The recent pronouncement by the Supreme Court in Rajbala v. State of Haryana, upholding the validity of a law placing restrictions on electoral representation at the grass-roots level, on conditions such as a formal education, sanitation, having no arrears, was met with much scepticism from many, myself included. Assumptions made, both on account of estimation of disenfranchisement as a consequence of the legislation, and the very rationale for such disenfranchisement poses grave socio economic concerns to the affected, and by consequence and precedent, a large part of rural India. The court seems to have dismissed the fact that educational and social condition and financial capability are a result of structural inequality.

The Court held while the amendment created a separate class of people, that the creation of such a class had the rational nexus to the objective of an ‘effective’ Panchayat candidacy; While potential disenfranchisement was acknowledged, it was held that the State was empowered and Constitutionally valid in making such a distinction. In making such an argument, it has been contended that the Court has been erroneous in its misreading of the powers of the State, clashes with the RTE, is in clash with precedent upholding of the importance of the right to contest in a ‘deliberative democracy’. While the Constitutional validity can be debated, the socio-economic ramifications need be highlighted; namely the double standards that result in a cyclic entrenchment and ignorance of the structural inequality present.

It is to be noted that in a federal decentralised administrative setup, Panchayati representatives are not just enforcers, but also decision makers. Familiarity to key realities are not something that only education can give to, as the Apex Courts contends. In various districts, uneducated members have been re-elected, on mandates of reduction of female foeticide, gambling, and alcohol addiction. However, this judgement results in over two thirds of SC men and four fifths of SC women from participating. In posts reserved for women, this results in no candidates being able to contest, thereby forcing drastic practices such as polygamy to field eligible candidates. The point of lack of education being a factor of disqualification, at the village level, thus seems moot; and ironic when central electoral representation does not have such standards.

In addition, notions of punishment for being illiterate, make the creation of further classed interests, and create double inequity; and the consequent disenfranchisement leads to the cyclic entrenchment of such inequity. The rationale for such barriers also seem to have the effect of increase in marital rates and polygamy, in lieu of female education; thereby enforcing the argument of a lack of choice in being illiterate. Even in the outlandish claims of sanitation and arrears being relevant to electoral representation, the Court ‘disregards poverty’ and blames it on a lack of will of the citizens; thereby assuming that the only hurdle to an increased standard of living is a lack of Gandhian action to goals, rather than systemic inequality.

While the actions of the legislature, and the judiciary in its validation of the same, ensure entrenched poverty by preventing effective representation on grounds of access to selective metrics, it also has other ramifications. In the lack of this recognition of inequity and commenting on its redressal, arises passing the buck onto the hands of the contestants themselves. The legislation, actively, and the SC, tacitly, does not rap anyone’s knuckle about the lack of practical fulfilment of theoretical institutional support to poverty alleviation. Taking in good faith, the ‘wisdom’ with which the State of Haryana came up with this legislation for effective legislation, there seems to be a transfer of burden on the contestants for the ‘lacking’ of various means of qualificatory access.

The turn of events is representative of a larger breadth of an issue; that of the failure of the Constitutional (sadly theoretical) duty of the Government to provide such access to resources. Fundamentally, the status quo of this disparity is only neglected, people who are divergent from the mean, are ignored, and this judgement plays a facilitating role in the same. If the court refuses to even acknowledge such structural inequality, then regardless of the development of average utility in the Economic Utilitarian sense, then the practical fulfilment of positive institutional actions, and the justification of the capability approach is lost.

Disregarding constitutional validity for a moment, blanket claims as to the relevance of selective metrics, and an impositional double standard do not look at the divergent as the Kantian end in themselves. The judiciary, in allowing the lack of institutional support for poverty alleviation and social mobility, to be spun into idealistic standards of qualification for grassroots representation, has denied means and opportunity for growth and negated potential conversion capabilities of a latent pool of untapped intellect; it is a judgement that is from many lenses, carelessly and incorrectly decided.

(The writer is a student at NALSAR, Hyderabad. This article appears in Young Citizen as an Opinion piece).