Rights and Responsibilities

Citizenship has always been about rights and responsibilities. When kings and Rajas were sovereign they had all the responsibilities, in theory anyway, and they had all the rights as well. The modern nation state is a descendant of the sovereign king; unsurprisingly, it holds most of the responsibilities and in return demands our allegiance.

Calls for greater citizen rights are inevitable now that the state doesn’t have the immense information and material asymmetries that it did in an earlier era. But instead of demanding greater rights, what if citizens unilaterally started taking on more responsibilities? The British thought that Indians weren’t fit to rule themselves, which we now believe to be a rationalization of their own desire to colonize and rule. The Indian independence movement had to spend time convincing other Indians — and to a lesser extent the British rulers — that they were fit for Swaraj.

The Indian state still believes it is “Sarkar,” a sovereign power that sits on top of all of us. If citizens started solving problems on their own, wouldn’t that be proof by demonstration that the state needs to share more power with citizens? Demands for Swaraj must be accompanied by public problem solving.

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