aspirations.

            The changing scenario in Indian society and social structure due to democracy is rather an interesting one. The shaping up of the social structure to suit the common ethos of the actualization of the values through the alterations of the different mediums is a common feature. An instance may be made of the difference in the meaning of the equality for the different communities.

            Deepening of the democratic values and ethos in the society apart from the substantive content requires two formal conditions in the Indian context: dalits and women have to become bearers of equal rights, and critical scrutiny and reflections as a precondition to the claim on the membership of the community.