Born in the aftermath of a bloody partition and independence on 26 January 1950, the Constitution of India completes 72 years in 2021. Modelled on the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, the voluminous document contains more than 450 Articles and 12 Schedules. It has been amended more than 100 times since its inception.
The constitutional ethos of the remarkable document promises equality, justice and fraternity to the people of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries. But often our lack of knowledge combined with indifference fails to uphold its true spirit.
However, there are exemplary examples of people who feel it’s their solemn duty to be governed by the words of the Constitution. From fighting against human trafficking to upholding the Right to Education, here are heroes who make Republic Day worth celebrating.
Right to Equality
When Sanjay Kumar saw dogs and a few people from the Dom community fighting over leftover food in 2005 in Bihar’s Parbatta village, he quit his modelling career to abolish the practice of untouchability. The incident forever changed the course of his life, he moved to the village from Delhi and fought multiple battles over the years.
From educating children, establishing a local collective of backward communities like the Chamar and Musahar to helping people find an alternate livelihood, Sanjay has been diligently working across the various villages in Bihar. Some of his students have gone to become engineers, a feat that seemed unfathomable a few years back.
In the process, Sanjay was threatened, kidnapped and nearly poisoned but that didn’t stop this braveheart to establish the right to equality and discharge Article 17 that prohibits the practice of untouchability. Read his story here.
Like Sanjay, Delhi-based Nipun Malhotra has also been addressing the issue of inclusivity for several years now. He was born with arthrogryposis, a condition in which the muscles in his arms and legs are underdeveloped and would stay that way through life.
He fought his way through discrimination with immense support from his parents but after several job rejections, due to his disability, Nipun established ‘Nipman Foundation’ in 2012 to make office premises accessible to people with disabilities. Gradually, they expanded their mission and started working in the area of health and advocacy for persons with disabilities.
Nipun has even knocked the doors of the Delhi High Court to file a PIL seeking the official recognition of Indian Sign Language (ISL), for hearing. Though the plea was dismissed, it opened a public debate on the issue. His cause for creating an inclusive atmosphere is nothing but an attempt to uphold various fundamental rights including Articles 14, 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment) and so on. Read his story here.
Sukhsohit Singh’s tiresome battle to become the first thalassaemic in the country to get into the civil services is also praiseworthy. Now an officer of the Indian Defence Accounts Services, he was once declared “unfit for all services”, because he suffered from a rare blood disorder called Thalassaemia Major. Not one to give up, he approached multiple government bodies and health institutions to fight his case.
His cause garnered attention from the likes of then I&B Minister Ambika Soni, the Minister of State Dinesh Trivedi and even former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh. With the right intervention, Singh successfully set an example of the right to opportunity. Read his story here.
Right to Freedom
The definition of the right to freedom (Article, 19, 20, 21A & 22) entails everything, from life and personal liberty to speech and expression. But more often than not, these rights are deprived to the vulnerable.
Case in point is female foeticide and infanticide where girls are denied their right to life due to the appalling customs of certain communities even today. That said, there is no denying that this evil practice has reduced over the years, thanks to feisty individuals and organisations across India.
Dr Harshindar Kaur and her husband, Dr Gurpal Singh from Punjab are one such couple. They have been advocating for the rights of the girl child since 2008. Their first breakthrough came in a small village near Patiala where they were instrumental in improving the sex ratio, from 845 girls per 1000 boys to 1013 girls per 1000 boys. In the last 10 years, 415 girls have been fostered by the Trust, with the financial responsibility of their education. Read more here
Like the doctor couple, Rajasthan-based folk dancer, Gulabo Sapera has also been addressing the right to live in her own way. She was buried alive at birth due to her gender but her father saved her. She went on to become a famous folk dancer and even established her dance form called ‘Sapera’.
Looking back on her journey, she realised if her father had succumbed to the societal pressures, she would have been dead. So, she decided to be the guardian angel for others in the village and started imparting free dance classes.
“Girls are considered to be a burden and hence denied basic rights. So, I empower them with dance and help them earn money through stage performances,” says Gulabo. Read her story here.
Right Against Exploitation
On 1 July 2020, Neeraj Murmu from Jharkhand was conferred with the Diana Award 2020 for his fight against child labour. The 22-year-old, who was once trapped into the clutches of hazardous mica mines, set up a local school for children in his village in 2018. In the last two years, his school, ‘Kailash Satyarthi’ has educated over 200 impoverished children and rescued 20 child labourers from the hazardous occupation of mica mining.
