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Legal system has often played ‘Pivotal Role’ in perpetuating ‘Historical Wrongs’: CJI Chandrachud

By Muslim Mirror Staff

Chief Justice of India, D Y Chandrachud, delivered a thought-provoking keynote address at the Sixth International Conference on the Unfinished Legacy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, held at Brandeis University. In his address, titled “Reformation Beyond Representation: The Social Life of the Constitution in Remedying Historical Wrongs,” Chandrachud acknowledged the legal system’s pivotal role in perpetuating historical injustices against marginalized social groups.

He said that throughout history, marginalized communities across the globe have suffered from egregious wrongs stemming from prejudice, discrimination, and unequal power dynamics. Chandrachud drew attention to instances such as the transatlantic slave trade, Native American displacement, caste inequalities in India, and the oppression of indigenous Adivasi communities. He remarked that “the annals of history are stained” with instances of profound injustice.

Chandrachud pointed out that, unfortunately, the legal system has often played a key role in sustaining these historical injustices. He drew parallels between the United States and India, noting that both countries had legal systems that sanctioned slavery and denied voting rights to oppressed communities for extended periods.

The lasting legacy of these discriminatory laws persists, even after their repeal, creating a societal structure that normalizes injustice. Chandrachud emphasized how this normalcy can lead to the alienation of these communities, making them the “other” in society, which in turn can lead to violence and exclusion.

The conference, themed “Law, Caste, and The Pursuit of Justice,” was presented by The Center for Global Development and Sustainability at Brandeis University. Chandrachud underlined the importance of affirmative action policies in India, which provide opportunities for education, employment, and representation to oppressed social groups, combating deeply entrenched inequalities.

Chandrachud concluded that “Reformation beyond representation” is essential, ensuring that marginalized communities not only have a seat at the table but also have a meaningful voice in decision-making processes. He cautioned against conflating representation with diversity, as the latter can sometimes lead to tokenism rather than genuine inclusion.

He also addressed gender-based discrimination and violence, which persist despite constitutional guarantees of gender equality. Likewise, caste-based discrimination continues to plague India, with incidents of violence against protected communities on the rise. Chandrachud urged the rejection of binary narratives that suggest affirmative action has solved all structural issues of discrimination.

In his closing remarks, Chandrachud highlighted the distinction between negative and positive forms of liberty and the ongoing debate over affirmative action’s compatibility with the concept of colourblind equality.

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