Book Review of A People's Constitution-Rohit De

A People’s Constitution

“Despite the incorporation of universal adult suffrage and a bill of rights, the legal framework of Indian Republic remain rooted in colonial laws and institutions that were designed for centralized control. The text that the new Constitution produced verbatim from the colonial Government of India Act included its controversial emergency power that allowed the central government to proclaim a situation of emergency and suspend fundamental rights, restrict access to courts, extend the life of parliament, and dissolve elected state assemblies. Contrary to constitutional traditions that sought to protect individuals from the state, the Indian Constitution empowered the state to transform society and economy.” 

Why I Picked This Book?

The title of the book drew my attention, moreover I want to expand my understanding and knowledge about the Indian Constitution. What it contains ? And what it means for us? A people’s Constitution tries to explain the Indian Constitution through some legal cases that were raised by the common people citing the fundamental rights given to by the Constitution. Hoping to learn more about the Indian Constitution I picked this up for a read.

The Book

A people’s Constitution – The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic explores how after the Constitution came into existence, the common people by using the provisions in the Constitution fought for their fundamental rights or what they thought are their fundamental rights.

The book gives a brief overview of the Constitution, how it came into being, how common people used the legal route to demand their fundamental rights, and how the judiciary viewed all this and pronounce its judgement. The author explains it through four cases filed by citizens of India.

There is a case of Alcohol Prohibition and fundamental right to drink. A case Farm Nusserwanji Balsara vs State of Bombay. This case as it suggests is against prohibition, and the author provides various facets of this case in detail. Then there is another one filed by butcher which is about economic and religious rights of the citizens. This poses question to the bovine law, banning cow slaughter. This will give the readers an insight into the making of the law and what was the impact of it on the people who works in slaughter houses and whose livelihood was impacted due to this law. Then it talks about a Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act 1956 (known as SITA). It was challenged by a prostitute on the ground that it violates her fundamental right to practice her profession as a prostitute.

How these cases were handled by the courts? what was the outcome of these cases? What legal and constitutional discussions were lead by these cases?  Did these cases force the government and judiciary to make changes in the respective acts? What precedents these cases set for the government and judiciary? These are some of  answers/explanations the book provides.

About the Author

Rohit De is a Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School and an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Yale University. Until 2014 he was a Melon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for History and Economics, University of Cambridge and Harvard University. Rohit’s research focuses on South Asian legal history and comparative constitutional law.

Our Verdict

A must read for everyone who has interest in legal history and politics. Anyone who wants to know more about how the Constitution and judiciary shaped the lives of common people and vice versa.

To get your own copy click on the link below.

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