Republic Day. It’s a day that is much celebrated in India, but one that we know little about beyond the generic birthday of our constitution. But what does this day really mean, or more importantly what should this day mean to us as Indians, most of who are not familiar with the 500-page document with 395 clauses that define the complex legal and political framework of our country. Of course getting through this constitution is not easy, let alone trying to understand the entire document. First off maybe Republic Day is then an opportunity to appreciate the complexities of our country. Our constitution was born out of the vision of the three founding fathers of our nation, Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar each of whom had a slightly different version for India’s political framework, thus had a complicated birth to begin with.
Since then, the constitution has been amended over 90 times, one of the most significant being the 42nd amendment which introduced the world ‘secular’ in our preamble, making us a sovereign, socialist, democratic as well as secular republic. The basic structure that was established out of the landmark Kesavananda Barati case is another unique feature of our constitution, a commitment to uphold certain right that can never be denied to any citizen. Fundamental rights, if you will. While this has led to the rise of Public Interest Litigation, another case of judicial activism, what this has done for us in practice remains a more complex reality. From Supreme Court cases that have maintained slum dwellers right to proper shelter, to demanding the freeing of bonded labourers, marginalised groups have been given a place in our justice system through our promising constitution. Yet we continue to see grotesque human right violations, and the denial of fundamental rights for so many groups that continue to plague our country today. Those less privileged lose their homes, and livelihoods because of giant construction projects, which often also pay little to no concern for environmental consequences. While everyone is familiar with the recent hunger strike of Anna Hazare, most are oblivious to the fast of Irom Sharmila who has been fasting for almost 12 years, against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA, which the North East has actually been under for longer than Kashmir. At the same time we’re rapidly growing and developing in a world where the economic future is far more uncertain in other countries.
But what happened to the activist India, the country with a socialist vision, the country striving to create equal opportunities for all? It may be unfair to say that that India has been lost, but somewhere amidst the journey we might have misplaced some of our priorities. Are our institutions are designed to favour those that have the means to get ahead, leaving those who do not behind? Or is what’s worse that many of us in the younger generation know little of this activist India the potential that India has. It’s cynicism and apathy that we’re often criticised for.
So for those of you who will be watching the annual parade on television, or mindlessly updating your Facebook status to “happy republic day,” think about what this day really means to you as an Indian. Think of the journey that our founding fathers embarked on 63 years ago, writing this constitution, the changes that our country has been through, the good and some bad. Most importantly, think about your own vision for India, the country, the community and society that you want to grow up in, and that you want to lead. Can we work to really foster the values of “justice, liberty, equality and fraternity” that our constitution promises? If so, then I think you are ready to celebrate Republic Day.