Marathi writer and feminist Urmila Pawar on how the Constitution Ambedkar drafted inspires vision of justice

Urmila Pawar
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Why are children and students coming out on to the streets now? It’s because they know that all that is happening in the country is because the ideals of the Constitution are not being followed. (File/Express photo: Partha Paul)

I was born into the Ambedkarite community in a village called Phansavle, in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. I was three years old when India became independent and five years old when she adopted the Constitution. Growing up in a rural area, we didn’t have much understanding of words like “independence” and “constitution”. For us, they were limited to the speeches given at the unfurling of the national flag at school on Independence Day and Republic Day. But as I grew older, I started to understand. I saw that the Constitution accorded respect to Dalits, Bahujans, tribal communities, women and other underprivileged people. I understood that reservation was brought in for the upliftment of those communities which were historically disadvantaged. I realised that if everyone followed the Constitution, India would soon have a just society.

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Then came globalisation, and, with that, the realisation that the ideals of the Constitution have been abandoned. All the reform and development the government was talking about was intended for the further prosperity of the prosperous. Workers and farmers were not part of this vision, and they would only get poorer. With globalisation, the underprivileged lost their lands and forests. The funds that were to be spent on their education, on scholarships, started to be diverted for other uses. Farmers started killing themselves, as their loans grew and their profits shrank. It became apparent that the vision of the nation as enshrined in the Constitution wouldn’t be realised.

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Inequality and the lack of inclusivity is visible everywhere. As a senior citizen, I notice the discrepancy between how senior citizens are treated in urban and rural India. Cities have facilities for senior citizens — reserved seats on public transport, separate queues at ticket counters, nana-nani parks. Why don’t the seniors in our villages get the same treatment? Even in cities, how often do you see senior citizens from the slums use the nana-nani parks?

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Farmers started killing themselves, as their loans grew and their profits shrank. It became apparent that the vision of the nation as enshrined in the Constitution wouldn’t be realised.

We have ambitions of going to the moon and to Mars, so it’s shocking that we’re still fatalistic. We, traditionally, accept whatever life throws at us — thinking that our suffering is a way of repaying the sins we have committed in our past lives. So, instead of asking those in power for what is due, people go pray at temples, hoping for alleviation from their misery. People have lost faith in their ability to do better for themselves; they feel that only god can help them. There is so much poverty in this country. At the same time, temples like Tirupati and Shirdi have so much wealth. Where has this wealth come from?

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It has come from the people. So, shouldn’t this wealth be used to help those who can’t afford to eat even a single square meal? What is the use of all that gold: the jewel-studded crowns and necklaces, if no one is using it? Suppose we used this wealth to build rural infrastructure, and help people find employment and a way out of poverty? Instead, we complain about those who migrate to cities in search of better lives because they can no longer feed themselves in their villages. Many like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh tried to open people’s eyes, but they were silenced. Journalists who try and speak truth to power, have been silenced, except for a few like Ravish Kumar.

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Why are children and students coming out on to the streets now? It’s because they know that all that is happening in the country is because the ideals of the Constitution are not being followed. The Indian Constitution is one of the best in the world because it guarantees freedom and respect to everyone, no matter which section of society they are from. There was a time when life was lived according to the Manusmriti, when Dalits didn’t have the right to speak, We couldn’t walk where we wanted to or wear or eat according to our heart’s desire. The Kashi Shankaracharya says that Shudras had come from the feet of Brahma. It hurts when people still talk like this. It needs humanity to realise that a society can be prosperous only when each citizen gets respect and has access to the nation’s wealth. Our precious Constitution guarantees justice and equality. Let us follow it.

(Urmila Pawar is a Mumbai-based writer and activist)

(As told to Pooja Pillai)