It is for citizens to transform the Constitution: Justice Chandrachud

OUR CONSTITUTIONAL culture does not maintain itself and it is for citizens to transform the Constitution, Supreme Court judge D Y Chandrachud said on Sunday.

“Our constitutional culture does not maintain itself. It is for each one of us citizens to participate in the slow but vital task everyday of transforming our Constitution from a charter of ideals to a reflection of reality,” he said in his address at the 11th Convocation Ceremony of the OP Jindal Global University in Delhi.

“When Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman accosted him and asked him about the type of government the Constitutional Convention had deliberated upon. He replied: ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’ His reply is prescient for all of us in India today,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud, who is in line to take over the office of the Chief Justice of India in November this year, said it is not just the responsibility of government and the judiciary to promote social democracy and social justice.

“The judiciary has a greater role to play in promoting social democracy. However, the quest for a constitutional culture is not limited to the courtroom or black letter of the law,” he said.

Invoking Dr B R Ambedkar, the judge described social democracy as a way of life that recognizes social liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life.

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“Independence Day should not become another ritualistic celebration of our freedom struggle, rather it should become a site for critical introspection of our progress in fulfilling the values in Constitution which our Constitution makers – both women and men – aspired to achieve,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud also referred to his own recent judgment in July allowing unmarried woman the right to terminate her pregnancy beyond the 20-week timeline in law on the grounds that her relationship status changed. “But what really bothers me is this. In this case, the petitioner had access to effective legal representation to scale the legal and social barriers. But think about many such women across India who find themselves in similar situations in access to aid-social or legal. This highlights that although women may have access to material choices, the exercise of such choices is dependent upon material preconditions,” he said.

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