A Constitutional Puzzle
We are wired to neglect our common spaces. There’s no point lamenting that our political leadership is not good enough
Often, interacting with young people, the topic turns to the stresses and strains in society today. When my turn comes to speak, I ask them to answer the these questions truthfully: Would you report a leaking tap in your college or any public toilet? Would you take an injured road accident victim to the hospital? Would you try to stop goons from molesting a woman on the street? Only a few hands go up, about five to ten per cent.
Next, I alter the same questions and place the incident closer to their lives: How many of you would you do something about a leaking tap at home? And how many would help if the victim of a road accident was a relative? What would be your reaction to the molestation if at the receiving end was your close friend? Suddenly, the entire group is up in arms. The call to activism is near total.
The neglect of our common spaces is by now quite obvious. That's how we are wired and I'll tell you why. There's no point lamenting that our political leadership is not good enough because not enough young people want to join politics (though, admittedly, the tide is turning). You might recall that until cricket became so popular that hordes of youth aspired to play for the country, the state of our cricket was abysmal. That's what our common spaces need – a deluge of young people moving from being mere citizens (Nagriks) to becoming Proactive Citizens (Jagriks). Like it was during the Independence movement.
Let me explain. Making the Aadhaar or Rights card the new identity idiom has been contested fiercely by many. The proponents insist it will give a chance to deliver all "valid" citizens (Nagriks) their rights. This debate is like trying to find the key under the streetlight while actually, you lost it somewhere out in a dark spot because it's too difficult to look where you actually dropped it. Let me not use the same delaying tactic and drag the point I want to make into the light quickly, in plain view for all to see:
The Constitution of India, the one and only common, shared story we have. It enshrines the values of sovereignty, equality, fraternity, and justice. A later amendment adds the value secular. Further, into the document, four of these (all except fraternity) are cast as rights and then into directive principles, which have been used by legislators to mold into law and this, in turn, is upheld by the executive and the judiciary.
The lost key that I would like all of us to contemplate is fraternity. Unlike a right, loving each other can't be legislated. So what the Constitution did was to put down fourteen fundamental duties. Have your rights – sure but don't forget your responsibilities. Citizens have to embrace both. Unfortunately, the element of responsibilities in the Constitution hardly gets talked about in the national discourse. It is time to straighten out this tilted balance of attention given to rights and restore the position of duties suggested in the Indian Constitution. We need to recognise that Fraternity is as fundamental a value as the other four.
In fact, this restoring of balance has to be done on a war footing. Leaving it to civics textbooks is like trying to kill a monster with a feather. The Samvidhan needs to come alive in the streets for our youth. The world should be their classroom. They need to learn about their rights and duties from experience. Along with an Aadhaar Card, we need to introduce a Kartavya or Duty card that implores the young to hear the valuable note of fraternity from this din of promises to provide people fundamental rights in return for their votes. Without fraternity, the orchestra of democracy will keep producing this jarring sound that gives us bad dreams but does not let our country awake to keep its tryst with destiny.
(The author is co-founder of ComMutiny – The Youth Collective; they are currently running a public initiative to increase Constitutional Literacy called Samvidhan LIVE! The views expressed are strictly personal)