Dear Mr. President,
I was 14 years old when I met you. You gave me the children’s bravery award for saving my sister and her friend from being swept away in the river near where we lived. You said to me – “I wish I were half as brave as you.” Your humility bowled me over. That’s when I decided that I wanted to become the President of India.
When I asked my teacher in 9th class how to go about it, she laughed at me. On persisting, she answered that the President upheld the Constitution of India and asked me if I even knew what that was. When I refused, she asked me to concentrate on my Civics lesson and stop daydreaming. I worked hard that year but couldn’t grasp much about the Constitution. To be honest, it was too boring.
I forgot about my dream until this year when the Samvidhan Live project run by ComMutiny The Youth Collective, came to my college. I signed up as a jagrik (“Jagruk Nagrik” – literally, an aware citizen) immediately and paired up with another friend to play what they were calling “A game with the young for the young and by the young.”
It started on Constitution Day, November 26th and will culminate on Republic Day. Sir, it’s been four weeks now and I’ve had a tremendous journey! I wish every citizen of India could undertake this voyage of discovery about what it means to be a citizen of this great, sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.
After a two-day orientation, which introduced us to the Preamble, the rights and duties and the four pillars of our democracy, we got into the serious business of living the Constitution with a warning to not take it too seriously. The anchor called it walking the thin line between a reality check and a reality show. Every week, the jagrik pairs, would roll a dice and depending on what came up, pick a right or a duty card. On the card were refl-action (reflection + action) tasks graded as gold, silver and bronze. Each had an aspect that dealt with society and one that dealt with ourselves. We would choose the one we felt confident of doing that week and go out on to the streets to accomplish it. For example, the one I had the most fun doing was also the one that challenged me the most. Under the right to equal opportunity, we chose to do the gold task that required us to live on ₹32 (the government-designated poverty line) for an entire day. It was difficult and for the first time I experienced what it really means to be poor and to not have the right to equal employment.
We lived frugally the whole day but by 8 pm we had only ₹2 left between us. The entire night stretched before us like the devil’s shadow. It was the most uncomfortable night of my life. But no book could teach me about the right to equality like that night did. We had to finally beg a dhaba (street side eating joint) owner to give us his left over paranthas (a type of Indian bread) when he was closing down. He agreed on the condition that we share it with the street dog whom he fed every night. I won’t stretch your patience by talking about the other tasks that we did but in case you are interested we would love to share them maybe at your Estate in New Delhi. I could bring along some of my peer jagriks who played the game simultaneously over 15 states of India.
Apart from the game, we also surveyed 500 people each, over the period of the six weeks. Through the survey, we tried to understand how we as citizens were living the Constitution. Split into three parts – knowledge, action and inspiring others; our research found that the record of the citizens of India was abysmal. Just like me, before Samvidhan Live, not many had the interest and inclination to learn about the Constitution, let alone live it. Not being interested in the Constitution of our country is as dangerous a situation as driving a car long distance without reading the manual. Even among those who knew the Constitution, the focus was mainly on rights. Hardly anybody understood the duties they needed to perform as citizens of the nation. Many Indians don’t know what it is to be national.
So, Mr. President my humble request to you is to find innovative ways for the citizenry to learn about the Constitution, to get it out of the courts and into the streets of India. We need constitutional literacy at a war footing if we earnestly aspire to achieve the values of Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity enshrined in the Preamble.
Finally, sir, I would like to tell you that my dream of becoming the President of India has been rekindled again, thanks to Samvidhan Live. And I promise to take forward your legacy of constitutional literacy when I occupy the esteemed office that you hold right now.