Seventy years ago, the Constitution that “we the people of India” gave to ourselves is a living, palpable force. It is being read on the streets, it is being brandished in protests by women, men and students; it is being contested in politics, Parliament and WhatsApp debates.
In this special issue, we look at how the Constitution has nurtured our ideas of rights, democracy and citizenship and how it is the citizen’s guarantee and defence, as Rohit De, author of A People’s Constitution, argues in his opening essay.
But did you know why January 26, 1950, 894 days after the British left the country, became the day of the commencement of the Constitution? Sushant Singh explains.
A tangible idea, but also a beautiful handcrafted piece of art, bound in black leather and embossed in patterns of gold. In her piece, Vandana Kalra tells the story of the artists and calligraphers who illustrated the Constitution.
The birth of the nation coincided with a violent separation, and it continues to cast a shadow on this current turmoil over citizenship. But it also set in motion the history of the Punjabi refugee, who dispersed into many corners of India, shaping a national culture. As Amandeep Sandhu recalls, 1984 was the first crisis of faith they faced, but in many parts of India, they found friendship more than violence.
For Indian Muslims, the legacy of the Partition has increasingly been a heavy one to shoulder, defined by that puerile chant: Go to Pakistan. In her essay, Devyani Onial, analyses two Hindi films that captured this unjust predicament — Garm Hava, set in the aftermath of Partition, and Naseem, one that showed an India leading up to the Babri Masjid demolition.
On the eastern frontier, the Sylhet referendum, which awarded the populous Bengali-majority division to Pakistan, ran a line through homesteads and families in Assam. In her personal essay, Amrita Dutta tells the story of her Sylheti grandfather, who refused to become Indian, and the burden of that identity for Bengalis in the Northeast.
Constitutional expert Anil Nauriya charts the history of the current crisis, tracing it back to the amendment made in 2003 to the law by the first NDA government. That was the introduction of the term “illegal migrant”, defined entirely by the absence of legitimate paperwork.
The crowd of protesters, though, insists: hum kaagaz nahi dikhayenge. Just one example of how poetry and art has fostered baghs of creativity and dissent. So, we asked poets, singers and writers to tell us what the Constitution means to them ‘in letter and spirit’. One of their responses, sums up the spirit of this 70-year-old project: ‘I’m not a number. I’m a citizen.’
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