Colleges

How informed are you about the Constitution of India?

President Pranab Mukherjee addressing Chief Justice and Judges from 61 countries of the world, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2012, as part of the 13th International Conference of Chief Justices of the World on Article 51 of the Constitution of India. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma  

While interacting with a group of school teachers recently, I tried to assess their knowledge of the Constitution of India by asking them a few questions. Who is its architect? When did it come into effect? How many Articles and Schedules are there in the Constitution? What is stated in the Preamble to the Constitution of India? Do you know your Constitutional rights? The teachers’ responses to these questions revealed their lack of knowledge about it. If this sample were a representative of the whole teaching community in India, it could be considered an unhealthy trend. If teachers’ knowledge about the Constitution of India is bad, the logical conclusion is that students’ knowledge about it must be worse.

A month ago, while laying the foundation stone of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Memorial in Mumbai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that this year onwards, November 26 would be observed as Constitution Day and he added saying that on that day, school children would be taught about the Constitution and Dr. Ambedkar. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) in its recent circular has instructed all schools to conduct activities to observe the first Constitution Day. It is a good move but mere observance of the day will not suffice. What is important is incorporating Constitution education in the school curriculum. Here, the term ‘Constitution education’ does not imply teaching students the A to Z of the Constitution or enabling them to become experts in it. Rather, it implies exposing them to the Constitution, teaching them its salient features, enlightening them about their fundamental rights, enabling them to critically evaluate the relevance of various Articles, shaping their mind to develop a positive attitude towards it and helping them appreciate the wisdom found in it.

Why is Constitution education important? In every country across the globe, people are expected to revere their Constitution and feel that it is their duty to know what is in it. It is a vital document that is the basis of all laws enacted by any government in power. It is based on noble principles. As John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, rightly said, “The Constitution is colour blind, and it neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

The Constitution of India, which has borrowed many features from different countries such as the U.S., the U.K., France, Japan, Germany, the former Soviet Union (USSR) and a few other countries, besides defining the power of the government, spells out the rights and duties of the citizen. As it protects the rights of all the citizens and serves as the framework for good governance, it functions as a social contract between the government and the people governed. According to Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution of India, “The Constitution is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peacetime and in wartime.”

At a time when there are so many ideological clashes, rising intolerance among people of various communities, growing inequality, suppression of women’s rights, it is only the Constitution of our country that can bind everyone together and help find solutions to various problems. In these difficult times, it is important to have knowledge and a better understanding of the Constitution. For example, since the concept of ‘secularism’ is not clearly understood by most people, there has been a clash of minds and hearts. If basic concepts such as secularism, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and fundamental rights (the right to equality, the right to freedom, the right against exploitation, the right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, and the right to Constitutional remedies) had been discussed in the classroom in a meaningful way, our society would have been different in a positive way.

Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. It is the responsibility of the teaching community to educate students about the Constitution and make them informed citizens. Constitution Day is a one-day affair with some activities but Constitution education is a process leading to right thinking and noble behaviour. Mere Constitutional knowledge, disseminated through certain activities such as reading out the Preamble, conducting quiz or essay competitions in schools, will not help students become patriotic citizens who accept their fellow citizens as they are regardless of their caste, creed and social status and consider everyone equal. It is their proper understanding of the Constitution, their right attitude towards it, their ability to interpret it to the current situation and their willingness to keep its spirit alive which will make them patriotic.

How can we lay the foundation for the first Constitution Day and make it a meaningful first step for a great journey? Here are some suggestions.

Educational institutions can initiate purposeful discussions on the significance of incorporating Constitution education in the curriculum and teachers can come up with some innovative ideas which can be sent to the HRD ministry so that it can give shape to the body of ideas.

Teachers can be educated about the Constitution. Educationists, lawyers, human rights activists, writers and experts having through knowledge of the Constitution of India can be invited to talk about it and interact with the teachers. When teachers are equipped with the basic knowledge of the Constitution, they, in their turn, will be able to enlighten the student community.

Awareness about the importance of observing Constitution Day and incorporating Constitution education in the curriculum can be created among students through various activities. Teachers can initiate discussion on current issues and events and encourage students to discuss them in the light of the Constitution. This practice will not only make the students informed citizens but will also help them acquire life skills.

A country can be considered a developed nation only if it has informed citizenry. A major role of educators is to create informed citizenry who know their Constitutional rights. Educators can play the role successfully only if they become enlightened themselves.

The author is Professor of English and Head, Higher Education at KCG College of Technology, Chennai. Email: rayanal@yahoo.co.uk.


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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 10:24:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/college-and-university/how-informed-are-you-about-the-constitution-of-india/article7903839.ece

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