Defending Rights, Expanding Freedoms

June 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Meetings and Events 

Know your constitution Workshop – Why every citizen needs to know the Indian constitution!
Facilitator: Dr Suresh V, National Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties
Sunday June 19 2011 – Indian Social Institute Bangalore

With every brand new day starting with the reality bites of arbitrary government policies, high-handed police actions, judicial apathy and corporate takeover of land and other resources, the future of human rights and civil liberties seem uncertain in our country. In many places across the country, men and women who stand up for human and social rights of people become highly vulnerable to the vindictive action by the state apparatus.

In this context, it is of utmost important for human rights and civil liberties defenders and those associated with all kind of peoples and social movements to know the fundamentals of our constitution and what rights, entitlements and safeguards the constitution of India provides to us, the citizens of India.

The workshop organized by PUCL Bangalore and facilitated by Dr Suresh V, National Secretary of PUCL on this topic came across as extremely useful with loads of practical learning and points to takeaway.

Audience

The audience for the workshop was a great mix of seasoned human rights activists, greenhorns like self, members of the minority communities such as Muslims, Christians and sexual minorities and students. It provided a great platform for cross learning and useful interaction within the group.

Content

The workshop focused primarily on preamble, fundamental rights, fundamental duties and directive principles of state policy. Suresh also explained various kinds of rights viz. fundamental, constitutional, and legislative and their relative importance. He also discussed the pulls and pressures within the constituent assembly and various influences that finally shaped the constitution. The historical significance and contexts of many of these laws from the days of European enlightenment to the modern era were also briefly touched upon building overall perspective on our constitution. The nuanced differences between the ways constitution treats the citizen vs. persons (foreigners included) in general was also explained in detail.

Apart from that it also looked at the essential principles of criminal law. Finally it dwelled on the importance of first complaint and do’s and don’ts of writing a complaint. Suresh went beyond theoretical understanding of these concepts and enumerated applications of these principles with real life scenarios and examples.

Structure

It all started with a group interaction. Participants were divided into multiple groups such as Dalits, Adivasis, Traders, Big Farmers, Industrialists, Minorities, Sexual Minorities etc and they were asked to write their own constitution in order to answer three fundamental questions;

What are the various rights of the respective groups that they want protected?
What is the role of the government and what should be the limits and checks on it in relation with the group’s rights?
What are the specific policy initiatives that they would to happen vis-à-vis their groups?

The groups were asked to make a presentation on these points. With this first interaction, it was established that constitution is not some legislative piece of paper but a living political document that has to respond to the different pulls, pressures and interests; legitimate and not so legitimate, of various groups within the diverse mosaic called Indian union.

The group interaction and presentations were followed by presentation by Suresh on the specifics of constitution such as fundamental rights, duties, directive principles and criminal law. Kannada translations were done on regular intervals by the few members of the audience as a large number of participants were Kannada speaking.

This was followed by a very interesting intervention by few members within the audience. They orchestrated and simulated a real life confrontation between the people present. The incident was used as backdrop for writing a police complaint.

Post this participants were asked to rate the complaints written by their colleagues based on the criteria explained by Suresh. This explained the essentials of the complaint in absolutely crystal fashion.
Using mix of multiple approaches such as group interactions and presentations, lecture with regular translations, real life incident simulations and participant activities, it became much easier for people to understand especially those who had no formal or prior grounding in law.

Key Takeaways
Workshop proved to be extremely useful in more ways than one.

First and foremost, it gave a sense of hope that all said and done, we do have a living vanguard that we can bank on in the event of oppression by those who hold or are attached to the strings of powers.

Second, it enables us to look at our rights as entitlements that we can demand and not as doles and giveaways by those sitting on the high tables.

And finally, going beyond the theory it gives us small, practical tools that we should be aware of and use in our line of defense of human rights and civil liberties.

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