We are a constitutional democracy and rule of law is paramount in our scheme of things. But constitutional and legal literacy of the common man is not the only way to ensure that we remain so. On the other hand, it will better be ensured by insisting that our public functionaries understand the Constitution better and act accordingly.
There have been calls for including lessons on the Constitution in the curriculum. I have doubts about its feasibility. The law and the Constitution are not simple constructs that everyone would understand easily. Their beauty and strength lie in their nuances, and it would take targeted efforts to understand them. That would be the reason why the law is taught only in specialised courses.
At the same time we should be able to take steps to make everyone understand the fundamental rights and fundamental duties. Even they come with nuances and shades, and any such effort should be made after a thorough homework. Otherwise they would be counterproductive.
The more productive effort would be to make our public servants understand the law and the Constitution. I have found it wanting, from the top to the bottom. Better and clear ideas about the Constitution and the law must be planted in the minds of the members of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, to start with. What we often see happening in Parliament and state assemblies is not what the constitution envisages. The people who have the responsibility to uphold the rule of law should set an example for the rest of the nation. At the same time, we cannot legally mandate that our elected representatives are proficient in matters relating to the Constitution.
We often hear complaints of excesses by the executive. This is absolutely unacceptable. A major chunk in the courses that train our police and other forces is about the constitution and the rights of the citizens. And they are the people with the responsibility to ensure that they are made to feel the advantages of the rule of law.
The judiciary is the last resort of the citizen when she is denied her rights. Our courts have been up to this challenging task but there is room for improvement here also. I have come across a judgement in which one of the judges of the Constitution bench holding that religious right is absolute. Fortunately, another judge on the same bench who wrote the main judgment said that religious right is subject to conditions.
The very same judge wrote that Article 28 indicates that right to religion is equal to that of anybody not have any religion. The right of them both on this score is subject to four conditions; public morality, public health, public law and order other fundamental rights. Justice Rohinton Nariman, who wrote the main judgment, invalidated triple talaq mainly on the ground that it violated Article 14, which offers equality before law and equal opportunities before law.
It is very difficult to teach the constitution in its entirety in the schools. But it is advisable to include it in the curriculum of the schools or colleges regarding the main features of the Constitution such as fundamental rights and duties and regarding the federal character, division of powers among the (legislature, executive and judiciary).
(The writer is a former Supreme Court judge)
As told to Abhish Bose