A few days ago, my sixth grader son approached me for some help in his social science homework. He had to answer the question “how does India’s diversity add to its unity”. While helping him write the answer, I realised that the answer is what really defines Indianness and the essence of being an Indian. Diversity for us is not a remote concept, but a part of our everyday lives. We follow different beliefs and religions, speak different languages, dress differently, look different, have different ethnicities, experience different seasons, reside in diverse geographical terrains and yet are woven in one common fabric. Diversity forms the basis of our character, our values, our philosophy and our strength.
As we celebrate our 73rd Independence Day, we must recommit ourselves to this Indianness. A serious read of the preamble of our constitution is a simple yet very powerful gesture towards recommitment. We may have read it before, but it is important we reinforce within us the values it enshrines. This one-sentence Preamble, I feel, is very empowering and all encompassing. It lays down core principles and objectives we wish to achieve as a country. It reminds us the ideas and ethos of India.
The opening phrase “We, the People” gives a sense of both empowerment and responsibility. The words – sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, liberty, equality, fraternity, unity, integrity and dignity – reinforce the promise to provide and promote better life to all citizens. Delve a bit more into the constitution, to read about directive principles of state policy and our rights and duties as a citizen, and in one stroke you get an over-arching view of how the state needs to set policies and how we can become better citizens of this country.
Our Preamble highlights why it is important to vote and to pay our taxes. Why it is critical to ensure better wages and working conditions for workers in our factories and houses. Why employment opportunities must be available to all. Why we must consider men and women, rich and poor equal. It also reinforces why we must accept diverse religious beliefs. Why we need far greater education, housing and health infrastructure for the poor and the needy. Why a pedestrian has an equal (in fact even higher) right on the road than the car-owner? Why we need to protect children, senior citizens and differentially able sections of the society. Why all citizens have equal rights for natural resources such as water in the country. And, why must we protect our natural environment such as lakes and rivers, and the wild life of this country.
The gap – in terms of where we are and where we should be – is abysmally wide. The onus is both on the governance and citizenry to work towards reducing socio-economic inequalities through all formal and informal means.
Some recent random incidents indicate that we still are far from internalising the core values of the Preamble. In a recent unfortunate instance, a customer who ordered food online, refused to accept it because of the different religion of the delivery boy. In yet another incident, a customer cancelled a cab as the cab driver was of a particular religion. While both these acts are unconstitutional – they were widely criticised on the social media – they indicate deep social biases and prejudices that still exist in our society. Not just religion, there are social biases related to sex, economic class, regions, colour, etc., that are also widely prevalent. Clearly, we are missing the idea of what India is, as set out by the fathers of our constitution.
What can we do to bridge the divide? We should certainly stay away from activities that polarise or divide us and we must root ourselves in India’s core values to build a stronger nation. This means celebrating all festivals, bringing different communities together, upliftment of weaker sections, making sure everyone’s rights are honoured, ensuring better health, housing and education facilities for the under-privileged, ensuring public spaces are used by all, saving water, reducing pollution, planting trees and increasing the green cover. There clearly is a lot to do at an individual, community and city level.
As I was telling my son about the constitution and reading the preamble to him, I was drawn towards the following lines that sum up the spirit of our constitution: “Let’s be equal, just, and free…strong in our diversity…free in thought and free in prayer.. and free to dream and free to dare”.