Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
On the occasion of Republic Day, let us understand what the Constitution should practically mean for educators and students, as Father Cedric explores.
Rosary School in Vadodara (Baroda) Gujarat is one of the premier educational institutions of the State. It is co-educational and run by the Society of Jesus. It caters to about 2,300 students from all walks of life. The School which started functioning in 1935, provides quality education to make students women and men ‘for others’! It also boasts of alumni, who have contributed significantly to the nation- in public service, sports, academic research engagements and other important spheres. It is, therefore, not without reason, that Rosary School is much sought-after by parents, for the education of their children.
On 4 November 2023, the school had its Annual School Day Celebrations. The first part, which lasted for about an hour, was devoted to customary items like lighting of the lamp, prayer dance (performed beautifully by the School Staff), the Principal’s Report, the Chief Guest’s speech, the prize distribution etc. Then one would naturally have expected the ‘traditional’ items of song, dance and plays to hold for the ‘normal’ stage presentations so typical on such Annual Days!
But NO! The massive gathering: of parents, alumni, well-wishers and friends of the institution were treated to a performance, which few will ever forget! The theme of the Annual Day was ‘Promoting and Safeguarding the Constitutional Values.’ The huge backdrop emblazoned the theme with a picture of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the Constituent Assembly and a picture of the Constitution of India. The entire programme, which went on for a non-stop two hours, highlighted the four non-negotiable values of the Constitution: justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. It was a moving spectacle in song, dance and mime. Class after class (from the KG to Std. XII) they came; they regaled, engaged and conscientised the audience in meaningful ways. More than seven hundred students participated in a performance, which was simply brilliant, touching and heart-stopping.
The tiny tots of the kindergarten set the ball rolling. They were all beautifully dolled up in the image and likeness of those who fought for India’s freedom and ensured India’s independence from colonial rule on 15 August 1947. The children confidently paraded in royal style, to the cheers of the audience and with the commentator highlighting the significant role each of these played in making India a free nation. From a mini Mahatma Gandhi to Jhansi ki Rani: they were all there! It was an out–of–this–world performance by tiny tots, who helped bring back memories of those who sacrificed so much for our freedom.
The audience was then transported to 29 August 1947, with the appointment of the seven members to be on the Drafting Committee for the new Constitution. The members of this Drafting Committee were certainly look-alikes of the original. The student who played the role of Ambedkar was certainly a ‘chotta’ version of the original. The accents and articulations of each of these members, besides their names, magnificently communicated their cultural and ethnic backgrounds, which spoke volumes of the wealth of diversity in India. They were the link that bonded the entire programme. It was evident that painstaking research was put in, to ensure that this group of students would create the necessary impact.
Against the background of these stalwarts discussing the key values of the Constitution: the students came out in groups (according to their classes) and poignantly highlighted through ‘real life’ incidents why these values are fundamental for a thriving democracy and how directly and indirectly they are being violated daily. The discrimination of the girl child, for one, so rampant in the country today, was brought to the fore. The ‘father’ of the child, whilst emphasising ‘gender equality’ very proudly stated that “my daughter is not ‘tension’ but equal to ‘ten sons’! Other forms of discrimination and injustice that are being mainstreamed in the country were also brought to the fore. Corruption in public and private places, certainly made the audience wince. The need and importance for communal harmony and peace, for fraternity, was depicted in how people are conveniently targeted because of their beliefs, customs and practices. The programmes touched upon several other grim realities and Constitutional violations, which thrive in the country today. The mimes were all topical and would have surely made many from the audience say to themselves, “Yes, all this is true; what the children are demonstrating, is happening daily!”
The entire programme was painstakingly and meticulously choreographed; the commentary and voice–overs showed that much care was taken to be as factual as possible. The costumes of the children, besides being beautiful, were also very tasteful. The slides, which came on and off, as a backgrounder, were not merely educative but helped in setting the tone for what was being enacted. The ambience, the music (sounds) and the lightning clearly showed that even a children’s programme could have professional perfection. It was no ordinary run-of-the-mill Annual Day; it was a student’s performance ‘par excellence’!
Rosary School has surely shown the way for all other educational institutions throughout the country, to do likewise. It would be interesting to see how many schools will do so. The Constitution is a sacred book for a citizen of India. The values enshrined in them are non-negotiable and must be internalised by all children from the moment they enter the portals of an educational institution. The sanctity of the Constitution of India today, however, is not only being trampled upon and desecrated but being torn to shreds. Educationists need to exert a powerful and defining direction by taking up cudgels to promote and safeguard Constitutional values. They should regard it as their primary duty.
On the eve of the enactment of the Constitution, 25 November 1949, in a passionate speech to the Constituent Assembly, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the father of our Constitution, gave three unambiguous warnings: the need to give up the grammar of anarchy, to avoid hero-worship, and to work towards a social – not just a political – democracy! Ambedkar was, at that time, perhaps envisioning what India could become in 2023, and how these three aspects could not only destroy all that was sacred in the Constitution but could result in the dismantling of the democratic framework. In a powerful interview recently (13 November) in ‘The Wire’ with Karan Thapar, one of the foremost scholars of the Indian Constitution, Prof Tarunabh Khaitan, professor of Public Law at the London School of Economics says, “Modi has ‘Killed the Constitution by a 1000 Cuts’. He states, “many of India’s political parties and institutions have sleepwalked into (Modi’s) authoritarianism whilst others are complicit in Modi’s undermining of democracy; many people didn’t realise what was happening whilst huge swathes of constitutional machinery was aware but let it happen. There is an incremental, subtle but systemic style of autocratisation which chips at the fundamentals of democracy”. Will the citizens of India have the courage to do something about this?
With the General Elections just six months away, we the people of India, must get our act together immediately. Let us pay heed to Dr Ambedkar’s passionate words to the Constituent Assembly on 25 November 1949, “If we wish to preserve the Constitution in which we have sought to enshrine the principle of Government of the people, for the people and by the people, let us resolve not to be tardy in the recognition of the evils that lie across our path and which induce people to prefer Government for the people to Government by the people, nor to be weak in our initiative to remove them. That is the only way to serve the country. I know of no better.” The responsibility is ours today!
As citizens, we all have both the right and duty, to protect and promote the Constitution of India! Rosary School, Baroda, has shown us all, one meaningful way of how to ‘Celebrate Constitutionality’! Do we have the responsibility and courage to do likewise?