Constitution Day: Integrating our fundamental duties with our rights
Since ancient times, Bharat has had a long tradition of emphasising duties and responsibilities. As we look towards India over the next 75 years, we also need to highlight the duties of our citizens
On April 29, 1947, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel moved the interim report on fundamental rights in the constituent assembly after which the Assembly debated and discussed each clause over a 15-day period. As the discussion on rights progressed, the inevitable link between fundamental rights and duties was brought up by several members, including Dr B Pattabhi Sitaramayya representing Madras state. Sitaramayya said, “we wanted to speak of not merely fundamental rights but also fundamental duties. But it did not look as if these were capable of being tabulated, because in the first instance every right implies and includes a duty. What is my right is my neighbour’s duty to me. The right of the wife to equality with the husband is the duty of the husband towards the wife in respect of the matter of equality”. Countering criticism from several members of the House that duties were not mentioned, Sitaramayya said, “the criticism that has been levelled by some friends in this House that the duties were not mentioned, is not quite correct because every right implies and includes a duty”.
The link between fundamental rights and duties has not just been a constitutional debate, but a civilisation discussion, since time immemorial. Since ancient times, Bharat has had a long tradition of emphasising duties and responsibilities. This manifests itself in the Vedas and in our epics — the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The life of Lord Rama chronicles the life of a duty-bound son, husband, and king. Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna on the battlefield emphasises treating work as a sacrifice to the supreme lord, and exhorts Arjuna to perform his prescribed duties without being fixated on the results.
In fact, Mahatma Gandhi drew from the philosophies of ancient India. On January 8, 1925, presiding over the third Kathiawar Political Conference held at Bhavnagar, he said, “The true source of rights is duty. If we all discharge our duties, the right will not be far to seek… If leaving duties unperformed we run after rights, they will escape us like a will-o’- the-wisp. The more we pursue them, the farther they fly”. To him, rights and duties were not separate, and one had to perform the duties to seek rights.
Today, on Constitution Day, it is important that we emphasise our fundamental duties for the growth and progress of our country. If deeper roots have to be established in a diverse and democratic country such as India, citizens will have to converge their inalienable fundamental rights with their fundamental duties. Our soldiers at the border protect us from harm’s way, but it is the duty of every citizen to defend the country and render national service when called on to do so. It is not just law enforcement agencies, but the duty of every Indian to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India. While our scientists and engineers create life-saving vaccines and medicines, conceptualise and execute complex projects that transform India, it is the duty of every Indian to develop a scientific temper, with a spirit of inquiry.
While it is the right of every Indian to express themselves freely, including their right to assemble peacefully, it is also the duty of every Indian citizen to safeguard public property and to abjure violence, an idea vociferously espoused by the chairperson of the drafting committee of our Constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar. Protecting our environment and preserving our heritage, showing compassion for all living life, displaying empathy and humanism, upholding the rights of women and their dignity, are all fundamental duties that are natural to us, owing to our rich civilisational ethos.
As we take stock of our 75th year of Independence, most would agree that India has made tremendous progress in securing the rights of every Indian citizen. Fundamental rights have now expanded beyond the rights initially envisaged by the constituent assembly. It now includes the right to information, education, and privacy. Since 2014, at several forums, Prime Minister Narendra Modi nudged all Indians to fulfil their fundamental duties, as enshrined in the Constitution. He encouraged citizens to not view rights and duties in isolation as they are not two separate structures. Our duties form the basis of everybody’s rights.
As we now look towards India over the next 75 years and build a template, we also need to highlight the duties of our citizens. November 26 — Constitution Day — serves as a reminder of our national goals. It is only through the fulfilment of our duties in the most earnest way that we can live life to our truest potential and help lead our nation towards prosperity and development. Today, every citizen has an important duty in building a New India that will enable India to achieve its rightful place in the global arena.
G Kishan Reddy is the minister for culture, tourism and development of the northeastern region. He represents the Secunderabad Lok Sabha constituency
The views expressed are personal