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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Of Constitution, languages, citizenship and Indian minorities

Republic Day special: Celebrate the spirit of the Constitution with this week's issue of Sunday Eye.

New Delhi | Updated: January 26, 2020 2:07:16 pm
republic day, indian constitution, indian preamble, jawaharlal nehru, The centre can hold: Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a patron of folk art forms, particularly dance. He used to meet folk dancers who came to the capital to participate in the Republic Day Parade. In this photo, taken at one such event, he is seen surrounded by dancers from Bombay. (Photo: Express archive)

The Constitution has always inspired Indians to question power and demand their rights

The Constitution of India was completed on November 29, 1949, yet it came into force on January 26, 1950. The date memorialised the celebration of Independence Day from 1930 by hundreds of thousands of Indians, who would gather in public, hoist the national flag and recite the pledge of independence in multiple languages, affirming that Indians were an independent people and would achieve their aims through non-violent means.

Hundreds of people were arrested and charged by the colonial government for the simple act of reciting the pledge. Perhaps, the largest gathering was in January 1946, when 1,50,000 people gathered at Bombay’s Chowpatty and recited the pledge in Hindi, Urdu, English, Marathi and Gujarati. Linking the Constitution to January 26 affirmed that this was not a constitution created through elite discussions but a product of mass political struggle, and that it was not a gift from benevolent rulers, but one that was seized by the masses.

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Reclaiming our public spaces

public spaces, public spaces in India, India Gate public space,Central Vista Redevelopment, shaheen bagh Staking a claim: Women play cricket at Shivaji Park, Mumbai. (Photo: Nirmal Harindran)

Sachin Tendulkar has often spoken about Mumbai’s maidans and how Shivaji Park in Dadar was instrumental in his launch into competitive cricket. It’s where he first met his guru Ramakant Achrekar, where he made friends for life, and where the vada pav-wala and juice vendor nourished his famished self. Shivaji Park is where Bal Thackeray launched the Shiv Sena with a political rally in 1966, and it is where his samadhi stands today. This is also where his son Uddhav Thackeray was recently sworn in as chief minister, and every December 6, crowds flock here to remember BR Ambedkar on his death anniversary.

Somewhere between Ambedkar, Bal Thackeray, and cricket, Shivaji Park fulfils the ABC of a public space. With its fenceless boundaries and soft edges, spaces for young and old of all income groups, it offers Mumbai a level playing field. What is it about a public place that makes us stewards of the city? How does it give us a civic identity and dignity as citizens?

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Poets, singers and writers speak about what the Constitution means to them ‘in letter and spirit’

protest, constitution, what is constitution, fundamental rights, fundamental duties (Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

Artistes from around the country speak to The Indian Express and explain why the Constitution is the single most important document that answers all these questions.

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From Garm Hava to Naseem: Two Hindi films that captured the predicament of the Indian Muslim

Sunday EYE 2020, Sunday EYE, Garm Hava, Garm Hava movie, movie on partition, partition of India, Partition, Indian Express A protest in JNU

If you want to pay eight annas, go to Pakistan,” says a smug tongawallah to Salim Mirza when he expresses surprise over the suddenly exorbitant fare following Partition in Garm Hava (1973). From the tongawallah to a prospective employer who advises Mirza’s son — a young Sikandar played by Farooque Shaikh in his cinematic debut — to move to Pakistan for better opportunities, “Go to Pakistan” becomes a constant chant, sometimes a word of advice, often a rebuke. Seventy-two years after Partition, the rebuke has become a constant refrain, a taunt used liberally by politicians and self-proclaimed nationalists over any strand of difference or at the slightest hint of criticism.

Two decades after Garm Hava, in Saeed Mirza’s Naseem (1995), a film located in 1992, a year which changed India forever, a son, bewildered by a belligerent Hindutva, asks his father, played by Kaifi Azmi: “Why didn’t you go to Pakistan?” Azmi meanders through a reply. “Do you remember that tree outside our house in Agra? Your mother and I were very fond of that tree,” he says.

