Happy Republic Day India. Remember it not as yet another opportunity for Amazon and Flipkart to slash their prices, but as the day when ‘We the People’ defined our very humanity and quintessential Indianness – by giving ourselves a sublimely inclusive Constitution.
Exactly a year ago, I had explored just how far we had strayed from the spirit of the Preamble to the Constitution. This year I would like to remind Indians of their Fundamental Rights, which need to be fought over, cherished and nurtured, lest we lose them forever.
The Right to Equality is one of the chief guarantees of the Constitution. It is embodied in Articles 14–16, which collectively encompass the general principles of equality before law and non-discrimination, and Articles 17–18 which collectively further the philosophy of social equality. And yet, inequality in India has never been higher as these figures from the World Economic Forum indicate:
(Gini Coefficient as percentage, an indicator of income inequality. The higher it is, the greater the inequality)
Right to Freedom: Article 19 guarantees six freedoms in the nature of civil rights, which are available only to citizens of India. These include the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly without arms, freedom of association, freedom of movement throughout the territory of India, freedom to reside and settle in any part of the country of India and the freedom to practise any profession. And yet, Indians from one part of the country continue to be branded as outsiders in other parts of their own motherland…
The Right against Exploitation, contained in Articles 23–24, lays down certain provisions to prevent exploitation of the weaker sections of the society by individuals or the State. Article 23 provides prohibits human trafficking, making it an offence punishable by law, and also prohibits forced labour or any act of compelling a person to work without wages where he was legally entitled not to work or to receive remuneration for it. Yet again, per WEF figures, India lags far behind when it comes to curbing forced and child labour, and providing productive work and adequate compensation to its people:
(Performance rated on a scale of 1-7, with India doing marginally better than only Pakistan)
The Right to Freedom of Religion, covered in Articles 25–28, provides religious freedom to all citizens and ensures a secular state in India. According to the Constitution, there is no official State religion, and the State is required to treat all religions impartially and neutrally. Article 25 guarantees all persons the freedom of conscience and the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice. How sorry then to find that the Government’s own National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) gives us a League Table of the worst communal incidents in Indian States and the death toll in such incidents for 2014-15:
The Cultural and Educational Rights, given in Articles 29 and 30, are measures to protect the rights of cultural, linguistic and religious minorities, by enabling them to conserve their heritage and protecting them against discrimination. The jury is still out on a number of such cultural practices considered inhuman or inhumane, while cultural issues continue to be politicised by all concerned – whether it is jallikattu or the beef ban.
So, on this day, let us all reinforce our faith in the Constitution as we “… continue to complain; to demand; to rebel…” as urged by the President of India in his speech today.