No firsts among equals

India’s Constitution gives great respect to each citizen. Its values must be safeguarded

Written by Jyotsna Yagnik | Published:March 6, 2017 12:09 am
 Indian constitution, fundamental rights, human rights, International Bill of Human rights, equality, democracy, india news, indian express  A view of Illuminated Parliament (Express photo by Ravi Kanojia)

The forefathers of our Constitution dreamt that India would be a country which would ensure its citizens many fundamental rights, including human rights. The Constitution of India was in fact drafted under the influence of a universal declaration known as the International Bill of Human Rights. Equality truly was a golden dream that we saw as a country, and gifted to ourselves to cherish over the years to come.

But I question myself now about whether we act in absolute accordance with the ideology of equality; one needs to bear in mind that when you talk of “equality” between two unequal entities, the approach and treatment have to be different from the one we adopt for two equals. To ensure that we, as a society, are loyal to our constitutional values, we need to imbibe respect for the viewpoints of others, which could be about their beliefs, religion, customs, conventions, dietary habits, language and clothing. Equal treatment, not only to all individuals, but also to all religions, is the express command of our Constitution.

At times, we see prejudices operating against particular groups of people; these may be Muslims, Christians or Dalits, facing biases only because their beliefs, religious books, customs, conventions, etc., are not like ours. The makers of the Constitution might not have even thought that there would be a day in this country when a group of people would do or undo anything to impose their own ideology, their beliefs, their viewpoint on another group: Torture, boycott and other contemptible kinds of conduct, all of which have become routine news today, are a matter of shame, and absolutely not in accordance with the ideology and values of the makers of our Constitution.

We also hear many grievances about discriminatory treatment being voiced by some powerful groups, referring to oppressed, suppressed, marginalised people. This is not what our freedom fighters and the fathers of our Constitution foresaw. The process of building the nation can be termed complete only when, without any exception, we all respect our constitutional values to an extent that this becomes our religion — I firmly believe that in public life, you should have only one religion, and that is to remain wedded to our constitutional values, our constitutional commands, ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of every fellow countryman, and acting in strict compliance with constitutional duties.

But because we could not fully imbue this ideology into every citizen for a long time, the situation has worsened to the extent that a person working honestly with a constitutional mandate can become a victim of persons with vested interests. Such honest people have to pay a price by facing numerous challenges, like threats to one’s person, property and family members. It is time to wake up and re-think our situation in the light of our constitutional values and the ideals of public life.

Let me humbly state that I have been imparting legal education for the last 32 years. A person who joins legal education is thoroughly taught legal principles, impartiality in the administration of justice, the concept of rights, duties, powers, etc. But the majority of our youth doesn’t join the legal stream. And there are currently no means by which these young citizens can be taught these concepts or ideology, knowing which is a must for public life.

Students across our diverse fields need to be enlightened on the commands of the Constitution that cover secularism, liberty, freedom and equality; these should be so deeply imbibed by all that every person understands the role of each functionary connected with the law and the administration of justice. But unfortunately, that does not happen.

I had a goal as a teacher of the law to at least mould my students to act in accordance with constitutional mandates, principles of equity, rights and justice. I also thought of adding colour to their lives by ensuring that they learn to respect diversity, in views, beliefs, customs, food habits, etc. Though my efforts are just drops in an ocean, my conscience is satisfied that as a teacher, I have contributed towards shaping society through my students and preparing young citizens to fulfill the dreams our forefathers had while writing the Constitution.

After my retirement, to further my goal, I started working exclusively for legal education: It is different that I had to resign under particular circumstances. Be that as it may, I have continued my march by starting my own academy. I want to reciprocate the encouragement and affection society has showered on me, at least, to the fraternity already in the legal field or younger people in the process of joining the same.

I believe in a positive ideology and therefore, I am sure that the day will come when the dreams seen by the founders of our Constitution will translate into reality.

As told to Parimal Dabhi, Yagnik was former principal judge of the Ahmedabad City Civil and Sessions Court. She conducted the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre trial, convicting 32 persons, including former BJP minister Maya Kodnani. After retiring, Yagnik became director of a Gandhinagar law institute. She faced threats and resigned, starting her own law academy

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