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Democracy isn't just a concept but a living, breathing dialogue that shapes our society

By Niharika Negi* 

"Democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for the people" – a phrase that once held little meaning for me, until I embarked on a transformative five-day workshop at the School of Politics. This immersive experience, hosted by Dialogues on Democracy and Development in collaboration with Azim Premji University and the Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC) in Bangalore, redefined my perspectives on democracy, development, the role of the state, and my responsibility as a citizen.
At the heart of this enlightening workshop was Dialogues on Democracy and Development, a visionary group founded by Anjor Bhaskar and Sushant Kumar. Their mission is to foster discussions around the foundational values of democracy, recognizing that diverse interpretations and applications of these values often lead to conflicts and polarization. With a focus on principles like Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Democracy, Environment, and Sustainability, the group aims to equip participants with a deep understanding of the Indian constitution, its preamble, democratic principles, and their implications for addressing developmental challenges, both locally and globally.
The inaugural address, delivered by Father Dr. Sham P. Thomas, ECC's Director, set the tone for the workshop. He elaborated on the School of Politics' vision and its commitment to nurturing constitutional literacy. Father Thomas emphasized humanity's inherent unity that transcends divisions, advocating for an acceptance of diversity while maintaining the essential unity of all individuals. P.S.S. Thomas, in his keynote address, shed light on the Constitution's significance and highlighted the work of the 'Constitutional Conduct Group,' which promotes democratic ideals. His words underscored the importance of upholding human rights within a liberal democratic framework.
As a 19-year-old economics undergraduate, I felt slightly overwhelmed among older, more experienced participants. However, any trepidation dissolved as the workshop commenced. The facilitators created an inclusive environment that encouraged active engagement, dispelling my initial apprehensions. Rather than passive listeners, we became active contributors, sharing ideas and experiences that showcased the essence of democratic dialogue. The traditional lecture format gave way to dynamic discussions, revealing democracy's true spirit.
Before attending, my understanding of democracy centered on voting rights. Through a thoughtful activity led by Indira Belde, a Core Working Group Member of the Bengaluru Navanirmana Party, I delved into the intricate processes and challenges of Indian elections. Participants' diverse perspectives illuminated the complexities of our polity, expanding my comprehension beyond the surface.
Sandeep Anirudhan's session traced democracy's evolution, invoking Mahatma Gandhi's "The Hind Swaraj" to foster critical reflections on our political system. This exploration extended beyond the workshop as many of us delved further into the book's ideas.
Sessions on liberty, fraternity, and equality, led by Sushant Kumar, highlighted the nuanced aspects of these principles. We understood the crucial difference between Substantive and Formal Equality - a difference that is extremely critical to understand but is understood by very few. The concept of substantive equality, which acknowledges the struggles of the marginalized, resonated with me. We explored economic inequality's role in shaping social injustice, recognizing the intricate connections between societal dynamics and justice.
The session on fraternity introduced me to the concept of social endosmosis, emphasizing the positive impact of inter-community interactions. We learnt about the fascinating “harm principle” in the session on “Liberty”: a principle that underscores individual freedom within limits that prevent harm to others. Throughout the workshop, these principles found expression in our respectful and open exchanges of ideas.
Diving into India's development landscape, we delved into topics like Health and Nutrition, Gender, Tribal Rights, and Environment & Sustainability. Discussions unveiled the often-overlooked challenges that society faces.
The concept of speciesism left a lasting impression, prompting us to reconsider the unequal treatment and discrimination against various species. A thought-provoking documentary called "A Prayer for Compassion," was shown to us. The film raised awareness about animal agriculture and its ethical implications. The film was followed by a discussion facilitated by Krish Kurva who stressed the value of traditional foods and promoted a compassionate lifestyle. He spoke about the need to give voice to the voiceless including both plants and animals. He mentioned how individual actions could instigate significant change by giving the reference to the Khadi movement. I was moved by the movie and the discussion and was impressed by how Krish had changed his lifestyle to ensure he lived a non-violent existence. The discussions around the documentary sparked intense conversions beyond the learning room.
Dr. Sarasu Esther Thomas spotlighted lingering gender disparities in public and private spheres. She also unveiled the impact of patriarchy on women's lives. Her emphasis on increased female representation in parliament for better decision-making resonated with me.
Have you ever considered social media's impact on our lives? We spend countless hours in its fascinating realms, but have we ever paused to think about its consequences? Sukirti Pant, the Creative Director of Programmes at "Via News Didi," conducted an eye-opening session on the impact of social media on our thoughts and behavior. She spoke about the dangers of fake news, which floods our feeds and how it can threaten the foundations of our democracy. Through participatory activities we learnt how misleading news is spread through social media and how we can engage in fact-checking to prevent the spread of fake news. As participants we learned a valuable lesson: never rely on spectacular, eye-catching headlines but look beyond the headlines.
This intense, five day experience left me profoundly transformed. I strengthened both my theoretical and practical grasp of Indian democracy. Experts guided us through diverse subjects, from health to environmental sustainability, youth leadership, and democratic challenges. The facilitators imparted knowledge, tools, and networks, nurturing our potential as agents of change. Most importantly, I saw how respectful, substantive dialogue provides a model for engaged citizenship. 
Our conversations reaffirmed that democracy fosters participation and it also depends upon people’s participation. Armed with fresh perspectives, we left with a renewed commitment to democratic values and driving positive transformation in our spheres of influence. The workshop proved that democracy isn't just a concept but a living, breathing dialogue that shapes our society's present and future. I emerged with renewed motivation to promote informed dialogues around constitutional values in my community.
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*B.A.Economics 2nd Year Student,  Azim Premji University

Comments

Anjor said…
Such beautiful writing Niharika. I feel sad for having missed out on the learning and excitement. Keep it up.
Anonymous said…
Well written Niharika. I wish I had attended this fascinating workshop.
Very well written Niharika
Anonymous said…
Well done Niharika!!! Proud of you.
Anonymous said…
Well done!! Dii
Anonymous said…
Its beautifully laid out.
Anonymous said…
Very well researched and written. Great job.
Hehe said…
You have a way with words, put very clearly. All the best for your future.

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