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How Punjabi refugee dispersed into many corners of India, shaping national culture, and being embraced by friendship

Sunday Eye, Sunday Eye 2020, Eye 2020, partition of India, Indo-Pak partition, Indian Express After India’s Independence, a large number of Punjabi truck drivers took to the roads and highways. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

For the rest of India, the Partition of India in 1947 is an abstract event fuelled by hate and kept alive for votes. But for those from Punjab and Bengal, it remains a lived reality. During Partition, Punjab lost more than half and Bengal three-fifths of its land. One million people died and 14 million were displaced. Many of these migrant refugees found their way into India beyond eastern Punjab and West Bengal. In many ways, this migration is why Punjabi food, clothes, music, and even cultural events have spread not only in the subcontinent but even beyond the borders of the nation-state.

After India’s independence, a large number of Punjabi truck drivers took to the roads and highways. Their long and arduous travels, for instance, led to the mushrooming of dhabas to cater to their needs — again run mostly by Punjabis. Now, that food has travelled world-wide. From the 1940s to 1980s, the heavily Punjabi-influenced Hindi cinema spread its music to every corner of the nation. The state’s functional clothing, the salwar-kameez, has become a national attire.

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How first NDA regime created the crisis that its new citizenship law deepens

How first NDA regime created the crisis that its new citizenship law deepens A protest against the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC at Jamia Masjid, Delhi

In Arms and the Man (1898), GB Shaw has Captain Bluntschli say: “My rank is the highest known in Switzerland: I’m a free citizen.”

It is slightly over a hundred years since all of India rose in answer to Gandhi’s call against the colonial Rowlatt legislation. Arrests, firings (as in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar), air-bombings (as in Gujranwala) and martial law (in the Punjab area) followed. These events hardened the people’s commitment to a composite nationhood and signalled the beginning of the end of the British Empire. Notwithstanding the Partition of India in 1947, the commitment to a composite Indian nationality and citizenship was reflected in India’s Constitution.

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Why January 26 was chosen to be the Republic Day

Sunday Eye, Sunday Eye 2020, Eye 2020, Republic Day, Republic Day 2020, R-day celebrations, 71st Republic Day, Republic Day celebrations, Indian Express The idea of the Republic Day parade is believed to have germinated from the Delhi Durbars of the British Empire, but it was modified by Nehru

Republic Day 2020: The date of India’s independence from the British came on August 15, but it was not a date of India’s choosing — it was thrust upon them by Lord Louis Mountbatten as “it was the second anniversary of Japan’s surrender” in World War II to him. In contrast, January 26 was chosen as the Republic Day by Indians themselves, for it had held immense significance for the country for two decades.

At its annual session in Lahore in December 1929, after Jawaharlal Nehru was elected the party president, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution for “purna swaraj” or complete independence from the British. “The British government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or complete independence,” said the 750-word resolution.

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Why my grandfather refused to become a citizen of India

Indian citizen, Pakistan, Eye 2020, Sunday Eye, Indian Express news Partition had drawn a line through homesteads and belongings. (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

The passport is red, not the familiar inky-blue. Inside, on a yellowing page, the photograph of a boy, fresh-faced and unrecognisable: my father. On its cover, below the insignia of the Ashoka Chakra is written: “India-Pakistan passport (east zone)”. That hyphen is unusual. It is not quite barbed wire between antagonist countries, being on a document meant to help hop borders. I imagine it as a narrowing path, one my father and his brothers took often in the years following 1947, from an old country to new, from India to East Pakistan — and back. Till they could do no more.

As in the north, so in the east. Partition had drawn a line through homesteads and belongings. My grandfather remained on the other side in Mongolpur village, Sylhet, adamantly rooted to the land of his birth. The sons, some of whom had travelled a few hundred kilometres to find work in the tea estates built by the British, suddenly found themselves in another country, with different destinies. Even after Partition, it was possible to travel through those checkposts with some paperwork. In the early 1950s, the first of these passports began to be issued — congealing an older, fluid cartography, turning desh and tribal homelands into nations, or even antagonistic provinces.

