How much of Indian Constitution is for “We, the people”?
Power and money are consciously centralised in India, right from the central government to the smallest political party fighting elections. If only our political leadership resolve to follow the Constitution in letter and spirit, everything else will fall in line
“There are some fundamental issues which we are committed to and are non-negotiable—secularism, equality and non-violence. All that has been written in the preamble of the Constitution, that is our basic agenda”—Arvind Kejriwal
In an interview given to a newspaper early last month, India Against Corruption (IAC) activist Arvind Kejriwal mentioned that main drawback in the country’s governance was centralization of power in Delhi. True, this country’s problems, from day one, post-independence, can be sourced to centralization of power and resources. It does not start or end with government or governance.
Power and money are consciously centralised in India, right from the central government to the smallest political party fighting elections. Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi knew this when he pleaded for the dismantling of the Congress, as he was sadly becoming aware that his dream of ‘Gramaswaraj’ was not being shared by majority of the Congressmen. Success of any India-specific solution for improving major human development indicators—literacy, hunger management, healthcare, and housing—will depend on a decentralised approach.
Our Constitution gives enough flexibility in governance and the clarity of guidance for handling almost everything coming under the broad responsibilities of legislature, executive and judiciary is perhaps unique to the Indian Constitution. If only our political leadership in whose hands the responsibility of administering the Constitution and introducing further legislation for ensuring such rule of law without let or hindrance, gave the respect due to the written words of the Constitution, we would not be going through the present phase of quarrels among the rich and the powerful for one-upmanship on who is less corrupt.
Keeping the above thoughts in the backdrop, this article attempts to look at some of the rights, responsibilities and duties of a citizen, based on the text of our Constitution.
Most of us are aware of our rights. Still, it will be interesting to look at them in the context of what the authors of our Constitution had to say about them. The Indian Constitution specifically protects rights—such as right to life, right to education, right to work, right to property and right against exploitation. A perusal of the following Articles of the Constitution will throw more light on the kind of rights protected under the Constitution:
- • Protection of life and personal liberty
Article 21- No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
- • Right to education
Article 21A- The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.
- • Right against exploitation
Article 23- Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour- (1) Traffic in human beings and beggar and other forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.
(2) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such services the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them.
- • Right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases
Article 41- The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of undeserved want.
- • Provision for early childhood care and education to children below the age of six years
Article 45- The State shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years.
- • Right to property
Article 300A- No person shall be deprived of his property, save by authority of law.
A perusal of these rights enshrined in the Constitution naturally takes us to the inevitable question as to whether these rights are really exercisable by the citizens. Let us skip this question and go to the next question: Who is responsible to ensure that these rights come alive and serve the one billion plus lives in India?
For an answer, we have to go back to the Preamble of the Constitution, which reads:
WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
And to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLEY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
Thus, the Constitution is given to the people of India and it is the solemn responsibility of the Indian people to protect it. Of course, the agent of the people carrying out this task is the government. This has been made abundantly clear in the Constitution through a bunch of directive principles of state policy forming part of the Constitution and explicitly stated to be not enforceable by any court, but with a clear direction to government to apply them in making laws.
Directive principles of state policy
Several areas of social justice such as gender equality, right to an adequate means of livelihood, distributive justice, healthcare, avoidance of child labour, protection for vulnerable sections of society against exploitation and abandonment, equal justice, free legal aid for the needy, organization of village panchayats, right to work, right to education, public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief, living wage and decent standard of life for workers, promotion of cottage industries, workers’ participation in management, uniform civil code for the citizens, provision for childhood care and education to children below six years, support to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and weaker sections of society, raising the level of nutrition and the standard of living of the people, improvement in public health, modernizing agriculture and animal husbandry, protecting environment, protection for monuments and places and objects of national importance, separation of judiciary and executive and promotion of international peace and security are all covered under directive principles of state policy. (Articles-39 to 51)
Thus, by implication, the state is made responsible for ensuring enforcement of citizen’s rights.
By an amendment of the Constitution in 1976, the following fundamental duties of the citizens were incorporated in the Constitution.
It shall be the duty of every citizen of India—
- to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
- to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom;
- to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
- to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
- to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
- to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
- to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures;
- to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
- to safeguard public property and abjure violence;
- to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement;
- who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or, as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen years(Article-51A).
If the less than 10% of Indians who are fortunate to reach levels in life from where they can make a difference in the lives of the remaining 1.1 billion people who are less fortunate, resolve to follow the Constitution in letter and spirit, everything else will fall in line.
(MG Warrier is a freelancer based in Mumbai.)
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