‘We students recite the Preamble. Again and again’

‘We students recite the Preamble. Again and again’

A research scholar at JNU who is in the thick of things tells us what the Preamble means to the protesting students today

Authoritarian regimes are made of frangible stories. When their narrative shatters, they often respond with brutal State repression.

At Jamia, the barricades of the police, their boots, their bullets and the tips of their tongue as they spat out communal slurs, were all doused with impunity. The same impunity that I saw in the eyes of the officers who stood at the main gate of the JNU campus as rod wielding goons entered the JNU campus. What do you do when the police breaches the law it is meant to protect? What do you do when the institutions that are entrusted with making laws and upholding the Constitution are being hollowed out?

We protest. We hold placards. We sloganeer. We are beaten. Again. We protest. Again. We recite the Preamble. Over and over again. To remind ourselves what we have given to ourselves as a nation. To assert that it is us, ‘We the people’ who have the duty to ensure that laws in contravention to the philosophy of constitutionalism and the arbitrary exercise of State power are curtailed, even when the institutions to ensure the rule of law have failed us. We recite the Preamble over and over again. Not to encourage ritualizing the Constitution or worship it, but to remind ourselves that it is us, ‘We the people’ who have the right to amend the laws that govern us, and not those who seek to take away that power from the people. After all, what is a Constitution but a mechanism to restrain governments from exercising absolute power over its people? 

The enormity of the collective reclamation of the Constitution has forced the police to retreat in certain instances, brought Supreme Court lawyers to protest sites, made journalists who have been at the feet of the regime speak up and even the newly inducted chief of the army staff to read out the Preamble to pledge his allegiance not just to the book we call the Constitution, but to ‘We the people of India.’ The heartening thing is, people know that the streets are where the real celebration of the Constitution is taking place, where the words ‘We the people’ are being infused with life and meaning(s).

A plurality of nationalisms is being articulated as more and more protesters from different sections of society hit the streets. Historically neglected questions of territoriality, religion, caste and gender have found an audience in these protests. Foundational questions about what constitutes the people, who is sovereign, what is representation and what is the identity of the nation are being asked. At this scale, it is no longer just a protest, it is the reconstitution of the public sphere.

The writer is a research scholar at JNU at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory. Views expressed are solely her own.