In recent years, one has witnessed an all-time increase in the number of countries embracing democracy, without much interruption. Simultaneously, one has also seen a growing of disarray, discontent and marginalisation and disempowerment of the people at large, leading to violent crime and social disorder. Such a situation speaks volumes about the very basics of democracy, which in its original and literal term means, ‘rule by the people’. It connotes democratic forms of governance and politics, with the notion that, democratic rule promotes civil and political freedoms: equitability, people’s political participation and power, thereby ensuring human rights and the much desired social and personal security to its citizens. As well, it aims at reducing political uncertainty and instability. But reality has evaded the common man’s expectations. This evasiveness harbours on multifarious reasoning which are intricately linked to the complexity of the entire notion of democracy.
Democracy is not a single-structured phenomenon. Neither should it be, given the differing hierarchy of the legitimation, socio-cultural, economic, and political standings and environs particular to each country. That is to say, there are different forms and methods of political systems, subject to the specificities of a country, considering that many states are not culturally and ethnically homogeneous. However, within this framework of varied concepts and definitions, there are certain sets of institutions and procedures, such as, the act of citizenship, the ruling of a constitution, and the laws and policies which, by and large, lead such democracies. And it is within these formations, that apparent and inevitable structural deficiencies inhabit, which create a space for play, leaning democracies to manipulative politics. Over-arching practices, that trigger further political manipulations and adversely impact a common man include, the predominance of the greater political parties, the tendencies of openly manipulating elections, leaders altering constitutions, weak legislatures and judiciaries and other forms of subterfuge. The ultimate façade of the entire concept of democracy stands stark with military dictatorships, which are now the standard origin of democratic political systems. Thus, autocracy, authoritarian or dictatorial regimes reign, under the garb of democracy, where the concerns are generally political and not humanitarian. Under such conditions, people are marginalised, resulting in alienation and hostility. These are the faltering pointers in the equation of ‘the rulers and the ruled’ as citizens do not really rule themselves unless they directly decide laws and policies.
Needless to mention that democracy, so far, is subject to inter and intra national boundaries, and the much needed and desired global democratisation is far fetched. And in its absence, the scaling up of the multi-national corporatisation, among other forces, is fast depleting the boundary-bound democratic values and its core principles. Consequently, it is striking back the hegemonistic global designs, which inevitably will and is quelling the poor man’s desire for a decent life, based on self-choices and popular participation.
Effective democratic governance, therefore, is not yet a reality. However, in spite of its weaknesses, and in the absence of a better alternative, it is sufficiently functioning, and is a prime pro-people political governing system. It is indeed workable, with large margins for innovation, steered by deeper thinking and commitment, geared toward coming up to the expectations of a common man and ensuring civil and political rights.
This book, Scratching the Surface: Democracy, Traditions, Gender provides an insight into the multi-faceted nature of democracy and its complex demands. It looks into greater detail, the conceptual anomalies, the structural inequalities and ethical defects, especially in the context of South Asian countries. It deliberates on how institutions and power are structured and distributed, and how these, as a process, have denied the real voices and spaces to the people. It of course, also dwells on the dire need of holding the powerful accountable.
Dr. Jennifer Bennett