Making the constitution matter

Vandana K and Kanika Sinha

I learnt about the Constitution, passed my exams and forgot about it. But I don’t think I will forget the lessons I learnt from the tasks I did during the Jagrik journey. This is how I truly understood the samvidhan,” says Maya Rani, a young girl from Patna. After participating in Samvidhan LIVE! The Jagrik Project, she led a night rally with 70 other young people in her neighbourhood to exercise her right to freedom (to move about at night); something that she never got a chance to do until then.

Children first come across the Constitution of India in their classroom. Typically, students are made to memorize the Preamble, fundamental rights and duties in their social science class.

Concepts such as equality, fraternity and secularism are introduced to students through the textbook. Yet, the curriculum design and prevalent teaching methodology fail to communicate the real meaning of these values.

The Indian Constitution is the longest in the world. In its current form, it has 448 articles, 12 schedules, 5 appendices and 101 amendments. How can teachers develop their own understanding of it or that of their students? How can they help their students embody its spirit?

Statistics indicate that more than 25 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 25. Will young India ever get a chance to exercise its rights and perform its duties without learning the Constitution in an engaging way?

The importance of constitutional education for teachers and students
“If a teacher has barely any knowledge of the Constitution, how can we expect the students to know about it?” asks Dr. Punam Kumari, a Hindi teacher, who is also actively involved in social work, at Jamshedpur Public School. She says, “It is absolutely essential for children to learn about values, rights and duties mentioned in the Constitution in order to become good citizens. The current curriculum is insufficient and constitutional education should be made a separate subject.”

In 2015, the government declared 26 November as ‘Constitution Day’, which meant that on this day, students in schools would learn about Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the Constitution. Although this is a positive start, is celebrating one day enough to bring home the message that the makers of the Constitution wanted to convey?

Our schools need to make a commitment to teaching constitutional awareness and action to their students, from a young age. The only way to do this is to make constitutional education accessible and engaging.

Samvidhan LIVE! The Jagrik Project – enabling youth to live the Constitution
ComMutiny The Youth Collective (CYC) is an association of youth-led and youth-engaging organizations across India. It has been promoting active citizenship among young people since the last decade. In the course of their work, CYC saw that youth and adolescents were completely disconnected from the Constitution and lacked an understanding of what it meant to be an aware and active citizen. In today’s socio-economic context, youth are particularly vulnerable. In the last few years, there has been a rise in intolerance and growing disrespect for anybody who is labelled different in society. As violence, crime and hate have increased, young people have become both its targets and perpetrators. We also live in a time where political parties are taking advantage of young people to further their own agenda.

A large percentage of young people in India have not embraced diversity, one of the most central values of the Indian Constitution, reveals the CSDS-KAS Youth Survey 2016 by Lokniti. Titled ‘Attitudes, anxieties and aspirations of India’s youth’, this survey was conducted across 19 Indian states with over 6,000 respondents aged between 15-34 years. It shows that a significant number of Indian youth lack scientific temperament. About 47 per cent of the youth surveyed said that religion should be considered more important than science if they happen to clash. It seems that many young people still do not understand gender equality – 40 per cent of the youth think that women should not work after marriage (http://www. lokniti.org/CSDS-KAS-Youth-Study-2016-17.php
http://www.lokniti.org/pol-pdf/KeyfindingsfromtheYouthStudy.pdf).

Of the youth surveyed, 67 per cent did not approve of live-in relationships and 61 per cent considered a love affair between people of the same sex to be wrong. As many as 23 per cent said they would be uneasy if their neighbours cooked non-vegetarian food. These statistics quite clearly reveal that young people in India have still not understood the constitutional values of equality, justice, liberty and fraternity.

In such circumstances, how does a young person form her/his worldview? The most logical solution is to follow the Constitution of India. Our Constitution provides us a common story within which we can all act as aware and active citizens. But since most of us don’t know much about it except that it is a boring chapter we have to study in school, we never look to it for guidance.

This is why CYC started Samvidhan LIVE! The Jagrik Project – a public initiative to connect young people to the Constitution so that they can take it to the streets and practice it. It is a game with reality-based self and social action tasks, played in pairs over a course of five weeks. The participants are called Jagrik which means active citizen (a play on the words Jagruk Nagrik).

Jagriks get a game board, dice, a set of cards representing fundamental rights and duties, a gender wild card, instruction and scoring sheets along with different coloured stickers for each pair. Jagrik pairs roll the dice and wherever it lands on the game board, is their next task. They literally get to play out a right or duty by doing a self and social action task along with their partner.

Most tasks require collaboration where partners help each other win. Each time they complete a task, they score points which takes them further ahead in the game. After crossing the tasks off their list, Jagriks come together every week to share their lessons with each other in group meetings called Jagrik Jamghats.

The impact of Samvidhan LIVE! on youth
Since the launch of this campaign in 2016, a survey on constitutional awareness was conducted with over 22,000 respondents in 16 states. It showed that the average score of citizens on constitutional awareness was as low as 36 per cent.

To see whether playing the constitution game had a positive impact, CYC conducted a snap poll of the Jagriks. The poll showed that youth who played the game had much higher awareness and engagement levels after finishing the game (as compared to the national average score and their own score prior to playing the game). They scored 59 per cent in awareness after undertaking the Jagrik journey.

