Each year, India celebrates the formation day of its Constitution on the 26th of November. This day is also known as ‘National Law Day’. The longest in the world, India’s Constitution is the supreme law of the land and embodies the guiding principles of the country.
Its chief architect and also pioneering Dalit rights leader Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, attempted to realize his vision of a free India on the basis of those governing principles such as democracy, secularism, egalitarianism, rule of law, urban-rural harmony, composite culture, planned economic development, patriotism, interdependent internationalism and independent foreign policy.
Days before the draft’s submission, Dr. Ambedkar expressed concern about “what would happen to her [India’s] democratic Constitution?” Decades later, his fears seem to be coming true.
Today, the Constitution is under threat from the very same institutions — the legislature, executive and judiciary — that are expected to safeguard it. The Narendra Modi government started the practice of celebrating November 26 as Constitution Day. But his right-wing affiliations have emerged as the biggest threat to constitutional values.
On the eve of Constitution Day, we spoke with Martin Macwan, respected and accomplished Indian Dalit and Human Rights activist and the head of the NGO Navsarjan Trust about his ‘Save the Constitution’ campaign. Speaking about his initiative, Martin explained how as many as 13,000 villages across India will light lamps on November 26 to “honour and protect the Indian Constitution”. According to him, this initiative is part of his efforts to increase awareness about the very document that guides our way of life and whose dearth of knowledge is why the country is in dire straits.
Through the campaign, which launched on 15th August 2021, he has made it a point to educate children about the Constitution through unique methods like informative cards, historical booklets and origami craft birds to inform them of the fundamental rights every citizen enjoys.
In his interview, Martin expresses his disappointment that Indians have still not rid themselves of the crude practice of untouchability, which is used to oppress and humiliate the so-called lower caste citizens and one of the central messages of Dr. Ambedkar, even after 75 years of independence. In his speech at the last meeting of the Constituent Assembly, for instance, Dr. Ambedkar had categorically said that the caste system and democracy cannot coexist. That is why the Indian Constitution barred discrimination on the basis of caste and language. However, we are far from realizing Ambedkar’s vision.
To remind the lawmakers of their failure to uphold the Constitution, Martin shared how his team will present the government with a 2000 kilogram brass coin to lay at the foundation of the new 20,000 crore rupee Parliament building that the government is hell-bent on constructing during a time of pandemic deaths and an economic downturn. This idea became very popular with the villagers and as Martin reveals, his NGO today has 2700 kilograms of brass utensils donated by people from all over India. This coin features Buddha, Ambedkar, and a question: Will India be untouchability-free when it celebrates 100 years of independence in 2048?
The efforts in India have reignited the hope that all is not lost and that the incumbent government has much to fear as it continues to undermine India’s democratic values.
[The content has been provided by the Voices of Peace team in India. The views expressed are their own.]