"WHITHER INDIAN CONSTITUTION?"
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
In Ahmedabad, a young daily labourer jumps to his death into river Sabarmati because a day earlier, the doctors in a public hospital pulled off the ventilator from his dying wife - all because he could not afford to pay them the costs; in Delhi, a young man slaps a senior politician apparently because he is responsible for the rise in prices and corruption; supporters of the young man go on record saying that the politician deserves more and much more will follow. In Kashmir, a Mullah summons a Christian Pastor for allegedly converting Muslims to Christianity to the Shariat Court and force the police to arrest the Pastor. Several top police officials in Gujarat have been charge-sheeted for fake encounters, just killing-at-will in order to appease their political bosses.
The list is endless indeed and as the 26th November dawns, the one memory in the minds of millions of Indians is the terrorist attack that took place in Mumbai three years ago. But somehow, perhaps lost in the anonymity of history, is the fact that on this day in 1949, our Constituent Assembly adopted, enacted and gave to us a Constitution which we should certainly be proud of.
However, over the years there has been a consistent erosion of the values enshrined in the Constitution, as Freedoms and Rights guaranteed in it are thrown to the wind and the duties which should be the bulwark of citizenship find very little space in our manner of proceeding.
The incidents cited above are symptomatic of a malaise that has crept in, which seems to strike at the very roots of the Constitution of India.
Let's see what is happening: the Judiciary is the one that safeguards the Constitution. Undoubtedly there has been some landmark judgements and in the recent past, we have had very powerful people being sent to jail. This is more an exception than the rule. We see in several incidents the Judiciary being compromised. Many of the judges and even public prosecutors simply toe a political party line or subscribe to a particular ideology just because they are indebted to their political masters. We have several instances in which the guilty just get off (even when they murder) for want of "evidence" or because the prosecuting agency has not done its job thoroughly.
Then we have a police force who are meant to protect, to provide security to the ordinary citizens. Several of them have no qualms in killing innocent people in cold blood. On the other hand, those police men who stand up to powerful vested interests are harassed no end. This in fact destroys the independence of a force that should never take sides, but remain totally objective.
Then we have our politicians. For many of them, the less said the better. They swear by the Constitution but alas, very often, their deeds belie their position and responsibility. It does not matter which side of the spectrum they are on. If they are in power, people's issues rarely take centrality; when they are in opposition, they will do all they can to sabotage the parliamentary process. Many of them remember the people only before the elections; a few of them, even preside over the killing of their own citizens.
Finally, we have the ordinary Indian citizens: millions burdened with trying just-to-survive without access to the basic amenities of life. A sizeable section is at the receiving end of a grossly unjust system. There is small group, who take law and order into their own hands, who decide they are more supreme than parliament: who feel they have a right to mete out punishment at their whims and fancies to anyone, whether it is in honour killing or even in a Shariat Court.
The Constitution of India is indeed a great one! But each one of us needs to question ourselves, whether we are truly vessels of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Only when we truly make these values a reality for every single Indian, will we truly be able to honour the fathers of our Constituent Assembly!
26th November, 2011
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052