Apoorvaanand began the conference by saying it is not a coincidence that we have got together to talk about the Constitution. And right he is. It is not a coincidence indeed. It has become an urgent need. And that perhaps is the reason for Takshila Education Society to invite us to take the conference that had originally taken place in Calcutta in 2019, to Pune. And so, from 7 – 9 February 2020 60 teachers from across the country came together to attend The Idea of the Indian Constitution – Chapter II in Pune.
CCCProf Apoorvanand set the tone to perfection in his keynote. He began by inspiring the audience to look at the concept of naming seriously. ‘Constitution’ which is called Samvidhan in Hindi and dastoor in Farsi — dastoor meaning the edict by which society agrees to live; and samvidhan—the doctrine by which a nation agrees to live. This dastoor which is being discussed currently in all corners of the nation—by the educated and by those who have not had the good fortune of completing their education; by the young and by the old; in households, in education institutions and on the streets at the numerous Shaheen Baghs that have come up across the nation.
CCCHe analysed the role and purpose of the Constitution beautifully focusing on every aspect outlined in the Preamble, stressing that if these aspects are not a reality we are not being true to the Constitution. He emphasized the transformative nature of our Constitution and reminded each one in the room that when the word Secularism was added to the Constitution it was meant to establish an awakening towards diverse religions—not divorced from diversity in religions.
CCCHaving raised issues that are extremely pertinent today, Prof Apoorvaanand handed the baton over to Anuj Bhuwania, Dean and Associate Professor at the School of Law, Governance and Citizenship, Ambedkar University.
CCCAnuj’s talk focussed around the present government’s pre-occupation with Fundamental Duties, raising their importance at par with the Preamble, running a relentless campaign and treating the Fundamental Duties as the pedagogy that would teach Indians to become better citizens. Now there is nothing new about political regimes believing that Indian citizens need to be ‘taught’. Tracing the history of Constitutional changes and the environment in which these changes took place—the questions Anuj raised revolved around the motivation and need of a government to bring Duties to the forefront based on the belief that Constitutional Morality has to be cultivated and that the exercise of rights depends on one’s sense of duty. Are ‘real rights a result of performance of duty’ or is it possible that we are diluting rights by emphasising on duties? Are rights un-Indian? Are duties in tune with Indian culture and should the Constitution embrace culture over social justice?
CCCDay 1 ended with a plethora of issues serving as food for thought.
CCCWe began day 2 with Arun Thiruvengadam taking us back in time to the very beginning, with a detailed and fascinating account of the history of Constitution making, the processes and procedures that were involved drawing attention to the lessons to be learnt from there and why this is particularly important now.
CCCStarting from the 1857 mutiny or the first war of independence he spoke about the stages that the country passed through from being colonized to becoming a dominion to finally independence and what the nature of governance was through this process. Speaking about the missionaries and people like Annie Besant and their work he elaborated on what Arthur Berridate Keith stated in his lecture at the Edinburg University—‘It was the aim of the greatest among the early British administrators in India to train the peoples of India to govern and protect themselves … rather than to establish the rule of a British bureaucracy.’ As he walked us through details of all the various stages of the bills that were drafted between 1895 and 1945 by the Indian nationalists and the non-Nationalists Constitutions such as MN Roy’s Constitution of India: A Draft (1946), SN Agarwal’s Gandhian Constitution for Free India (1946), Socialist Party’s Draft Constitution of Indian Republic (1948)—it became increasingly clear that the documents were getting more and more elaborate and sophisticated.
CCCTouching on the partition Arun drew attention to how important it is to understand the context in which a text is written and from there went on to elaborate on Constituent Assembly, its members and the numerous drafts that were carefully whetted before the final document that would govern independent India was ready. Arun’s brilliant articulation and knowledge of the entire process of the making of the Constitution drew stark attention to the style in which the current regime has been rushing through very important policy changes—Demonetization; Abrogation of Article s 370; CAA/NRC—and how disastrous it has proved to be. How important planning and careful orientation is—not enough can be said about this.
CCCHe concluded by sharing valuable information on available books and material available on scholarly analysis of the process and methods used in the drafting of the Constitution and resources that teachers can use in the classroom.
CCCOne common response from all teachers post a conference has always been about what they can take directly into the classroom. Hence, we have been increasingly and deliberately attempting to focus on pedagogy almost as much as scholarly intervention. Pune was no different and the rest of the morning of day 2 consisted of three parallel workshops.
Critical Understanding of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression
Making Sense of a Contested Canon: Developing a Constitutional Sensibility in Grades 11 and 12 in Complicated Times
Gender Rights and the Classroom: Queer Story of Section 377 in Our Lives
PAWAN DHALL, RAFIQUEL HAQ DOWJAH
CCCSunita Biswas had attended The Idea of the Indian Constitution—the annual conference held in Calcutta in 2019. Having been deeply moved by the session on Kashmir at this conference she developed a module for her classroom that takes a closer look at ‘reasonable restrictions’ on the right to freedom of speech and expression, particularly in the context of the recent internet shutdown in Kashmir.
CCCSathish Jayarajan, Principal Mallya Aditi School in Bangalore shared his personal practice in classrooms—a pedagogy that displaces the notion of ‘classroom’ and turns into a liberal space that allows serious critical engagement. Drawing on over twenty years of experience of teaching Sathish impressed upon the participants the importance of discussion and interrogation in the teaching learning experience.
CCCPawan Dhall and Rafiquel Haq Dowja’s workshop drew upon their own personal experiences while also throwing light on the history of Indian queer movements since the late 1980s and early 1990s—delving into the socio-legal challenge against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and the recent reading down of the statute. They shared case studies of sexual health and mental health arguments against the law and elaborated on how Section 377 was against the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution. The session also covered the realities on the ground post the reading down of Article 377, drawing attention to the crucial role of social acceptance for any law to be successful. This session was particularly helpful for teachers who are struggling to find effective ways to bring crucial gender related conversations into the classroom.
CCCArmed with some serious pedagogic ideas the participants walked into Achyut Chetan’s presentation on the Missing Mothers of the Indian Constitution. Twelve women who earned their place in the Constituent Assembly for being part of women’s organizations, both national and international, and for having practiced a form of constitutional politics even prior to their being elected to the assembly. He began with putting up a photograph of all the twelve women on the large screen in front of us. That certainly worked well towards bringing the founding mothers amidst us, given the passion with which Achyut spoke of their life and times. It was difficult to stay with reality and actually not begin to believe that he knew each of them personally.
CCCNow, the participation of women in Gandhi’s non-violent movement is well known and fairly well documented. It was Sarala Devi who said ‘we don’t want to be only law breakers, we want to be law makers too’, and this led to initiating discussions around who would qualify for this important task. Who are the women who know the nitty gritty of politics, who know law, who are capable of holding legal arguments with qualified lawyers. During his research Achyut came across several letters that suggested 25 names had been floated and after much discussion within the various branches of the All India Women’s Conference and other women’s organizations of the time—twelve names were finally elected. Tracing their backgrounds, the important work they had done up until then—Achyut took the participants on a fascinating journey through the lives of women having a history of challenging and questioning patriarchy and through their work leaving a mark not only within the country but also internationally. Achyut also discussed the very deep and pertinent reasons for these women being deprived of their rightful place in history.
CCCWe ended the day with a World Café session where the participants were given various Articles from the Constitution along with newspapers. The assignment was to identify current events that violate/uphold constitutional values.
CCCThe following day the three workshops were repeated in order to enable each participant to experience at least two pedagogical training during the course of the conference.