Democracy in AthensThe earliest democracy in the world began inAthens, Greece, in 510 BC. Initially, Athens was amonarchy. Later, soldiers handpicked a new leaderand put him in power. The leader would do whatwas best for himself and the soldiers. This system,which is known as a tyranny,was quite often unjustand oppressive. Athens
By 800 BC, another form of government wasestablished in Athens. It was the rule by a fewrich and powerful families, and this system,known as an oligarchy, was not fair either. TheAthenians decided that they wanted a just andfair means ofgovernment,and so,democracy wasborn. Oligarch
In Athens, democracy meant that theadministration was in the hands of the manyand not the few, with equal justice given toall. Each year, 500 names were drawn from allthe citizens of Athens. Those 500 citizens hadto serve for oneyear as thelaw makersof ancientAthens.
All the citizens of Athens were required tovote on any new law that this body of 500citizens created. Each man had one vote, andthe majority ruled. However, women, childrenand slaves were not citizens, and thus, couldnot vote.
Direct DemocracyDirect democracy is a form of government inwhich the citizens make policies and lawsthemselves. All citizens are required to voteon any new law. This was the system followedin ancient Athens.
Need for the Transition from DirectDemocracy to Indirect DemocracyIn a state, especially one having highpopulation, it is not possible for each andevery citizen to get involved in this law makingprocess each time. The process would becomevery time consuming and hence governancewill become inefficient.So it became necessary to elect somerepresentatives which can take care of theissues citizens.
Indirect DemocracyIndirect democracy is a form of government inwhich the citizens elect representatives to makelaws and policies on their behalf, but the ultimatepower lies with the citizens. Elections are heldafter a fixed number of years to elect therepresentatives.Most of the democracies in the world todayfollow indirect democracy.However, when the opinion of all the citizens isrequired for some key issue, a referendum isheld.
ReferendumA direct vote in which an entire electorate isasked to either accept or reject a particularproposal is known as a referendum. This may bethe adoption of a new constitution, a law or aspecific governmental policy.For example, in 1975, a referendum, the first ofits kind, was held asking the electorate whetherBritain should be part of the Common Market.
In other words, though democratic nationsare now adopting indirect democracy to bemore efficient in providing effectivegovernance, direct democracy in form ofreferendum is used to get the opinion of allcitizens as and when required.
American Revolution The American Revolution (1775-1783) was the struggle of thirteen American colonies against Great Britain which laid the foundation of the largest democracy in the world today. Its major causes were:1- The Stamp Act (1765): It was the first serious attempt to assert British authority over the thirteen American colonies by granting and applying certain stamp duties in the British occupied colonies.
2- The Townshend Acts: The Townshend Acts were a series of acts passed in January 1767, by the British Parliament. The sole purpose of these acts was to raise the revenue in American colonies and establish the precedent that the British Parliament had the right to tax them. The Townshend Acts met with a huge resistance from the colonies, thus prompting the occupation of Boston, by British troops in 1768.
3- The Tea Act and the Boston Tea Party: The Boston Tea Party was an outcome of the Tea Act imposed by British Parliament to restore the East India Companys full refund on the 25% duty imposed for importing tea into Britain. It also permitted the company to export tea to the American colonies on its own account and led to a number of protests from the colonies. On December 16, 1773, a group of colonists boarded the three shiploads of taxed tea in Boston and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The event became famously known as the Boston Tea Party.
This Revolution led to the end of British rule inthe thirteen American colonies. They declaredindependence and established a democraticform of government. There was a division ofpower within the government between thelegislative, executive and judiciary. TheAmerican constitution was documented and itguaranteed individual rights to its citizens.This model of governance was later adoptedby many countries of the world.
French Revolution The French Revolution (1787-1799) is an example of a country which was ruled monarchs for centuries. The oppressed public finally revolted and adopted democracy. The three major causes of this revolution are:1- Social cause: The French society was divided into three estates , the first two consisted of clergy and nobility respectively and the third estate consisted of merchants, businessmen, lawyers and peasants. The third estate was exploited by the other two estates who enjoyed many privileges, such as not paying taxes.
2- Economic cause: The third estate had to pay all the taxes imposed by the king as the other estates were exempted from it. The prices of bread rose which was the main staple diet of the people and there was subsistence crisis.3- Immediate cause: Rumors spread that the king will order his troops to attack Paris (as the people were revolting), therefore, 4000 - 5000 people gathered and formed peoples militia.
