In a democracy, the rulers are not free to do what they like. There are certain basic rules that the citizens and the government have to follow. All such rules together are called constitutions. As the supreme law of the country, the constitution determines the rights of citizens, the powers of the government, and how the government should function.
In this topic we ask some basic questions about the constitutional design of a democracy.
- Why do we need a constitution?
- How are the constitutions drawn up?
- Who designs them and in what way?
- What are the values that shape the constitutions in democratic states?
Once a constitution is accepted, can we make changes later as required by the changing conditions?
One recent instance of designing constitution for a democratic state is that of the South Africa. We begin this chapter by looking at what happened there and how the South Africans went about this task of designing their constitution. Then we turn to how the Indian Constitution was made, what its foundational values are, and how it provides a good framework for the conduct of citizens’ life and that of the government.
Democratic Constitution in South Africa:
“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
“This was Nelson Mandela, being tried for treason by the white South African government. He and seven other leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for daring to oppose the apartheid regime in his country. He spent the next 28 years in South Africa’s most dreaded prison, Robben Island.
Struggle against apartheid
Apartheid was the name of a system of racial discrimination unique to South Africa. The white Europeans imposed this system on South Africa. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the trading companies from Europe occupied it with arms and force, in the way they occupied India. But unlike India, a large number of whites’ had settled in South Africa and became the local rulers.
The system of apartheid divided the people and labeled them on the basis of their skin colour. The native people of South Africa are black in colour. They made up about three – fourth of the population and were called ‘blacks’. Besides these two groups, there were people of mixed races who were called “colored” and people who migrated from India. The white rulers treated all non-whites as inferiors. The non – whites did not have voting rights.
The apartheid system was particularly oppressive for the blacks. They were forbidden from living in white areas. They could work in white areas only if they had a permit. Trains, buses, taxis, hotels, hospitals, schools and colleges, libraries, cinema halls, theaters, beaches, swimming pools, public toilets, were all separate for the whites and blacks. This was called segregation. They could not even visit the churches where the whites worshipped. Blacks could not form associations or protest against the terrible treatment.
Since 1950, the blacks, colored and Indians fought against the apartheid system. They launched protest marches and strikes. The African National Congress (ANC) was the umbrella organisation that led the struggle against the policies of segregation. This included many workers’ unions and the Communist Party. Many sensitive whites also joined the ANC to oppose apartheid and played a leading role in this struggle. Several countries denounced apartheid as unjust and racist. But the white racist govern- ment continued to rule by detaining, torturing and killing thousands of black and coloured people.