The School for Democracy (SFD) or Loktantrashala, is 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 inspire and frame all our activities. The school aims to develop effective tools and techniques of democratic education, while engaging actively with the challenges of fashioning a more equal, just and participatory democracy.

The context

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 reigion, 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 democratic 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. Through those engagements they have evolved platforms for democratic understanding of the people’s aspirations for equality, plurality and justice. It is in this context that there is an expressed need to understand the role of electoral politics and democratic institutions. It also underscores the potential of people to contribute to a more egalitarian and humane society.

Political illiteracy not just among the poor Indian but also the literate is a matter of great concern. The School for Democracy addresses these concerns in very specific ways keeping in mind the context of the learner and the issues to be addressed. The School for Democracy hopes to contribute to the further expansion of democratic space in India.

The School for Democracy/Loktantrashala has grown out of the experience and learning of people’s socio-economic political mobilisation in rural Rajasthan, during the 1980s and 90s. These movements have enabled ordinary citizens to assert their rights, and use democratic spaces to  acess constitutional guarantees; including workers’ and women’s rights, the right to information, the right to work. This collective experience has demonstrated that working people often develop a sharp understanding of participatory democracy through collective political action. They however do need systematic time to reflect and inform themselves about the larger constitutional and democratic framework.

It became clear that a dedicated space for collective reflection was imperative to facilitate learning. The idea of an instituition took shape and the School for Democracy was registered with Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Chunni Singh, Lal Singh, Shankar Singh and Sushila, by being the first members of the executive, under the Rajasthan Societies Registration Act, 1958.

The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatn transferred its land of about 4 bighas at Badi Ka Badia, Bhilwara, Rajasthan to the School For Democracy, Arundhati Roy provided a corpus of about 20 lakhs to help translate the concept into practice.