The Idea of the Indian Constitution: Day 3

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The third day of the conference began with a session around Public Interest Litigations with Prof.Thapar and lawyer and human rights activist Vrinda Grover consecutively sharing their respective experiences as petitioner and lawyer in the Bhima Koregaon Petition, offering a window into Public Interest Litigations and the role they play in practice in the functioning of a democracy. The session, among much else, offered fascinating insight into the significance of words and the politics of their interpretations in legal processes. 

 ccccManipur is perhaps not the first name that emerges in popular imagination when one hears ‘AF(SP)A’. Yet this year marks the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act’s 61st year there. Advocate, human rights activist and executive director of Human Rights Alert, Babloo Loitongbam spoke on the suspension of the right to life in Manipur, focusing on his work with the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur or EEVFAM in documenting 1528 cases of extra-judicial killings in Manipur to file a PIL seeking investigation, in the Supreme Court. Grounding AF(SP)A in a colonial ordinance passed to suppress the Quit India Movement in 1942,  Babloo looked at how this ordinance was brought back into practice in the North East without any formal declaration of Emergency by the still new republic of India with all its constitutional promises of a democracy, and how it continues even today, backing its perpetrators with near impunity in the face of judicial passivity. 

ccccThis was followed by a session around Kashmir and Article 370 of the Constitution—a session whose irony in light of the Article’s recent abrupt abrogation is difficult to miss. The session began with a talk by historian Mridu Rai on the shaping of a Hindu Jammu and a Muslim Kashmir—unanticipated religious associations colouring a provision that possibly only aimed at easing the political integration of a princely state into the newly formed Indian nation-state. This was followed by a discussion that involved Prof. Rai, Dr Shah Faesal and Shehla Rashid (founder and member respectively of the newly launched J&K People’s Movement Party), moderated by journalist Revati Laul, on existing perceptions of Article 370 and the realities it has shaped since its enactment in 1949. 

 ccccMoving the action of the conference to the classroom, two parallel workshops/sessions followed. Educator Sathish Jayarajan conducted a workshop around how he uses contemporary legal judgments that interest his class 11 and 12 students to engage them towards building a constitutional sensibility that goes far beyond mere familiarity with text segments of the Constitution. In place of Pawan Dhall’s session on gender in the classroom and Article 377 that was cancelled due to an unforeseen emergency, the participants assigned to the Dhall workshop had the opportunity to participate in an open house session with Prof Thapar, Prof Krishna Kumar and  Babloo Loitongbam. The range of topics addressed included but were not restricted to the degrees of validity of certain pedagogical techniques, the difficulty of sustaining and encouraging a culture of critical reading and the urgent need to fight the complacency of feeling ‘safe’ when rights are threatened and violated elsewhere and bringing this into the approach to teaching.