Constitutional rights

Updated on: Feb 15, 2011
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Recently I was going through a CBSE textbook belonging to a friend's son. Right up front was Article 51A of the Indian Constitution laying out the fundamental duties of every citizen. They were ten in number. Reading them so many years after school, I couldn't help reflecting on the decades since.

I started from the neglected margins. The seventh and ninth duties on protecting the environment and safeguarding public property seemed forgotten. The easiest things to rubbish without anyone questioning are nature and taxpayers' money. Cutting forests, burning public vehicles and smashing public institutions — all have happened in India. A close second at this end of neglect would be the sixth duty pertaining to preserving our heritage. What constitutes heritage, and why should we protect it? I don't think we fully understand the question or know the answer.

Unity in diversity

Duties five and eight were similar in tenor. The first sought unity in diversity. It also wanted us to renounce practices derogatory to women. The second cited scientific temper, humanism, spirit-of-inquiry and reform, to suggest education.

After riots and bloodshed in the name of everything, from religion to caste and language, worshipping Pokhran as God and sharpening mercantilism to the point of losing the soul — these duties reminded of opportunity for awareness and inclusiveness, squandered.

The tenth duty wishing us to strive individually and collectively for excellence has now been degraded to fad. It is now the stuff of first rank in exams, millionaires at the bank, overseas addresses, pictures of success, big fat weddings — all achievements that could be bundled as ‘getting ahead' or showcasing the trend. After six free decades spent attempting excellence, India and Indians aren't yet known for anything particularly excellent. Some of us have a lot of money; many of us travel abroad — that's all.

Sovereignty, integrity

Duty number two — cherishing and following the ideals that inspired our freedom movement. I just don't know how to reconcile that with either contemporary news on India or the new work culture measuring people by the money they make. It appeared to me that for us, Constitution and country had reduced to symbolic interpretations of the first and fourth duties dealing with national flag, national anthem and nation's defence. These are also the most popular themes for politics and political controversy.

If you noticed, I didn't mention the third duty. That pertained to upholding the country's sovereignty, unity and integrity. It is a very important duty. But if my friend's son inherits a nation that has trivialised most duties, why should he feel inspired to acknowledge the third? What beautiful common space should he strive to protect?

The silver lining is: failure makes good teachers. Do we see it that way or is it that we never tried in the first place and so can't recognise even failure?

(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

Published on February 16, 2011

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