In red light areas of Nagpur, daughters are expected to join their mothers as sex workers and sons become pimps, often selling his own mother or sister. Rambhau Ingole, a social activist has been ending this horrifying reality for the last 30 years. Through his organisation ‘Amrapali Utkarsh Sangh’ (AUS), he rescues the children from brothels and rehabilitates them into his residential school.
Apart from forced labour, human trafficking is another grim exploitation issue. Fighting this vehemently in the North East is 47-year-old Hasina Kharbhih from Shillong. Her organisation, the Impulse NGO Network (INGON) has saved 72,442 people over the last two decades.
To address the issue systematically, the NGO formed the Impulse Case Info Centre (ICIC), which records, compiles, and keeps track of all relevant information on human trafficking cases.
The ICIC has more than 1,000 NGOs and government departments from not just India, but also Southeast Asia, on its network, thus creating an extremely valuable database. Read her story here.
Thirty-seven-year-old Ashif Shaikh’s organisation, Jan Sahas, has helped rescue over 41,000 manual scavengers and supported 15,000 rape survivors through legal action and employment, among other initiatives. But, fighting this battle against unjust and discriminatory traditional customs has not been easy. Threats and warnings have become a part of his life, one that he has been successful in overcoming. He says that threats do not stop him, they only encourage him to continue.
Women working in shops and malls in Kerala’s Mittai Theruvu, SM Street, a shopping area in Kozhikode were denied a basic human right — the right to sit or visit the toilet, Viji Penkoottu, a 52-year-old activist, decided to fight for change. Thanks to her efforts, The Kerala Shops And Commercial Establishments (Amendment) Act, 2018, was eventually passed after an 8-year struggle for flexible working hours and a place to sit.
Raising voices against unjust practices or customs that are deep-rooted in society is not easy. But these crusaders are doing it all to guarantee the right against exploitation under Articles 23 and 24 for a safer future.
Right to Education
Broken benches, a massive staff crunch, poor quality of infrastructure, irregular attendance and the lack of motivation to study or teach are the usual scenarios associated with government schools.
To ensure the Right to Education is not compromised due to the aforementioned problems, Amarjit Singh Chahal from Punjab’s Mansa district is showing exemplary efforts to change the tarnished image of government schools.
Amarjit, who received the National Award on Teacher’s Day in 2019, is responsible for modernising four schools and increasing the enrollments of students. He has actively worked to ensure community participation where teachers, local panchayats and the parents have a sense of ownership towards the schools.
Similarly, Surender Singh, a primary teacher at a North Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) school in Adarsh Nagar is going the extra mile. For the last 16 years, he has been dedicating an extra hour after school so that his students can participate in national level competitions and pass state-level entrance examinations. He has helped 300 of his students get scholarships in the last 10 years.
Rohit Kumar Yadav, a Government Railway Police (GRP) constable is running a school for the poor in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh for the past two years from his own salary. Every month, he keeps aside Rs 10,000 for the school that now teaches 90 children from underprivileged backgrounds.
Right to Legal Aid & Civic Rights
Ramesh Mudiraj from Hyderabad is a crusade who helps people implement their rights. He has been on a mission to educate Indian citizens about the Indian Penal Codes (IPC) for women’s safety for two years. Ramesh has taken around 500 sessions in government and private schools, corporates, police departments where he talks about crimes like dowry, acid attacks, rape, eve-teasing, trafficking, stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault and cyber-related crimes. He then lists out the IPC provisions to fight these. Furthermore, Ramesh has helped women file more than 100 First Information Reports (FIR’s). Read his story here.
Meanwhile, Bengaluru-based CMCA (Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness) equips children with the knowledge of civic awareness, environmental campaigns, social equality and fundamental rights of citizens among other things, to help them grow up into ideal citizens of India. Currently, CMCA reaches 50,000 young people in 11 cities and over 450 villages, via over 600 educational institutions. It has trained over 2 lakh children to be active civic warriors in their neighbourhood.
These staggering initiatives by individuals will go a long way towards making India a genuinely inclusive democracy. This Republic Day, The Better India lauds their tremendous efforts.
Edited by Yoshita Rao