What might have been the first Democracy Cafe to be held in India took place on Friday 20 November via Zoom with postgraduate students at Sardar Patel University in Anand, Gujarat. Twenty four students and their teacher chose to debate the question:
“Why are there no strict laws against rape in India?”
The topic was chosen because of some high profile rape cases in India in recent months. There was a feeling amongst some participants that justice was not completely done in capturing and punishing the perpetrators. It was suggested that victims of rape are too often stigmatised and that this prevents many women from coming forward to make allegations.
Some felt that it was not a matter of the law being too lax, but more of a cultural issue with a view prevalent in Indian society that rape of women is not a crime. One participant felt that there was a need to raise awareness of the law amongst the general population. Another view was that it went beyond awareness to education and that people need to be more educated to make more responsible decisions.
The conversation drifted from education to democracy and the need for education to enhance democracy, so that people are more informed when they cast their vote for a candidate. One student asked the question whether our vote matters. In the UK, where our voting system is first past the post, there are a lot of wasted votes. India has a more proportional electoral system with a list of candidates, so votes are less likely to be wasted. There was some discussion over the option to vote for “none of the above”.
Finally, we considered whether deliberative democracy in the form of Citizens’ Assemblies might work in Indian society. Some students felt that they would not work because of the lack of general education and the diversity of castes and ethnic groups. It was pointed out that the Indian system of representative democracy was devised to try to achieve a cross section of Indian society.
We had demonstrated that Democracy Cafés can work.