CAA stir spurs demand for copies of Constitution
Demonstrators reading aloud the Preamble to the Constitution has become a defining image of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA. In the aftermath of the nullification of Article 370 in August and the passage of the CAA in December, common people seem to be reclaiming the Constitution, not long ago considered the preserve of those in the legal profession.
They are doing so by buying copies of the Constitution like never before and by attending crash courses in constitutional law to make sense of recent government moves. The Constitution has become a best-seller, 70 years after it came into effect.
“ Until two months back I was selling about 1,000 copies of the Constitution per month, now I am selling about 5,000,” said ML Parihar, whose Buddham Publishers prints the Constitution in different sizes from pocket to large editions. His paperback edition in Hindi, Bharat Ka Samvidhan, is the number one best-seller in the constitutional law category on Amazon.
“ Earlier, the Indian Constitution was the most popular book among the Dalits, but now people from all sections of society are buying it. It has to do with the people’s desire to make sense of the removal of the article 370 and CAA,” says Parihar.
Shanti Swaroop Bauddh, who runs Samyak Prakashan, another popular publisher of the Constitution, said sales had more than doubled in the past two months.
“ Right now the Constitution is our best-selling title, though we have over 2,000 titles in 14 languages. Of late, a lot of people have been hearing that the Constitution is in danger, and they want to know if it really is the case, and if so, how it is going to affect their lives.”
Because anti- CAA protesters do not have a leader; BR Ambedkar, known as the father of the Indian constitution, seems to have emerged as their hero, with the book serving as both their solace and inspiration, said Sultan Singh Gautam, who also publishes the Constitution.
“Our sales have gone up by 40% in the past few weeks. Earlier, mostly institutions bought copies of the Constitution; now a bulk of them are being bought by individuals from different professional backgrounds, caste, and communities. The pocket-size version, which allows people to read on the go, is the best-seller”.
People are, in fact, not just buying copies of the Constitution, but also attending workshops and even doing short-term courses, taught mostly by coaching institutes, to gain a better understanding of the constitutional provisions on citizenship and Article 370, among others.
“Some of the questions the participants raised during the workshop were how to define minorities, questions about whether CAA passes the constitutional test. Our recent session was attended by about 40 people from different backgrounds and religions. We already have had two such workshops in Delhi, and we are going to Chandigarh for our next workshop, which will be on sedition,” said Zia-ul Mustafa Ansari, director of Zia Judicials, a Delhi-based coaching centre that otherwise provides coaching to judicial services aspirants.
“ Unfortunately, the debate about 370 and CAA has been political in nature rather than on constitutional provisions. We are trying to change that.”
So, how does he decide the subject of a workshop? “On the basis of the demand in the market. These days we get about six queries from common people wanting to attend a class or workshop on CAA and sedition,” said Ansari, whose institute charges around Rs 400 to 500 for a three-hour workshop. “ I think the onus is on the government to prove that someone is not a citizen, rather than the people having to prove they are citizens,” he said.
Another organization, Cyber Talk India, has in the past two months suddenly found new takers for its three- month online course on the Indian Constitution that costs Rs 3,500.
“About 50 people have taken the course in the past month, most of them from non-legal backgrounds. They did the course to understand the intention of the politicians --- some of the people wanted to know if CAA will actually lead to the marginalization of the minorities,” said Akash Kamal Mishra, CEO, and founder, Cyber Talk India. A certificate is also offered after the successful completion of the course, which includes elaborate assignments and mock interviews.
“People are now getting interested in our constitutional history. The biggest achievement of our course, which intends to impart the basic knowledge of the Constitution to common people, is that it has managed to change the rigid positions of the people on contentious issues such as Article 370 and CAA. Personally I believe that CAA violates the secular spirit of the Constitution.”
Amarpreet Kaur Virdhi, 21, a management student, said the movie Article 15, dealing with caste-based discrimination, and revocation of Article 370 had made her curious about the Constitution.
“ So I went for an online course, which helped me get a new perspective on several issues. Besides, it made me aware of my fundamental rights and duties. I think as responsible citizens, we should all study the Constitution, which assures its citizens justice, equality and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity.”
There are many who are turning to free online platforms for a better understanding of the Constitution. Vineeth Krishna, who leads the Constitutional and Civic Citizenship Project at Center for Law and Policy Research ( CLPR), a Bangalore- based non-profit, said the organization’s platform-- CADIndia -- a digital archive and database of Indian constitutional history with human-tagged original documents, which allows people to read, research and explore India’s constitutional origins, saw a 60%t increase in user traffic in January.
“It is because of greater interest among people to learn about the Constitution in the past two months amid the anti- CAA protests across the country,” said Krishna. CLPR seeks to enhance public awareness and critical engagement with India’s constitutional tradition.
The non-profit also runs the National Constitution Society, which has chapters in colleges in different cities, including Indraprastha College in Delhi, and organizes an annual national quiz on the Constitution.
“There has been an enormous rise in interest among students, especially among those from non-legal backgrounds, in knowing about the Constitution. Besides, of late we have got several requests for workshops on the Indian Constitution from common people. We will soon be organizing a series of workshops and seminars on the Indian constitution for them,” Krishna said.