Tools of Justice: Non‐discrimination and the Indian Constitution. By Kalpana Kannabiran. New Delhi: Routledge, 2012. 505 pp. Rs 995, $105.00 cloth.

Date01 September 2014
Published date01 September 2014
Book Reviews
Jinee Lokaneeta, Editor
Tools of Justice: Non-discrimination and the Indian Constitution.By
Kalpana Kannabiran. New Delhi: Routledge, 2012. 505 pp. Rs
995, $105.00 cloth.
Reviewed by Rohit De, Department of History, Yale University
The Indian Constitution promulgated in 1950 created, in the words
of its chief draftsman Dr Ambedkar, a “life of contradictions”. It
ushered in universal adult suffrage and a judicially enforced bill of
rights to a population that was marked by stark inequalities of caste,
gender,religion, and class. The constitutional values were not part of
the lived experience of most of the people. The liberal republican
document perched uneasily upon an administrative structure—the
police, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, and the army—that retained
both the practices and personnel of the colonial state. The activist
and the relatively autonomous Supreme Court reflects this tension
through its dramatically divergent readings of the constitution, for
instance, recognizing the rights of transgendered people while
upholding colonial legislation criminalizing sodomy.
Kalpana Kannabiran lays out a radically new approach to con-
stitutional interpretation by making nondiscrimination the central
organizing concept. Arguing that the fundamental rights cannot be
disaggregated, she demonstrates how Article 21 (guaranteeing life
and liberty), Article 14 (guaranteeing equality before law), and
Article 19 (listing the freedoms of expression, association, and
movement) are intrinsically connected to Article 15 which prohibits
the discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place
of birth. In doing so, she seeks to “sustain and develop” the creative
articulations of constitutional morality and limit the possibility of
reductionist readings of rights.
This is a strategic move as Indian courts have been receptive to
intertextual readings centering on Article 21, the right to personal
life and liberty. In 1978, the Supreme Court had imported the
requirement of due process into any law that limited the right to life
and personal liberty holding that “no fundamental right is an island
in itself ” (Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978). The Supreme
Court has also successfully amplified the right to life and liberty
Law & Society Review, Volume 48, Number 3 (2014)
© 2014 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.

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