The French Revolution led to the end ofmonarchy in France. The society was nolonger based on privileges. The declaration ofthe Rights of Man brought about the idea ofequality and freedom to France and ademocratic form of government inspired bythe American Revolution was established.
Russian RevolutionThe Russian Revolution is another example where the exploited working class revolted against the rulers are brought in a democratic system in their country. This revolution started due to three major factors:1- The Czar Nicholas II was an absolute ruler who was not trained to be Czar (ruler). When there was a friendly protest by the common people in 1905, his subordinates had the army shoot them all. He resisted the creation of a representative government made from the aristocracy, angering them as well.
2- The industrial revolution did not come to Russia as soon as it came to other countries and there was no economic development. There was an emergence of the middle class. The rich landowners profited by renting the land to the peasants and demanding for high interests. So the peasants and labourers were exploited.
3- Russia was at war with Germany due to a treaty they had signed to protect the Serbians. Many Russian soldiers were killed and the military began deserting and returning to Russia. The revolution arose from all these groups. The communists, called the Bolsheviks were a part of the revolution.
All this led to the coming of socialism inRussia, and forced Tsar Nicholas II to give uppower. The Bolsheviks took power andfounded the Soviet Union, with Lenin as theleader.
Democracy: Most Desirable Form of Government There are many factors why more and more nations are now preferring democractic form of government. The factors which contribute in making democracy the most favourable form of government are:• Democracy is a more accountable form of government• The government works for the welfare of the majority• Fundamental rights are guaranteed to each and every citizen
• Government is responsible to the people• Government is elected by the people• Democracy ensures liberty and equality• Government is usually stable• Democracy improves the quality of decision making• Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts• Democracy guarantees freedom to all citizens
Democracy: Political, Social and Economic DimensionsIn order to be a democracy, a State mustensure political, social and economic equality.
Political EqualityPolitical equality refers to granting equalcitizenship to all members of the state. Equalcitizenship brings with it certain basic rightssuch as the right to vote, freedom ofexpression, movement and association andfreedom of belief. These rights are necessaryto enable citizens to develop themselves andparticipate in the affairs of the state.
Social EqualitySocial equality ensures that each citizen getsequal opportunities, irrespective of caste,gender, religion etc. For this, it is necessary tominimize the effects of social and economicinequalities and guarantee certain minimumconditions of life to all the citizens, such asadequate health care, opportunity for propereducation, adequate nourishment and aminimum wage.
Economic EqualityEconomic inequality exists in a society if there are significant differences in wealth, property or income between individuals or classes. Most democracies try to make equal opportunities available to people with the belief that this would give those who have talent and determination the chance to improve their condition. This would reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.
Case Study: India
Why did India Choose to be a Democracy?The long experience of authoritarian ruleunder the colonial state convinced Indiansthat free India should be a democracy inwhich everyone should be treated equally andbe allowed to participate in government. Theyshould not be forced to obey rules/laws thatthey have very little role in making.
Key Concerns while Adopting a Democratic form of GovernmentIndia is a nation where people from variouscultures and religions reside. They havedifferent lifestyles and speak differentlanguages. Thus the constitution had to beformed in such a way that there is unityamong all citizens, and each citizen isrepresented, with no discriminationwhatsoever.
Key Features of the Indian Democracy1- Federalism – This refers to the existence of more than one level of government in the country. In India, we have governments at the local level, state level and at the centre. This is done so that issues of local, state and national level can be countered and the needs of the people of various regions are looked after.
2- Parliamentary Form of Government – People in India have a direct role in electing representatives. Elections are based on Universal Adult Franchise, i.e. every citizen of India above the age of 18 has the right to vote, irrespective of caste, gender, religion etc.
3- Separation of Powers – According to the Constitution, there are three levels of state. These are the legislature (law makers), the executive (those who implement the laws) and the judiciary (system of courts). In order to prevent the misuse of power by one branch of the State, each organ exercises different powers. Thus each organ acts as a check on the other organs of the State, ensuring the balance of power between all three.
4- Fundamental Rights – They are the rights given to each and every citizen of India which help to protect citizens from the arbitrary and absolute exercise of power by the State or other citizens.
5- Secularism – This ensures that India does not officially promote any one religion as the State religion. This helps in avoiding discrimination on the basis of religion. However, India intervenes in religious matters in order to end a social practice that violates the fundamental rights of citizens such as untouchability, unequal distribution of inherited property between sons and daughters, child marriage etc.