Constitution of India

December 9th, 2012

On 15 August 1947, India acquired its independence from Britain. The newly-appointed Constituent Assembly was given the task of drafting a constitution for India, and the greater part of this onerous responsibility fell upon the shoulders of B. R. Ambedkar, who was elected chairman of the drafting committee. There was much irony in this: as the leader of the “Untouchables”, as they were then called, Ambedkar had been the most unremitting foe of Gandhi, the “Father of the Nation”. Ambedkar, who was Law Minister in the Government of India, and his colleagues made a careful study of the constitutions of various countries, besides considering the common law traditions of Britain and the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to all citizens, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, caste, and religion; it also allows universal franchise, thereby making the Indian electorate the largest in the world. The Fourth Part of the Constitution contains what are called “directive principles of state policy”, which require the government to set goals for the welfare of the people, such as a minimum wage, jobs for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and subsidized medical care. The Indian Constitution is one of the largest in the world, and comprehensive and sweeping in its scope. The Indian state, however, has been ax in its commitment to enforce the “directive principles”, and constitutional rights have been abrogated much too often. During the internal emergency of 1975-77, proclaimed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Constitution was sadly rendered ineffective. In recent years, the Supreme Court of India, as well as the higher courts, have shown much daring in so interpreting the Constitution as to advantage the oppressed, the poor, and the victims of state and police brutality. Indeed, the Supreme Court has become renowned for its judicial activism and what is termed Public Interest Litigation or Social Action Litigation. The Constitution remains a vital and living document, and the political awareness of recent years suggests that it will continue to be a source of inspiration for those who strive valiantly to make Indian society more egalitarian and just.

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