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Marathi writer and feminist Urmila Pawar on how the Constitution Ambedkar drafted inspires vision of justice

CAA protest, Citizenship law India, India CAA protest, Indian Constitution preamble, anti CAA protest, Sunday Eye indian express Why are children and students coming out on to the streets now? It’s because they know that all that is happening in the country is because the ideals of the Constitution are not being followed. (File/Express photo: Partha Paul)

I was born into the Ambedkarite community in a village called Phansavle, in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. I was three years old when India became independent and five years old when she adopted the Constitution. Growing up in a rural area, we didn’t have much understanding of words like “independence” and “constitution”. For us, they were limited to the speeches given at the unfurling of the national flag at school on Independence Day and Republic Day. But as I grew older, I started to understand. I saw that the Constitution accorded respect to Dalits, Bahujans, tribal communities, women and other underprivileged people. I understood that reservation was brought in for the upliftment of those communities which were historically disadvantaged. I realised that if everyone followed the Constitution, India would soon have a just society.

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What Nehru, Ambedkar and others said during the Constituent Assembly debates

jawaharlal nehru Jawaharlal Nehru (Photo: Express Archives)

‘The main thing is the spirit behind it’

“It only seeks to show how we shall lead India to gain the objectives laid down in it. You will take into consideration its words and I hope you will accept them; but the main thing is the spirit behind it. Laws are made of words but this Resolution is something higher than the law. If you examine its words like lawyers, you will produce only a lifeless thing. We are, at present, standing midway between two eras; the old order is fast changing, yielding place to the new. At such a juncture, we have to give a live message to India and to the world at large. Later on, we can frame our Constitution in whatever words we please. At present, we have to send out a message to show what we have resolved to attempt to do. As to what form or shape this Resolution, this declaration, will ultimately take, we shall see later. But one thing is, however, certain: it is not a law; but is something that breathes life in human minds…”

– Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, moving the Objectives Resolution, December 13, 1946, that formed the basis of the Preamble

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Indian flag emoji as an icon of resistance

indian flag, republic day 2020 Badge of pride: Flag emoji has become a struggle for belonging and ownership. Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi

When in 2015, with the WhatsApp-like messaging services surging high, the Indian Tricolour emoji was released, there was a lot of scoffing about it. To reduce the national flag to a cartoonish icon was a mockery. The lofty flag, it was felt, should not just be a symbol so lightly thrown around, with the possibility that you were using it while sitting on the toilet seat, phone in your hands. In the five years since it has been released, we have seen the flag emoji proliferate in different forms – generally trending around Independence and Republic Days, when patriotism becomes fashionable online, showing up when Indian athletes and sportspersons win important accolades, and also in those bizarre forwards where we keep on claiming that we got certified by international institutions as having best anthems, cities, plans, and culture. The Indian flag emoji, in our digital conversations, has come to stand in for national pride and celebration of our people. However, in the last few months, since the extraordinary demonstrations against the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, have taken the country by storm, you see a strange shift in how the Indian flag emoji has been used. Once a casual hashtag for visually demonstrating pride, it has suddenly become a space for contestation – a struggle for belonging and ownership. In these times, when a large number of people are experiencing precariousness at the hands of the state and the normalisation of violence in everyday space, the flag emoji has started showing up not in the unquestioned performance of nationalism but a fierce, critical, and impassioned protection and championing of the fundamental and foundational civil liberties, enshrined by the progressive and poignant preamble to our Constitution.

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The handcrafted Constitution is a work of art

Prem Behari Narain Raizada Prem Behari Narain Raizada

Placed in a special helium-filled case in the Indian Parliament Library, the pages of the handcrafted Indian Constitution are bound in black leather, embossed with patterns in gold. It defines not just the laws of the country, but its authors also envisioned for it to share Indian history and heritage. So, while each word was carefully calligraphed by Prem Behari Narain Raizada, the task of illustrating the book was assigned to artist Nandalal Bose and his team from Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan.

One of the longest written Constitutions for any sovereign state in the world, each of the 22 parts of the Indian Constitution begins with an illustration. Chronologically, Bose and his team chart the history of India, from Mohenjo Daro to the national freedom struggle. While the Preamble page has intricate patterns sketched by Beohar Rammanohar Sinha, and bears his signature, Dinanath Bhargava sketched the National Emblem, the Lion Capital of Ashoka. Rendered largely in miniature style, there are influences of Ajanta cave paintings and the Bagh murals in its borders and illustrations.

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