Ever wondered why Republic Day is celebrated, when we already celebrate Independence Day too? While India gained its independence in 1947, it waited for almost three years to celebrate Republic Day. In these three years, Britain’s longest parliamentary document (back then), the Government of India Act, was replaced by the Constitution of India, the longest constitution in the world. The Constitution of India replaced King George VI as the head of state with a President. The powers of Mountbatten (as the governor-general of India) were largely absorbed by the Prime Minister of India.
It’s not because there was a shift of power at such high levels that the masses celebrate Republic Day. We celebrate Republic Day because it is on this day that we got our rights as citizens of India. The British Raj’s Government of India Act had no Preamble and no Bill of Rights. B R Ambedkar and the others were steadfast in ensuring that this was changed when they drafted our Constitution.
Written here under, the Preamble is considered the soul and heart of the Constitution of India.
“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation…”
Article 21 of our Constitution states, “Protection Of Life And Personal Liberty: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” This means that the government and its departments (the police, for instance), legal bodies (courts), administrative authorities (politicians) can never deprive any of its citizens the right to live and the right to personal liberty. To add to this, five months back, a unanimous judgement of the Supreme Court of India declared that Article 21 also includes the right to privacy as an integral part of our Fundamental Rights, since it is intrinsic to human dignity and liberty.
Look at how liberty is explained in the Preamble. It secures to all Indian citizens the freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Ideally, it should also include my right to express my love in any manner or form. It includes my belief in my sense of identity – of gender and social agency.
“I might disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – this statement, allegedly attributed to Voltaire by the English author, E B Hall, perhaps sums up the basic principle and premise of Indian Constitution.
It matters not what I believe. It matters not who I worship, or what I think, or how I express myself. We are all equal in the eyes of our Constitution and the law.
This brings us back to 69, 57, 21, 17, 83, 888 and other numerical representations of forms and expression of sexual mores. What two (or more) consenting adults do with each other in private can not be used as an excuse to take away their fundamental rights – falsely claiming it to be ‘immoral or against the order of nature’.
As it’s often famously said, “Morality is a human construct.”
The ‘order of nature’ is based on the strong overpowering the weak – the survival of the fittest. It is only in human society that the weak are often protected by the strong. In my opinion, morality, democracy, religion, society, dignity, righteousness, honesty are all abstract human constructs – and can be considered against the ‘order of nature’. But it is not. Through the same logic, the relative character of nature can not be used as an excuse to punish people for their sense of self – their identity, their expression, their beliefs, and their faiths.
Any law, socio-religious belief, or penal code that questions my fundamental right to privacy is also denying me human dignity and freedom.
This is why Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is unconstitutional. It goes against the very promise the Indian Constitution upholds and guarantees for its citizens.
This year, 10 ASEAN nation heads celebrate India’s 69th Republic Day as a ‘Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic’.
In the meantime, I, a citizen of India, am still waiting for my fundamental rights. The ‘irony of 69’ stares right in our faces.
Celebration does not a happy republic make. But a happy republic makes for a celebration.
The author is an education consultant and HIV-AIDS activist.