A People’s Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic

In This Review

A People’s Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic
By Rohit De
Princeton University Press, 2018
312 pp.

“All sorts of people,” an Indian official complained soon after independence, have been taking cases to the Supreme Court, “citing provisions . . . relating to what are termed fundamental rights.” This book recounts how the Indian Constitution—a foreign-inflected document written in English—worked its way into the consciousness of ordinary Indians, generating a stream of litigation even more robust than that based on the U.S. Constitution. Religious minorities, members of lower castes, and others pushed to protect their traditional rights. The court blocked the government when it tried to prohibit alcohol, modified the government’s ban on cow slaughter, allowed it to take certain measures but not others to control commodity prices, and used procedural grounds to side-step a challenge to the government’s suppression of prostitution. In telling these stories, De illuminates a diverse, litigious society seeking to solve issues through its laws. The Supreme Court remains one of India’s most powerful institutions, implementing a constitution that places heavy emphasis on citizens’ rights.

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