With everything that has been happening across India, a question that often emerges is: To whom does the nation belong? And more importantly, who gets to decide that? Everyone has a different answer, but the the right answer is clearly laid out in the Constitution. Aerospace engineer Vinay Kumar is on a quest to provide that answer by simplifying this important document and make it accessible to all.
In January, in time for Republic Day, Kumar started #ReclaimConstitution by distributing postcards with words from the Constitution to people across Bengaluru, which evoked a lot of interest. Now, Kumar is marking Independence Day the same #ReclaimConstitution. The project started with postcards printed with the words from the Constitution, and quotes from members of the Constituent Assembly about the India they envisioned. He has now expanded to tote bags and t-shirts.
The idea was sown back in 2019-20 during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which made Kumar realise the lack of space for diverse opinions, even in intimate groups. “If I didn’t subscribe to the views of a majority in a group, I was seen as someone who doesn’t like the country. There is no space for debate or civil discussion today. This is not the kind of society I dreamt of. It got me thinking about what we can do about it,” he told Lounge.
Kumar reached out to a few friends who were lawyers to understand the Constitution and a small reading group was formed. They soon realised that the language the lawyers found easy, others struggled with. So, Kumar got together with a few people to simplify constitutional ideas through cartoons or songs and share them on social media.
Then covid-19 hit and over the next couple of years, incidents of violation of fundamental rights seemed to be increasing. “All of this got me worked up and I channelised this into starting #ReclaimConstitution. The original book with the Constitution of India had beautiful artwork and had been lost in public memory. (The Constitution is) people’s ideas coming together and a symbol of 200 years of struggle,” Kumar says. He wanted to find a way for people to engage with the Constitution better.
The project started with postcards printed with the words from the Constitution, quotes from members of the Constituent Assembly, and has since expanded to tote bags and t-shirts. “We are so deeply immersed in social media these days to consume information that sometimes small things like a postcard can be a personal touch and appeal to people's emotions about what they feel for India and the idea of India.”
After reading all 12 volumes of Constituent Assembly debates, Kumar made 26 postcards. These carry quotes from the freedom fighters and the makers of a constitution about the India they envisioned and the nation they gave us. But Kumar feels the question is whether we know the value of what we have inherited. The value, he says, can be freedom fighters understood from the words of freedom fighters and the Constituent assembly debates.
For instance, one of the postcards quotes social activist Hansa Jivraj Mehta who addressed the question of whether it is a good or bad Constitution and says it is a good one if it works in the interest of the people and a bad one if doesn’t. She also adds that it is the responsibility of the appointed future electorate to elect those who will do the latter. “They gave us a responsibility to make this Constitution work for us and to make it better,” Kumar says.
For Kumar, the crux of the project is the preservation of Constitutional ideas and how understanding them can help make things better. “It's about understanding the kind of rights that we have as human beings,” Kumar says. “Freedom fighter Mahavir Tyagi has spoken about how the state comes into being not because it has any right of its own. But, citizens of this nation have given a part of their rights and deposited it with the state. So, how can someone alienate you from your rights?”
Through #ReclaimConstitution, Kumar is not aiming to be preachy but to simply present what is already available with the hope that people can internalise it and understand the spirit of the Constitution.
Kumar is working on translating the postcards to all Indian languages and aims for a wider reach. On 14 and 15 August, #ReclaimConstitution is supporting an Independence Day celebration, Satyameva Jayate at Airlines Hotel, Bengaluru, which will include dance, music, and quizzes.