On November 26, 1950 the Constituent Assembly of India adopted the constitution. Since 2015 the BJP government marks this day as Constitution day or Samvidhan Divas. Last year, just before the parliament was to pass a law legitimising religion as criteria for citizenship in India, the Samvidhan Divas was celebrated in the Central Hall of Parliament addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Kovind and the Lok Sabha speaker. Various departments of the central and state governments marked the day by reading the preamble of the constitution, including the Delhi police.
It is ironic that a regime that can be seen as completely overturning the principles of the constitution starts a campaign to spread the values of the constitution. In the current times, we are witnessing an erosion of the basic structure of the constitution — secularism, equality, right to free speech, right to life and liberty on an everyday basis.
A major aspect of “celebrating” the constitution day has been reminding people about constitutional values and fundamental duties. Reading of preamble has been encouraged in government offices, schools and colleges. However, merely reading a document written 70 years ago is not enough to appreciate its value, we need to understand the preamble in the present context.
How can we read the preamble in the present context?
“We the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a..”
As we read the first line of the preamble and recall several incidents of the recent past and the immediate present, we are left with no choice but to ask, who does this “we” include? Are we moving towards a restricted view of the word “we”? Does it include all those millions in Assam whose citizenship is being doubted? Does it include the migrant workers who had to walk home in harsh summer as they were left without food, shelter and work?
SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure all its citizens:
Can a country making detention centres to keep doubtful citizens, be called secular? A regime that has to impose its decisions by keeping the entire population of a state at gunpoint and shutting all means of communication is far from a democratic republic and extremely insecure of its sovereign authority.
In the last few years democractic processes and civil liberties in India have been thwarted in various ways by the government. India’s rank in the World Democracy Index 2019 dropped ten places to 51st position, the overall score dropped from 7.23 in 2018 to 6.9 in 2019. Similarly, A report released by Reporters without Borders (RSF), shows that India’s rank in the Press Freedom Index has seen a drop since 2013.
While the report on democracy index mentions abrogation of article 370 and article 35 A, the introduction of National Register Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act, the report by RSF attributes the drop in India’s rank to police violence and criminal cases against journalists and internet shutdown in Kashmir. India has become one the first “democracies” to have the longest of internet shutdowns in the world. Even today, a year and half after the abrogation of article 370 and in the middle of a pandemic, Kashmiris have access to only 2g internet speed and the laws that govern their lives are being made absolutely without their consent or participation.
JUSTICE, social, economic and political
LIBERTY, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship
Where is justice when perpetrators in lynching and rape cases are defended owing to their upper caste identities and the family of the victims have to face harassment or arrest? What are the standards of liberty and justice when leaders from the ruling party enjoy impunity against hate speech and people voicing dissent are detained without a trial?
The thwarting of constitutional principles by the government is not restricted to tangible changes to the constitution or laws but also reflects through its actions and execution of its authority- a nationwide lockdown with three hours notice that left half of the population without food and shelter. The defending of perpetrators in hathras case shows the impunity that upper caste hindus are enjoying in cases of lynching and rape. This atmosphere is completely against the possibility of guaranteeing justice and liberty to any individual and particularly hostile for marginalised communities. In this light, the starting of a Samvidhan Divas is nothing less than a mockery of the document.
EQUALITY, of status and opportunity;
And to promote among them all
FRATERNITY, assuring the dignity of the individual and unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE OURSELVES TO THIS CONSTITUTION.
Just after the constitution day last year, the BJP government came with the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. A law that completely alters the idea that the constitution makers had for an independent India- secular, democratic, republic. By introducing religion as the criteria for acquiring citizenship in India, and proclaiming to create a nationwide National Register of Citizens, the BJP government was all set to fundamentally change the course of the country. The law met with widespread protests across India for months culminating into a violence against the mulsim communities in north east of Delhi that led to the death of at least fifty people.
The protests were being brutally suppressed by filing cases of sedition, UAPA against activists, students and journalists who were actively opposing the new citizenship laws. University campuses witnessed the worst violence in decades and police were seen complicit in many cases. Even as the pandemic dispersed the physical protests, the police in various parts of the country, and particularly in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, continued with harassment and targeting of people who were participating in protests against CAA and NRC. As these activists and students continue to face charges under IPC or UAPA, the BJP continues to promise implementation of CAA in West Bengal as part of the election campaign.
We seem very far from from what the preamble and constitution sought to achieve. In such a situation celebrating the constitution cannot be a matter of creating a ritual practice to read the preamble once in a year but we should create a culture of continuously striving towards it.