A pre-requisite for citizens to critically engage with contemporary political, legal and social issues is an understanding and appreciation of India’s rich constitutional tradition. In this regard, civic education in India at various levels has failed. The Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR) bridges this gap through carefully conceptualized workshops that communicate India’s rich constitutional tradition to different audiences: schools, colleges, professionals and the general public.
On 24th October 2017, the Centre for Law and Policy Research organized a workshop ‘Reading the Constitution’ for fifth graders at the Mallya Aditi International School, Bangalore. The discussion focused on three important ideas contained in the Indian Constitution: equality, liberty and fundamental duties.
An engaging analogy to the role played by a referee in a football game was employed for the purpose of communicating the need for a Constitution. Sticking to fundamentals, during a discussion around the importance of dates related to the constitution-making process, an element of humour was introduced: Did Mahatma Gandhi (having been assassinated in 1948) sign the adopted Constitution in 1950?
Regarding ideas contained in the Indian Constitution: first, the students recognized the potential pitfalls of implementing classical equality, i.e. the equality of all irrespective of difference in India. They realized that it would unfair to treat unequals equally and vice versa, grasping the principles that underlie Art 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution. Article 18 – Abolition of Titles – was taken as a specific example and students engaged with the discussions in the Constituent Assembly on this issue.
The children were then introduced to the idea of liberty/freedom: What does the Constitution give us freedom from? What does the Constitution give us the freedom to do? This was followed by a discussion on the topical challenges to liberty and the Supreme Courts disposition towards them – right to privacy and the Aadhaar card cases were briefly discussed.
Last, the importance of Fundamental Duties was debated: Fundamental duties are towards whom? Does the State play a role in Fundamental Duties? The workshop ended with a discussion on how the Constitution is implemented. Here the students were told that while judiciary, political parties, etc. have a role to play in implementing the Constitution, lay citizens play a critical role as well. The protests against the murder of Gauri Lankesh – that adopted a constitutional language – was invoked as an example of how one could preserve, protect and promote constitutional values.
The workshop left students with a clear and nuanced understanding of the Indian Constitution’s history, the important ideas that it contains, and how these are critical in the practice of citizenship in contemporary India. The enthusiasm and curiosity of the students were encouragement enough for CLPR to continue to experiment with different pedagogical approaches and to continuously enrich the content used in these efforts.