Constitution Day: Understanding Ambedkar and the context of the birth of Indian Constitution

Ambedkar provided a third pole other than the left and right wings and broke the binary of which wing the country should lean upon

Published - November 28, 2023 09:30 am IST - Bengaluru



In honour of the Constitution Day, the Ambedkar Reading Circle organised a lecture about the ‘Ambedkarite Utopia’ that the Constitution of India envisioned. The lecture was given by Dr. Ashna Singh, an Assistant Professor of Law at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.  

Dr. Singh highlighted the context of the drafting of the Constitution and debunked several allegations and misconceptions about the Constitution. 

One of the common critiques of the Indian Constitution is that it reflects European modernity and not Indian culture. The Constitution has also been criticised for its bulkiness unlike the Constitutions of many other countries.  

The answer to these critiques lies in an anti-caste vision, explained Dr. Ashna. The Constitution was deliberately made extremely detailed inorder to counter the division in caste and bureaucracy and to ensure minority rights were not overlooked, she said. 

She noted that Ambedkar provided a third pole other than the left and right wings and broke the binary of which wing the country should lean upon. One of the ways he did that was by fighting the invocation of God in the preamble, which, Dr. Singh noted, both wings were in favour of then; Whereas Ambedkar’s stance reflected his secular thinking.  

A book on the Indian Constitution, preserved at Sarada Grandhalayam in Anakapalli.

A book on the Indian Constitution, preserved at Sarada Grandhalayam in Anakapalli. | Photo Credit: V RAJU

An oppressive society 

The legal order of society before the Constitution was oppressive towards the Dalits. Ambedkar characterised it as a Brahminical legal order, he saw Hinduism as a system which gave out a lot of injunctions such as unequal punishments and restricted access to facilities, education and even rights.  

Ambedkar’s goal was to locate the origin of the oppression the Dalits faced, and he located it in the Dharma Shastras and the Manusmriti. His thinking which was influenced by Buddhism is reflected in the Constitution. Most of the articles and the form of the Constitution itself have a anti caste context to it. 

She noted that while the Constitution gives one the freedom of speech, for the oppressed, it’s a site of resolution of conflict between Brahmanism and Buddhism.  

“The Indian Constitution is different from the western constitution because the primary oppressors were the people and not the State,” she said. 

Living document 

Dr. Singh also noted that Constitution is a living document, which must adapt and change with the Indian society.  

“So, the tweaks are needed, until we reach that sort of perfect utopia imagination,” she said, adding that it tries to civilise the society by providing principles or values that can be practiced in daily life.  

Talking about the idea of representation Dr. Singh noted that only with alternative thinking can the society improve, which is why representation and criticality is necessary - something that the Dalits can bring to the table. 

“The anti-caste line of thinkers - including Babasaheb through the Constitution - tell us that Utopia lies in the future, that the future is something we need to build and contextualise. The idea is to think in terms of principles which will lead us to an ethical society, and not become a slave to rules which is what we were before,” she said.

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