Babasaheb Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, presenting the final draft of the Indian constitution to Constituent Assembly President Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 25 November 1949. Image Source: link
Central to the process of learning is of course questioning, and this is what I propose to do today. There is one central theme to my presentation. It is encapsulated in a single word – liberty. When we speak of liberty, we usually mean a direct reference to Article 19 of the Constitution of India. This is in Part III of the Constitution. The whole of this is captioned Fundamental Rights. There are therefore a variety of rights, all said to be fundamental. And we now understand this to mean essential to the framework of the Constitution, or what is called its basic structure. Now the signal value of liberty is actually not just tucked away in Article 19. My argument is that the whole of the Constitution is predicated on this concept and we find this and its other sister concepts in the Preamble, that single page that gives us the framework. It states the intention of this document we call the Constitution. It tells us who, what, how, why. “We the people of India” speaks of our redemption of a pledge, of our tryst with destiny – you all know those words – and it speaks of our resolve to secure to all citizens justice of every stripe and then – now mind this – in the Preamble, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Notice the sequencing. Many of you here write code. You put code in a particular sequence for a particular reason. Think of the Constitution as code. That sequencing has a purpose, it has a reason. It is our task to discover what that purpose and what that reason is. First, justice of every kind, and then liberty, and within liberty, thought and expression come right at the very top. Having made all these resolutions and with this intent, we adopt, enact – and again this is key – give to ourselves our constitution. No government gave it to us, no ruling party made a gift of it to us, we secured it for ourselves. This is central to an understanding of fundamental rights. They are not gifts, they are ours, and we have secured them to ourselves.