7 PM Editorial |Does India have a culture of Rule of Law?| 2nd July 2020

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Does India have a culture of Rule of Law?


Global Rule of law Index,2020 (carried out by the World Justice Project) ranks India at 69 out of 128 countries.

India ranks high on factors such as constraint on government powers by legislature and judiciary; open government; due process in administrative procedure; and civil and criminal justice systems free of improper governmental influence.

But rank is poor in indicators of discrimination-free civil justice system, impartiality in the criminal system, respect of fundamental rights, equal treatment and absence of discrimination, government officials in police and military not using public office for private gain and people not resorting to violence to redress personal grievances. Nepal and Sri Lanka ranks better than India in these parameters.

This shows how India has good structure for rule of law but poor culture of rule of law. Let us understand rule of law, culture of rule of law and evaluate it in Indian context.

Rule of law:

Living in a society, we subscribe to a set of laws with the understanding that these laws are for universal benefit – for an orderly and secure life. We accept these rules despite intrusions into what would otherwise be our absolute rights or liberties.

Rule of law is a principle in governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.

It has following characteristics:

  1. Supremacy of law
  2. Equality before the law
  3. Accountability to the law
  4. Fairness in the application of the law
  5. Separation of powers
  6. Participation in decision-making

In India’s legal system, we have all these characteristics. Indian constitution provides for separation of powers, equality before law(Article 14); constraints on government through laws and fundamental rights along with an independent judiciary to enforce them(accountability). Hence India has rule of law.

But in a society, social norms largely shape and govern daily existence; legal norms may be largely irrelevant to social conduct. Hence if cultural norms do not inculcate rule of law as a value, laws will be ineffective. Dowry prohibition acts are an example of this.

Culture of rule of law:

It is a shared ideal where most members of a society, believe in, respect, and generally abide by the agreed-on laws. This makes rule of law resilient where any flouting of laws a temporary phenomena rather than common day occurrence. This culture has civic participation at its heart. All sections of people participate in law making and follow these laws.

In case of unacceptable laws, social outcries, protests, civil disobedience etc ensure that there is peaceful resolution of grievances. Even in these peaceful protests, underlying belief is that laws should be just and fair. Gandhiji’s Satyagraha was an example of this where the Rowlatt act was opposed.

In Indian context, inculcating this culture of rule of law has been a challenge at all levels of society and institutions. Following incidents and daily life experiences support this view:

  1. During COVID crisis, flouting of social distancing norms by political leaders and legislators for rallies and marriages is an example.
  2. Custodial deaths in Thoothukudi and encounter killing in DISHA case of Hyderabad.
  3. Impartiality of ECI – Election commission of India came under scanner during 2019 general elections.
  4. Families and societies still follow dowry practices, gender selective abortions despite banning them
  5. Delhi riots saw destruction of public property
  6. Individuals flout basic laws like not skipping queues, not jumping red lights, not riding motor vehicles on footpaths, not littering in public places

Such incidents reinforce perceptions like “Everyone does it(corruption, flouting laws etc)”, “Chaltai hai” and “law is not applicable for influential and privileged”. This leads to loss of public trust and leads to fear of state. In countries with high diversity like India, this is aggravated and leads to problems like Naxalism, Communalism, Regionalism.

In contrast, in countries like JAPAN, cultural norms inculcate respect for law and adherence of law even if one disagrees. This has translated into people waiting at traffic lights and no wrong direction driving etc.

Inculcating culture of rule of law in India:

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A nation’s culture resides in hearts and in the soul of its people”. Hence active participation of all sections of society is crucial in engendering a culture of rule of law. This culture must be socialized into people right from childhood.

Such socialization needs:

  1. Leading by example: People with power i.e political leaders and public servants must adhere to laws.
  2. Impartial, integral and accountable institutions: Institutions must penalize individuals flouting laws and uphold public service values.
  3. Value formation since childhood:
    1. Parents and teachers who influence value formation must set right examples in following laws
    2. Constitutional values like justice, liberty, fraternity, Fraternity must be inculcated
    3. Fundamental duties(Part IVA) need to be aided by

Only through such deeply ingrained culture of rule of law can we achieve true progress, unhindered by those who would flout the law.


Every individual must inculcate culture of rule of law by understanding that adherence to laws leads to greater self and societal interest. Everyone benefits when you follow the laws, and that you benefit when everyone follows the laws must be the guiding principle. As Gandhiji says – “”Be the change you want to see in this world“.

Source: www.livelaw.in

Mains Question:
  1. What is the rule of law? Does India have Rule of law both in letter and spirit? How can we inculcate a spirit of rule of law in India? [15 marks, 250 words]
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