There is something about reading the Preamble to children that makes even the most disillusioned feel a rush of hope. As Draghima Pegu read it to a group of young children in Kangkan Nagar village, Silapathar in the Dhemaji district of Assam, for a few seconds, it felt as powerful as the makers of the Constitution probably intended it to be.
Pegu is a volunteer with the Youth Will Foundation, the North East partner of ‘Har Dil Mein Samvidhan’ (HDMS), a nationwide campaign focused on achieving widespread Constitutional literacy. As a year-long tribute to the Indian Constitution, it was launched on January 15 this year in the run up to the 75th Republic Day in 2024.
“Understanding of the basic rights and values that are guaranteed in our Constitution is not at the level that it should be. This awareness is crucial to comprehending how our daily lives connect with our Constitution and the value it holds. It will help people identify the inequalities and injustices and take action to address them. Moreover, you can demand accountability from political leaders, elected representatives, and government functionaries,” says Vinita Gursahani Singh, managing trustee of ‘We, The People Abhiyan’, an initiative focused on constitutional awareness and a key organiser of this campaign.
Recognising that this requires a collective effort, 119 organisations and individuals have come together to make our samvidhan (Constitution) accessible to all citizens. The ongoing phase one of the campaign has been implemented in 185 districts, more than twice the planned target of 75.
The Constitution of India has been the foundation for building a nation focused on the values of equality, liberty, justice, and fraternity. However, this powerful document remains inaccessible to many. By 2024, HDMS aims for people across all 763 districts to see this crucial document as a guide to navigate their lives as citizens, which will be “an important marker historically”.
“The writing is presented in a legal manner. Although it has served us well, it is a document that lawyers and politicians can understand. It’s necessary to unpack it, simplify it, and make it accessible through talks about spirit and values, hands-on activities, and workshops,” says Singh.
To connect people with the Constitution, the campaign is using the most accessible part of it: the Preamble. The introduction to the Constitution crosses the barriers between people and the legal language and acts as a primer for the rest. HDMS has conducted around 500 workshops across the country using the Preamble. Singh explains, “It is an effective way to draw people in. For instance, it was the main instrument for Constitution literacy in Kollam, which is the first Constitution literate district.”
Ram Pappu, Programme Director of Mission Samriddhi, a social impact enterprise supported by the Polaris Foundation, which is funding this campaign, calls it a “mindset transformation initiative.” To turn the wheels of change, it’s important for people to identify their rights and understand how to use them. “People can make use their knowledge of the Constitution in the petitions, to access their rights to clean sanitation and drinking water, the right to work, and so on. It’s a way of enabling people to empower themselves.”
As the topics can be complex, the campaign uses games, activities, and songs to familiarise people with their rights and how to assert them. For instance, in the game, ‘Constitution Connect’—an activity planned for the upcoming phases—people learn to link their issues such as lack of proper schools to the rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
“It adds a solid legal structure to their complaints to the authorities which is effective,” says Singh.
Moreover, when implementing any initiative aimed at the upliftment of communities, especially those supporting marginalised communities, the knowledge of their rights and what they are entitled to is crucial.
With ideological conflicts, growing inequality and intolerance, and questioning of citizenship, there is almost an urgency to be equipped with a thorough knowledge of our rights and legalities as guaranteed by the most powerful document of the nation. A campaign like HDMS comes as a reminder that the Preamble, the Fundamental Rights, and Directive Principles are not mere words, they are promises that the nation is built on, and form the legal bedrock of accountability.