Business Standard

Making India a fraternity

- CHINTAN GIRISH MODI The reviewer is an independen­t journalist and educator based in Mumbai. He is @chintanwri­ting on Instagram and X

The Preamble to the Constituti­on of India affirms its commitment to justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. What do these words mean in our day-to-day lives as citizens of this country? How do we make them matter outside of fiery speeches and passionate manifestoe­s? Where do we start if we want to breathe life and purpose into these lofty principles enshrined in a document that was adopted on November 26, 1949 and came into effect on January 26, 1950?

In a powerful new book titled Fraternity: Constituti­onal Norm and

Human Need, historian Rajmohan Gandhi draws our attention to one of these principles with heartfelt urgency. He writes, “Fraternity within India, a solidarity that excludes no one, is more than a prerequisi­te for India’s good name in the world. It is a condition for India’s survival.” A former member of the Rajya Sabha, he reminds us that the dignity of individual citizens and the unity and integrity of the nation as a whole continues to be in jeopardy without fraternity.

The book is divided into six short chapters: (i) We Belong to One Another. Or Do We? (ii) Fraternity and the US and French Constituti­ons (iii) Democracy and Fraternity in Indian History (iv) Fraternity and the Indian Constituti­on. (v) Know Thy Neighbour (vi) Will That Day Come? In addition, there is a preface, a list of suggested readings and endnotes.

The author, who courageous­ly ran the journal Himmat during the Emergency imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalis­m, minces no words in laying out his concerns. He asks, “The whole world is becoming the home of people of Indian origin, but when will India become truly accessible to all Indians?” Apart from noting that fraternity is under attack in India, he points out that Indians who are financiall­y well off can easily move out and start a new life wherever they want but the cost of hate and violence will be borne by people who “must make do within their wellmarked, confined, poor and overcrowde­d areas inside India.”

This book compels us to think about fraternity as a constituti­onal norm and a human need. It invites us to dive into a range of sources — the rock edicts of Mauryan emperor Ashoka, Kamban’s 12th century Tamil Ramayana, saint poets such as Guru Nanak, Baba Farid, Lal Ded, Kabir, Tukaram, Akka Mahadevi, and Narsinh Mehta as well as the writings of B R Ambedkar, M K Gandhi and Abul Kalam Azad — that underscore the value of nurturing fraternity in a country that is brimming with religious, cultural and linguistic diversity.

In this book, we find answers to questions such as: Why did the Drafting Committee of the Constituen­t Assembly add a clause about fraternity in the Preamble? What did Ambedkar find lacking in M K Gandhi’s efforts to abolish untouchabi­lity? To what extent did the Poona Pact succeed in addressing the political aspiration­s of India’s oppressed castes? Why were the issues of Muslim representa­tion and Dalit representa­tion addressed differentl­y?

This historical approach gives us an opportunit­y to appreciate the political relevance of fraternity in contempora­ry India. It is not merely a feel-good idea. It is something we all need to get behind because the Preamble promises that this country belongs to all Indians. The author’s intention behind writing this book is crystal clear. “Will a day come when India’s Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims can walk on India’s lanes with heads held high, rent homes in localities they like, complete train rides without anxiety?” he asks. The release of this book is well-timed. Elections are round the corner, and we must take stock of where we are headed.

A crucial part of this book is a poignant introducto­ry essay by activist Harsh Mander, who has been leading the Karwaan-e-mohabbat campaign to challenge hatred with solidarity. He, like Mr Gandhi, is sensitive to the fact that “fraternity” means brotherhoo­d, and this threatens to leave out women in India. We need a word that would “include sisterhood as well”. He reminds us that the Hindi version of the Constituti­on uses the word “bandhuta”, meaning friendship.

Their argument is not restricted to semantics. It goes deeper. There has been a tension between the principles of equality and fraternity. As Mr Gandhi recalls, women in the US got the right to vote in 1920 whereas men — regardless of race — got that right in 1870. When India became independen­t, men and women got that right at the same time. While this ought to be celebrated, what are the other areas in which Indian women continue to be left behind?

This is an important question to think about as the principle of fraternity, when distilled to its essence, is about feeling a sense of kinship and connectedn­ess with our fellow citizens.

 ?? ?? FRATERNITY: Constituti­onal Norm and Human Need Author: Rajmohan Gandhi Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 164 Price: ~399
FRATERNITY: Constituti­onal Norm and Human Need Author: Rajmohan Gandhi Publisher: Speaking Tiger Pages: 164 Price: ~399
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