The campaign partners of the Jagrik Project also introduced it in some of the schools in their areas. People for Change, a youth-led organization that works with underprivileged children on the Right to Education in Jharkhand, conducted this campaign in Kasidih High School, Jamshedpur. The school’s principal, Francis Joseph says, “This is an interesting initiative taken for children to live the Constitution and understand it in a better way…in the game, there is more focus on duties so that we can make children more responsible citizens and look towards a better India.”

The Jagrik Project has benefited young people in several ways. The game helps students to:

  1. Embrace diversity and fraternity – The game has tasks where students get to learn about diverse identities. It leads them to respect individuals who are different from them and nurture a sense of unity as citizens of this country.

    “There was a task where a Jagrik pair had to visit another student’s home, observe their customs and even cook for them. When a Christian student cooked for this pair, they appreciated the food and they wanted her to share the recipe with them,” says Dr. Punam Kumari, who anchored the campaign with 51 students from class 11 in her school.

    The game also introduces students to fraternity, the missing piece in experiencing our rights and duties. While it is easy to understand and enforce equality, liberty and justice through fundamental rights, there is no concrete way of enforcing or measuring fraternity. That is why fundamental duties cannot be legally bound. Samvidhan LIVE! brings to life this missing piece of fraternity by bringing the focus back on duties and makes every student conscious of them (the scoring of the game is such that you get twice the points for picking up a duties based task. It therefore encourages you to become conscious of your fundamental duties and live the value of fraternity).

  2. Grasp the imbalance between rights and duties – The game is designed in such a way that it makes students realize how we need to perform our duties if we want our rights to be respected. It makes them strive for a balance between their rights and duties.
  3. Build team spirit in the classroom – Playing Samvidhan LIVE! gives teachers an opportunity to create cross-border pairs (of identity – religion, language, class, caste, gender, etc.) and encourage the spirit of collaboration among students instead of competition. Shaba Khan, who teaches English at Agrini Public School in Seoni, Madhya Pradesh observed that after playing the game, students from classes 6-8 began to mix with each other when they had to do a task to make laws for their school. She said, “I noticed that children who never spoke to one another began to develop new friendships and complete tasks together.”
  4. Experience unknown social realities – Carrying out a task can give a student clarity on a particular issue which she/he may not have faced otherwise. For example, surviving on Rs. 32 for a day will help them understand the struggles of a person who lives below the poverty line. This makes them realize why the right to equality is so important.

    “Our school is near a forest area and our students can see how the tribal community is struggling with poverty. After doing this task, they came up to me and said how unfair it was that a tribal person who does so much manual labour barely makes any money,” says Shirish Chouriya, who anchored Samvidhan LIVE! at Agrini Public School.

  5. Understand ‘others’ in a new way – Social tasks open up students’ minds to new perspectives and gives them a chance to speak to other students or members of the society. Students develop the capacity to communicate non violently and disagree respectfully even if their views don’t match with someone else’s.

    Shirish shared how a task related to gender equality developed a student’s ability to think critically and question. When Shrish asked the student what his father did for a living, the student said, “Why does everybody want to know about my father? Why does nobody ever ask me what my mother does? She does a lot of work.”

  6. Get out of their comfort zone and nurture their leadership capacities – The game is full of tasks that make students think in extraordinary ways, discover themselves as individuals and reflect on what kind of citizens they would like to be.
  7. Pay full attention and engage deeply – Children find this game entertaining because it has practical tasks which keep them on their feet. “Kids find oral learning about rights and duties boring. When they do a task themselves, they understand concepts such as equality more easily,” says Shaba.
  8. Be jagriks, not just nagriks – Teachers can empower their students to live their constitutional values by initiating this game and facilitating discussions. As a teacher, you get a chance to help your student become a jagrik (an aware and active citizen) instead of just a nagrik (citizen).
  9. Make informed electoral choices – In the long term, lessons from the Jagrik game can help students choose their leaders carefully based on their understanding of ethics.
  10. Take action in their own communities – Teachers and students can join hands to undertake small campaigns in their communities about local issues. For example, organizing a clean-up drive to practice a fundamental duty.

How teachers can use Samvidhan LIVE! in their classrooms
CYC has a school version of the Samvidhan LIVE! game kit. It is available in both Hindi and English. If you’re interested in using the kit, you can act as a facilitator, customize the modules and use them in your classroom.

“Playing Samvidhan LIVE! is completely possible in the school. Teachers can use the last 10 minutes of their class for the game and ask students to complete the tasks as part of their homework. In the next class, they can organize a group discussion where students get to share their experiences and share the next task,” says Dr. Punam Kumari.

As opposed to simply reading out a chapter in the classroom, teachers can divide the class into pairs or small groups and ask them to carry out self and social action tasks. The teacher can also use her/his creative skills to craft a module customized to complement the existing curriculum. Teachers can play the game with their students over a period of 4-5 weeks using the time allotted for a free period, SUPW or extra-curricular activities. “Teachers can also customize the module based on the needs of their students and their level of understanding,” says Shirish.

If you are a teacher and would like to order a game kit for your class, please send an email to [email protected].

Vandana K is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. She writes for non-profit organiations such as ComMutiny Youth Collective (CYC) and Oxfam India on responsible business and youth work. She also runs her own blog The Conscious Desi, where she writes about how to live a zero waste lifestyle. She can be reached at [email protected].

Kanika Sinha works at CYC as Director Partnerships and Outreach and has been part of the team that conceptualized, designed and successfully implemented Samvidhan LIVE! The Jagrik Project with over 1200 adolescents and young people across the country. She can be reached at [email protected].

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