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Teaching the Indian Constitution: Fundamental Rights, Resistance and the AFSPA - A Lesson Plan

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This lesson plan was introduced to 32 teachers from ICSE and CBSE schools based in Kolkata at a History for Peace workshop on June 21, 2023.


The chapter on fundamental rights in the Indian Constitution is taught across the ICSE, CBSE and state boards from middle school onwards up to class 12. One of the central focuses of the chapter is Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, the right to constitutional remedies, which empowers citizens to ‘move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of (their) rights’. Article 32 is conventionally used as the basis for the claim that fundamental rights are justiciable in India. As per Article 32, the violation of a citizen’s fundamental right can be corrected by the judiciary.


What is often neglected in the scholarship of fundamental rights at the school level is Article 34, by which the constitution empowers the Indian parliament to choose whether certain public officials, discharging functions relating to the maintenance of order, can be indemnified for their acts (including acts that violate the fundamental rights). Further, the parliament can also ‘validate any sentence passed, punishment inflicted, forfeiture ordered or other act done under martial law’ in such an area. In other words, the parliament can ratify actions that violate the fundamental rights of their citizens in the interest of maintaining law and order.


The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which has been in effect since 1990 in Jammu and Kashmir and since 1958 in the northeastern states of India, aligns with Article 34 of the constitution. AFSPA authorizes armed personnel to shoot to kill on suspicion in areas designated as ‘disturbed areas’. Further, it protects armed personnel from prosecution for any activity they undertake under the auspices of this act, without prior sanction from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Needless to say, rarely does the MHA authorize prosecutorial action against armed personnel for their excesses. Further, grave violations of human rights including mass rapes, mass murders, extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, forced blindings and fake encounters have taken place under the AFSPA in both Kashmir and the northeast. These violations have been bolstered because AFSPA has extended blanket impunity to armed personnel, who know they cannot be tried for any criminal activity they undertake within an AFSPA-designated area. In most AFSPA-protected states, the police will refuse to file a first information report (FIR) when the perpetrator of violence is affiliated with the Indian armed forces, which leads to a vast majority of such cases remaining undocumented.



The Interactive Presentation


Teachers engage with the presentation on AFSPA and Fundamental Rights at The Seagull Foundation for the Arts.


Through films, poetry, and photographs, that amplify the voices of those living under AFSPA-protected military violence, this lesson plan seeks to embed lived experience into the schoolroom conversation on fundamental rights. What does Article 32 mean to a teenage Kashmiri survivor of gender-based violence, for instance? Why is Article 34 of the Constitution more relevant to her experience? And why is Article 34 of the fundamental rights chapter, not discussed in any history and civics textbook? These are some questions that this lesson is meant to provoke.


Another dimension of fundamental rights—the universalist human rights framework born out of international law—is also linked to this discussion. The lesson pushes students to consider what they would do if they did not have access to domestic mechanisms of justice as enshrined in Article 32. Human rights activism, which mobilizes grassroots documentation, capacity-building, and awareness-raising techniques are discussed. Clips from the speech of a human rights lawyer from Manipur, Babloo Loitongbam, who presented the case against AFSPA at several human rights bodies at the United Nations, and discussed his decades-long human rights documentation work at the annual History for Peace conference in Kolkata in 2019, is also shown to students as part of the workshop. On the ground resistance—resilient protests by the people of Kashmir, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland—are put into conversation with the legal side of human rights work. This is meant to provide students with a holistic picture of the human rights movement that has been mobilizing against the AFSPA.



Irom Sharmila, an activist from Manipur, went on the longest-known hunger strike in world history—a period of 16 years—against AFSPA. She was arrested by the Indian government repeatedly on charges of ‘attempting to commit suicide’. She received national and international acclaim for her resistance. (Photo Courtesy: BBC)




The Role-Play Debate


A glimpse of the role-play activity at the HfP workshop simulating this lesson plan. Team Supreme Court of India workshops ideas for their presentation before the role-play debate.


Following the presentation of facts, students are divided into four groups. Group 1 will represent the Government of India. Group 2 will represent the Supreme Court of India. Group 3 will represent an amalgam of international NGOs and human rights activists—the UN OHCHR, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch among others. Group 4 will represent civilians and local human rights lawyers and activists like Babloo Loitongbam who advocate for civilians violated by AFSPA.



Round 1: Presentation and Questions (20 mins)


Each group will be allotted 4 minutes of presentation time. After 4 minutes, other groups will be allowed to ask questions to the speaking group for 1 minute, of which the teacher will keep note. This will be followed by the 4-minute presentation of the next group. Other groups will now ask questions to this group for 1 minute. Each of the 4 groups will do this in rotation.


Round 2: Rebuttal (10 mins)


After each of the 4 groups has presented their respective positions, each group will be given 1.5 minutes to respond to the questions and rebut any critical points brought up by the other groups.


Group 2, which is the Supreme Court, should go last in both rounds, because of the arbitrating role it is meant to play in this debate, given the opposing view of the other groups.


Format


Students should be able to infer the position of each of the portfolios based on the lesson. They should also be given time to research and prepare for the activity.


Students should be as creative as they please for their 5-minute presentations. While they should provide a cohesive overview of their position within the designated time, they should not feel compelled to adhere to the conventional spoken form of a debate. They can incorporate visual and theatrical elements into the presentation, taking care to emphasize individual voices from each side that tend to be erased in sweeping ideological debates (the voices of survivors of assault, the families of victims, protestors on the ground, soldiers and officers assigned to AFSPA protected areas, and official members of the human rights organisations).


For instance, the presentation of the Government of India can take the form of a role-play interview between a military lawyer and 2 army officers. Through the questioning, the government can make a case for why the soldiers feel AFSPA is necessary to protect them as they are pursuing their duty of upholding national security in areas of great instability. Meanwhile, the presentation of Group 4 (human rights lawyers against AFSPA) could include real excerpts from personal accounts of survivors. They can conduct a mock interview with an activist on a hunger strike against the AFSPA. They can even role-play the questioning of a witness in a courtroom who is a survivor or the family member of a survivor in a case where AFSPA was used to shield perpetrators of human rights abuses.



The Reflection Exercise


Ask your students to submit a 500-word reflection on the lesson and the presentation exercise after the debate. Use the ‘History for Peace’ discussion forum on the website for this. Click on the following link to start a discussion.


Did they agree with the position they were assigned? What were the limitations of hosting such a debate? Were all the perspectives appropriately represented? Are there perspectives that were erased in this activity? How could that have been altered?



Download Lesson Plan here:

Original Lesson Plan_ AFSPA and the Constitution
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.56MB


Download the presentation used for the workshop here:

Fundamental Rights Workshop
.pdf
Download PDF • 3.17MB


Download speaker notes accompanying the presentation here:

Speaker notes_ Fundamental Rights Workshop
.pdf
Download PDF • 211KB



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