The School for Democracy (SFD) or Loktantrashala, is a non-formal educational institution dedicated to promoting and deepening democratic education and learning in India. It is conceived as a space that will enable eclectic groups of adult learners from diverse social and educational backgrounds to learn about the theory and practice of a functioning democracy. Loktantrashala is committed to the values enshrined in the Constitution of India, which inspires and frames all our activities. The school aims to develop effective tools and techniques of political education, while engaging actively with the challenges of fashioning a more equal, just and participatory democracy.
The need for a place to learn about democracy has wide and varied connotations. India is diverse, plural and textured. It is also fragmented, divisive and divided – by religion, caste, language, class and gender. Indian democracy encompasses a multiplicity of ideas, structures and beliefs. The challenge to Indian democracy is to keep this pluralism alive, while understanding and promoting the strength of collective political action in the context of a modern Indian Republic.
In several decades of political work in post independence India, it has become clear that there is an urgent need to deepen the citizen’s knowledge and understanding of democratic theory and political institutions. People have been engaged in individual and collective struggles to secure basic guarantees of livelihood and dignity, and are working hard to ensure that democracy becomes an appropriate platform for meeting their aspirations of equality, plurality, and justice. However, the lack of a deeper understanding of the role of ideology, and the nature of the eco-political framework, means that democracy and its institutions can be easily manipulated by some, to undermine the very tenets of democratic practice. It also precludes the potential to use the rights that ordinary citizens have in a democracy, to contribute to a more egalitarian and humane society.
Political illiteracy has made generations of Indian prey to prejudice and deliberate use of divisive ideologies. The polarised nature of our politics has further underscored the need for protecting India’s efforts to ensure pluralism and tolerance. Constitutional guarantees, which attempted to overcome historical disadvantages because of a hierarchical society need to be understood, explained and protected, in an atmosphere that allows a more mature reflection. The idea of a School for Democracy, originated about two decades ago to address some of these issues. The concept goes back to the Danish effort to take electoral democracy to its citizens at the turn of the last century, in what they called Folk Schools. The School for Democracy hopes to contribute to the further expansion of democratic space in India. By nurturing understanding of the linkages between individual need and policy and governance, it hopes to check authoritarian tendencies and trends.
What are the themes that the School for Democracy will deal with?
The School for Democracy will look at democratic education in the context of the constitution and its constituent parts. It will broadly cover political, socio-economic, and cultural aspects of a working democracy. The indicative list and themes will be further defined by learner demands and the curricula will be drawn from this list.
This could include socio, economic, political issues, governance, peoples control over the decision making and establishing accountability. The examination of the political system will not be confined to the electoral system of representative democratic process alone, but also study and understand the non-party political process inherited from pre and post independent India; Gandhi, JP and Vinobha. We will locate current movement politics in the context of these concerns. The role of culture and religion in a secular democracy will also be a central concern.
How will the School for Democracy address these themes?
The School will facilitate three broad groups of learning to begin with
The first will be theoretical learning about varied aspects of democracy.
The second will be collective learning through action followed by reflection. They could be yatras, dharnas, protests, etc, which take current political concerns as the base for the same themes which are detailed in one above.
The third will be the organizing of specialized groups to look at specified issues of concern, like for example wages being looked at by a “People’s pay Commission” etc.