Today is the 26th of January, and in 1950 this day marked the adoption of the Indian constitution – making India, officially, the largest democracy in the whole world. A day that is second in importance only to August 15th 1947, the day of India’s independence from British rule. But that day also marked the partition creating the nation states of Pakistan, and after a war, Bangladesh. So it’s a bitter sweet reminder of the tumultuous years during which we gained our independence, but lost a vital part of ourselves.
And we sought to reclaim that part of our lost soul in the form of a Constitution. We chose for this most important endeavor, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, a graduate of Columbia University and the London School of Economics, and the first Minister of Law and Justice for independent India. And just as American children memorize the Pledge of Allegiance, little children in India have memorized the oh-so eloquent Preamble to the Indian Constitution:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC 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.
And I love everything about this Preamble – it’s hopeful and aspirational and charged with emotion. We had come out of over 200 years of British colonization and on this day we “gave to ourselves” this constitution – a gift of democracy for the ages and for every citizen regardless of gender, faith, and caste.
Have we fulfilled all this hopeful promise? Not at all and we have a long way to go and we are faced with many many hurdles. How to uphold the dignity of all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, to name a few. So we may have got lost a little, but 65 years ago we did create a map and a plan.
I’ve attended 3 Republic Day parades as a child and watched the others on TV. There’s the marching soldiers from the Punjab regiment and the Gorkha rifles. There are the Sea Harrier flypasts and guns and tanks that roll past solemnly down Rajpath through Vijay Chowk and India Gate. There are the colorful dancers and entertainers from every state. And at the end of the Republic Day celebrations, the Armed Forces Band – a joint band of Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel, beats the retreat by playing Abide With Me. It’s a beautiful piece of music, and the trumpets and the chime of the bells after a parade of pomp and pageantry, always brings a lump to my throat.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
It’s a reminder of the aspiration in the Indian constitution that we are a secular nation. And though we are nowhere close to a peace between people of different faiths, or no faith, – for the last 65 years, a country consisting of over 1 billion Hindus has chosen to end it’s most cherished national ceremony with a Christian hymn played by military personnel of all faiths. And surely that must count for something.
*The Indian Constitution was passed in the Constituent Assembly on the 26th of November 1949 but was formally adopted on the 26th of January 1950.