The Constitution of India that was adopted by Indian Parliament in 1950 is a landmark document in many respects. This largest constitution in comparison to other countries in the world has the history of anti - colonial struggle against British Imperialism of over two and half centuries. However the constitution not only seeks to address the colonial woes in the Independent India, but also addresses the caste discriminations that have plagued social structure among this part of the world for thousands of years prior to British rule in India. In a way constitution of India is an attempt to compressively address the maladies that afflicted the humanity in this part of the world for the amazingly long period of time.

Constitution of India is a dynamic outcome of coalesce of number of movements aspiring for various types of freedoms and rights. The colonial rule that supported the transfer of wealth from India into England fuelled Industrial Revolution. This was by way of supply of raw materials and transforming India into a market for the finished Industrial products. This relationship was facilitated due to caste wise discrimination of People in terms of social humiliation, access to education, health and Land in various Princely States. This situation was challenged by various movements and visionary leaderships of Gandhi, Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. This is not to discount the sacrifices of countless masses that formed the lowest and strongest wheel of the transformative movement – Indian Freedom Struggle.

The Fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India did try to address some of these issues in progressive manner. It has done away with discrimination based on caste, sex, race, language and religion. The right to equality is enshrined under article 14. The right to life is another important aspect of the Fundamental right that has extended through case laws to provide for education and safe environment; although these are covered under the directive Principles of the State policy too. Judiciary had to do it since directive principles are not enforceable through the courts while fundamental rights are enforceable in case they are infringed upon. The recent debate on the merits of Death Penalty has direct connection to right to life. It has been argued that only the people without capital gets capital punishment in the form Death Penalty. Judicial position on this aspect has been that death penalty is awarded in the rarest of the rare cases. The debate has sparked off since the progressive movements in India are demanding, like many other countries in the world an end to the Death sentence. The rightist forces have been demanding to make Death sentence a regular phenomenon. Intense power dynamics are at play at the core of this debate. The testing time for this came during the decade of 1970s when emergency was declared and fundamental rights were suspended for then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to remain in power at all costs. In Goa this right was threatened in 1997 when the State tried to introduce enact without success ‘Goa Police Bill 1997’ that advocated privatization of Police force with Officers enjoying judicial immunity for any crimes committed.

Freedom of Speech and Expression is another important aspect of Fundamental Rights. States dominated by the powerful economic interests infringing upon life, environment; and engaged in economic exploitation always imposed State censorships to muzzle freedom of Press. The freedom of Speech and Expression is so basic to the human essence and the heath of Democracy that we need to guard it with burning torches even in the darkest night. In contemporary India the major threat to this right comes from the India State that has been selling ‘National Security’ argument to the citizens to trade off not only the freedom of Speech and expression but also the right to life. The situation in North East India is a telling case in focus where in India has been ruling the seven sisters with armed terror for the past so many decades sacrificing so many precious lives of the Indian Soldiers. Indian State believes deployment more armed forces is the solution to the insurgency problems in the North East India. The Laws such as Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA) and Terrorist and disruptive Activities Act (TADA) are directed towards shrinking these freedoms. Large number of citizens and Civil Liberties groups are engaged to keep the honor of Constitution of India intact even through this dark period. The Constitution if it was only the document on paper would have no value at all. It has human essence wedded to it and it is lived and defended publicly when encroachments are sensed. Freedoms to reside in any territory of India, freedom to practice any occupation of choice, freedom to form associations are other freedoms that are guaranteed under Article 19 of the constitution.

Slavery and Untouchability has been banned under the constitution; thus addressing the chronic problem that affected the Indian society for ages. The so called untouchables were socially and racially segregated and publicly humiliated. The regressive principles of ‘Manusmriti’ laid down the code of conduct for subjugation of the so called lower castes and women; and were practiced for thousands of years. These constitutional provisions provided fillip to the Dalit movement in India. As results of ban on Untouchability Dalits have fought their way into gaining assess to education and also instilling definite pride and self confidence.

Another movement that has sharp interface with the constitution of India has been the movement relating to land. Right to property was included as fundamental right in the beginning of the constitution. Vast sections of people that worked on huge farms under feudal set up woke up and the call for land reform began in the decade of 1960s. The rebellion of Naxalbari in West Bengal has been the landmark uprising that brought the issue of land sharply in to the public focus in India. The debate ultimately led to the deletion of right to property as fundamental right but included as Article 300A. Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement did not succeed to slow down the pace of the militant movement for land reform. In fact the movement continues through out India. Incidentally there is only armed movement of Peasants called Naxalite movement that is on the scene today; active in 14 States of India. Land has remained a contentions issue that is being addressed very often with extra-constitutional means. Existing power equations are at test here. In many States land ceiling acts are only on paper far from implementation. The non-implementation of constitutional provisions with regard to land re-distribution has led to near civil war in India. In Goa too, the recent two murders, one of Manjula Gawde of Vantem village in Sattari (2004) and Pritviraj Rane of Salleli village in Sattari (2005) has sharply brought in transformatory aspirations and state quoits commitments in glaring contrasts.

The Constitution of India under the Directive principles of State Policy has number of provisions in defense of labour. One of them is the participation of Workers in the management of the factories. However under the economic policies that India has been following since 1991 workers have been constantly pushed towards the margins. The rule of the law is threatening to be replaced with the rule of the market. The recent announcement of the Government of India to set up Special Economic Zones (SEZs) means complete stripping of all the right of workers including the right to form Unions. Judiciary too recently banned right to strike. The trend seems to be reverting back to the days of the British rule. British Colonial State too had brought in the Rowlett Act to ban the workers right to strike. Protestors like Bhagat Sigh had to embrace martyrdom for his actions against this Act. The neo – colonial trends in global economy and polity is constantly pushing towards more regressive trends. The challenge before the movements in this context is to constantly keep vigil on these trends as well as the Constitution of India. For if the emerging neo colonial lobby is allowed a field day then it will be too happy to cancel all the fundamental rights as well as directive principle like the days of East India Company and worse. We only need to look at Iraq under US invasion as to what can happen when these forces rule the day.

It is a Directive Principle of State Policy under article 51 to promote World Peace. To do this we need to look critically to the trends in the global economy; far beyond India’s borders as much as within the borders. Only then we will be in a strong position to critically assess, defend and if require change the Constitution of India.

Originally published in "PRAJASATTAK" - special issue on Indian Republic Day on January 26 2006 edited by Dadu Mandrekar in Panaji, Goa.

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