B R Ambedkar’s birth anniversary: How the Indian Constitution makes an ordinary citizen powerful


GIPE's Vice Chancellor, professors, students and staff members commemorate B R Ambedkar on his birth anniversary.
L-R: Nanaji Shewale, Ajit Ranade, Kailas Thaware, Jayanti Kajale, Hemangi More

The Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics commemorated the contribution of Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956), chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution, a social reformer, economist, and a politician revered by millions of Indians. He is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of India, and was instrumental in making India’s Constitution progressive and inclusive. 

GIPE celebrated his 131st birth anniversary where Professor Kailas Thaware, who teaches economics of financial institutions, cooperation and forestry at the Institute, spoke about Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. He gave examples of how citizens should be aware of them, and how they can put them into practice. Here’s an excerpt from Prof Thaware’s speech: 

Link to the full speech

The Constituent Assembly took two years, eleven months and seventeen days to complete the historic task of drafting the Constitution, a task which was chaired by B R Ambedkar. Eleven sessions were held for a total of 165 days to create the world’s longest Constitution in force, with 395 articles in 22 parts and 12 schedules.

The process to make amendments to the Constitution was kept fairly simple with some changes needing only a simple majority in the Parliament. The latest example being the 105th Amendment that restored the power to identify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs).

Though this is an article that directly affects people, there are only a few such articles which we encounter in daily life, and thus, lose track of what lies in our Constitution! In fact, all articles of the Indian Constitution are of great importance to us, and as citizens, we should be aware of them. 

Some articles are important for governance of the country, operations of the judiciary and states and institutions. But there are fundamental rights and duties, which directly connect citizens to each other and the state. 

For instance, if we read Part III of the Constitution which consists of Fundamental Rights, we find the following: 

  • Right to Equality- under articles 14-18, 
  • Right to Freedom under articles 19-22, 
  • Right against Exploitation under articles 23-24, 
  • Right to Freedom of Religion under articles 25-28, and 
  • Right to Constitutional Remedies under article 32

Article 21, which says–No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law–is a lifeline for every citizen. One amendment to it, Article 21A (2002), further makes it more inclusive–The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine–by adding the universal right to elementary education. 

The Right to Education Act of 2009 further bolstered the power of this article, and today, every child in this country has elementary education as their basic right!

I find another article very interesting. Article 32, which looks at remedies for enforcement of rights, gives citizens the right to approach the Supreme Court if any right is violated by any Act, or by acts of the authorities or governments. 

Article 32 involves:

  • The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed
  • The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part

In short, this article gives a citizen power to move the highest judicial authority in the country, and the latter has the power to issue directions that make the implementation of the rights in question mandatory. Such is the power of the Indian Constitution! 

There is a famous case, a writ petition, filed by T N Godavarman Thirumulpad in the Supreme Court of India, under Article 32 and Article 21. It was related to the cutting of trees in the Nilgiris in southern peninsular India. Despite the fact that the government permitted the felling of trees, the petition brought those activities to a stop.

Now here’s the beauty of it. This writ petition was converted into “continuing mandamus” which means that the Supreme Court “enters into a dialogue with the political and administrative wing, prodding to alter government action, or inaction”. In simple terms, it gives directions in a series of orders over a long period of time and keeps a watch if an authority is fulfilling its obligations correctly. 

After this writ petition, many others were filed by activists before the Supreme Court in the form of Public Interest Litigations (PIL), and the apex court successfully admitted them and delivered judgments in public interest. It is a great instrument that a common citizen can use in public interest without hesitation.