Digital Cabinet

Polevaulter Donkeyman's rants, raves musings and flame wars

Boycotting Republic Day? Why not?

with one comment

Over the past 3 weeks in India at large and in Delhi in particular, there have been many large protests to highlight the plight of women in India vis-a-vis the violence and rape perpetrated against them, The proximate cause of these protests was the gang rape in Delhi of a 23 year old women, who later succumbed to her extensive injuries. An in depth discussion of this rape is beyond the scope of this post which would focus on one small tangential aspect and the response of an academic thereof. Please consult Wikipedia for a reasonably extensive summary of the incident.

In the aftermath of the rape, a demand was raised in various corners to boycott India’s Republic Day, which is held on January 26 of every year.

The Republic Day holds a two fold significance for India:

  1. On January 26, 1930 the Indian National Congress, the main political group agitating for Indian independence from British colonial rule, meeting in Lahore (now in Pakistan), promulgated the declaration demanding Purna Swaraj or complete Independence from the UK. Following this January 26 was celebrated as Independence Day.[1]
  2. On 26 January 1950 the Constitution of India was adopted, declaring India to be a sovereign democratic republic. This date was chosen to commemorate the Purna Swaraj Declaration (see above).

The Republic Day Celebrations in Delhi mostly consist of a parade of the different regiments of Armed Forces and the paramilitary forces, trucks towing aircraft, missiles and howitzers, and tanks (not in this exact order), followed by tableaux exhibiting the culture of the different parts of India. The forces salute their commander-in-chief, namely the President. This is replicated in the capitals of the States with the Governor substituting for the President. While the day is meant to celebrate the adoption of the Constitution and refreshing one’s loyalty and fealty to it, it is mostly a celebration of the power of the State as manifested by the guns, rifles, tanks, howitzers, missiles and combat aircraft.

Given the significance of the date, there has been a backlash to the call for boycotting the Republic Day. Given that Kashmiri separatists and Maoist guerrillas have called for similar boycotts in the past, opponents of the boycott call have equated those advocating a boycott this year as ideological bed fellows of the separatists and guerrillas.


This argument is puerile. It is similar to saying that since ISCKON promotes vegetarianism and the Swaminarayan sect also promotes vegetarianism, their adherents are no different from Nazis. There can be many reasons for boycotting the Republic Day Celebrations. One reason may be to not identify with the Indian State and the Indian people. I will not go into the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this reason in this post. Another reason can be to not identify with the Indian State while still pledging one’s loyalty and fealty to the Constitution and one’s identity as a people. As explained above, the formal governmental celebrations are a celebration of the State and its lethal power. It is perfectly reasonable to reject the celebration of this power of the State which is powerless to prevent heinous crime. It is perfectly reasonable, instead, to swear an oath of loyalty to the preamble of the constitution

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC[2] and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, DO HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.


(emphasis mine)

As has been explained in numerous opeds to reduce rapes in India requires not just law and order reform, it requires a change in society, a change in thinking which gives women equal status as men, where little girls are treated the same as little boys, where every individual’s dignity is assured from birth and is honoured and protected by all.

Swearing an oath to uphold the constitution and its guarantees to all people is a more meaningful gesture (and if followed up a more meaningful action) compared to the routine genuflection to the might of the Indian State, a might which is powerless not just to prevent but to even account for the acts of violence and injustice its citizens (or, given the attitude of the State, its subjects).

However trust a historian[3] of Modern Political History to make a knee-jerk accusation that any boycott of the Republic Day celebrations is anti-national. No explanation of why the boycott is anti national or why the boycott strikes at the people rather than the State. One would expect him, being a professor and an intellectual, to engage with the substance of the argument and attempt to educate others, rather than make some inane pun. Such an attitude is not just a reflection on him but on his employer. I would not be surprised if Prof. Habib defends the principle of academic freedom. But the flip side of academic freedom is the duty to communicate ideas or facts, not evade questioning via clever wordplay. Not surprisingly I was subsequently blocked on twitter by the esteemed professor.[4]


Given that January 26,1950 was the day when the Constitution of India was adopted, the words of late Justice Hans Raj Khanna[5] are appropriate

If the Indian constitution is our heritage bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, no less are we, the people of India, the trustees and custodians of the values which pulsate within its provisions! A constitution is not a parchment of paper, it is a way of life and has to be lived up to. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and in the final analysis, its only keepers are the people. Imbecility of men, history teaches us, always invites the impudence of power.[6]


(emphasis mine)

One, final point. There could, conceivably, be objections that a boycott of the Republic Day is tantamount to disrespecting the sacrifices the Armed Forces have made for India’s security. However such objectors would have to explain how celebrating one day, according to the diktats of the State, amounts to honouring the soldiers who have served and sacrificed much for the nation. One can honour them on other days also e.g. the Army Day (January 15), Navy Day (December 4), Air Force Day (October 8) and Coast Guard Day (October 8). Moreover if one truly wishes to honour the sacrifice and service of the Armed Forces let them truly help the veterans (most of whom come from lower economic classes of society) and the widows and orphaned children of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving them the love and support (both emotional and financial) they are entitled to, not just on one day but over the long term. After all, this is the same State, which while insisting that the Republic Day is a celebration of the sacrifice of the brave soldiers also pays the widow of a decorated army major an insulting Rs 80 (not even US $2) per month in 2010.[7]

Footnotes


[1] This is similar to July 4 which is celebrated as Independence Day in the US but is actually the date when the US Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. The American War of Independence formally ceased under the Treaty of Paris while the last hostilities ceased in 1781 with the fall of Yorktown

[2] Initially the preamble did not include the words socialist and secular when the constitution was initially adopted. They were added to the preamble by the Forty-second Amendment. Interestingly this amendment was enacted during The Emergency when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended elections, civil liberties and bestowed on herself the power to rule by decree. Not surprisingly I oppose the inclusion of both words; secular because it is superfluous given the protections under Articles 25-28 and socialist because socialism led to the economic stagnation of India for 45 years after independence. Moreover the very same amendment also introduced, for the first time, Fundamental Duties on the part of every citizen. Trust a State which abrogates the fundamental rights (including habeas corpus) of its citizens to also demand fundamental duties of them.

[3] According to the Times of India, he is the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad chair at Delhi’s National University of Educational Planning and Administration. However at the university’s website he is not listed amongst the faculty. Probably because the website is not up to date.

[4] I had also been previously blocked by Kanchan Gupta. That is a story I may tell some other time.

[5] Notably Justice Khanna was one of the dissenting judges in Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla which shamefully upheld the government’s decision to suspend habeas corpus. His dissent stated

The Constitution and the laws of India do not permit life and liberty to be at the mercy of the absolute power of the Executive . . . . What is at stake is the rule of law. The question is whether the law speaking through the authority of the court shall be absolutely silenced and rendered mute… detention without trial is an anathema to all those who love personal liberty.

[6] Khanna, H. R., Making of India’s Constitution. Eastern Book Co, Lucknow, 1981. ISBN 978-81-7012-108-4

[7] “The petitioner before us in the present case is a widow Pushpa Vanti, whose husband was an army major who had fought in three wars (in 1948, 1962 and 1965) and was decorated with fourteen medals. However, the petitioner is getting only Rs.80/- per month as pension, in these days when a kilogram of arhar dal costs that amount.” Pushpa Vanti vs Union Of India & Ors. (2010).

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

January 4, 2013 at 05:31

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