Aerospace engineer ignites awareness on fountain source of law with ‘Reclaim Constitution’ initiative

'Reclaim Constitution' has received overwhelming response as over 20,000 postcards and around 700-800 tote bags featuring the preamble have been distributed.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Aug 15, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdatedAug 15, 2023 | 12:56 PM

Indian Constitution Reclaim Constitution Vinay Kumar

In the bustling Bengaluru, amidst the whirlwind of technological advancements and modern complexities, one man has taken it upon himself to bridge the gap between the past and the present, between ideals and reality.

Meet Vinay Kumar, a 38-year-old aerospace engineer, whose journey has taken an unexpected turn, leading him to delve deep into the heart of India’s foundational document — the Constitution.

In a world where innovation and scientific breakthroughs often take centre stage, Kumar found his inspiration not in the skies he was trained to conquer, but in the timeless words that shape the nation.

The story unfolds with the Preamble to the Constitution of India, a succinct yet profound expression of the country’s core values. Kumar’s initiative goes beyond the conventional realm of aeronautics, taking flight in the uncharted territories of constitutional knowledge.

Intriguingly, his foray into this remarkable venture was ignited by a confluence of events that rocked the nation’s fabric — the anti-CAA protests and the relentless grip of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Amidst these upheavals, Kumar embarked on a journey of introspection and exploration, seeking solace, and understanding, in the words that shaped India’s democratic foundation.

Kumar’s innovative approach to disseminating constitutional knowledge involved an intricate blend of art and history. Distributing postcards adorned with artwork from the original document and excerpts from the debates that echoed in the corridors of power during its drafting — and adoption on 26 January, 1950.

The Reclaim Constitution initiative offers sets of 23 postcards each. These postcards encompass the Preamble and debates from the Constituent Assembly, responsible for drafting the Indian Constitution.

In conversation with South First, Vinay Kumar sheds light on the origins of his inspiring journey. He delves into the pivotal moments that ignited his path toward promoting constitutional awareness and explains his plans. Edited excerpts:

Q. What is the ‘Reclaim Constitution’ initiative that you launched this year on Republic Day?

A. The seeds of this project were sown in 2019, during the anti-CAA protests, a time when conversations about the Constitution were rampant. The preamble was visible everywhere — on the streets, in newspapers. I found myself wondering why the preamble was suddenly so prominent. This realisation underscored my ignorance about these matters, fuelling my curiosity to dig deeper.

I reached out to lawyer friends, seeking clarity on the reasons behind the widespread protests against this law. I wanted to understand why people were advocating for the preamble in the public sphere. Subsequently, we formed a small group focused on reading and understanding the Constitution.

This initiative coincided with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, confining us to our homes. We adapted by organising weekly Zoom meetings to explore the intricacies of the Constitution.

Among our group were legal experts, notably Arvind Narayan from ALF (Alternative Law Forum) and his colleague, Poorna Ravi Shankar. They adeptly translated the Constitution’s complexities for the average person, illuminating its formation process. The backdrop to this was the legacy of numerous freedom fighters who, post-independence, faced the colossal task of defining the nation’s identity. These individuals engaged in extensive debates to shape the country’s trajectory.

What struck me profoundly was the quality of these debates. Towering intellectuals of the time, alongside ordinary individuals deeply rooted in the freedom struggle, deliberated, and contributed. Despite their varied backgrounds, they united in crafting the vision for our country.

As the pandemic persisted, I grasped the extent to which we had deviated from these foundational values. The chasm between our current state and the ideals cherished by the freedom fighters became increasingly apparent. This realisation ignited a fervour within us. With Republic Day fast approaching, I chanced upon the remarkable artwork within the original Constitution. This artwork, rich with history, conveyed messages beyond what words could convey.

I felt compelled to amalgamate these aspects — the Constitution’s vision and the captivating artwork. The Constitution, a profound document, not only defined our nation’s path but also established fundamental values. Importantly, it invited future generations to improve upon it.

This realisation fuelled my determination to share this message far and wide. I felt the urgency to bridge the gap in understanding, as it seemed that many were detached from this heritage, leading to our departure from its values.

The “Reclaim Constitution’ initiative emerged to kindle the flame of awareness. It is a reminder that our Constitution is not just a relic but a living embodiment of a collective vision, one that requires nurturing and safeguarding for the prosperity of our nation.

Also read: Oath on Constitution, ‘training’ by religious, spiritual leaders?

Q. What motivated you to launch this endeavor aimed at educating people about the Constitution of India?

A. The inception of the #ReclaimConstitution initiative was driven by a recognition of the prevalent negative narratives and injustices permeating our society in recent years. Despite perceptions that issues like poverty and caste discrimination have been addressed, the reality often diverges from this assumption. Many live within bubbles, shielded by technology and social media, creating an illusion of a desirable world while ignoring unsettling realities.

This phenomenon has resulted in a decline in societal values that underpinned our country’s formation. Thus, the imperative emerged to “reclaim” the Constitution. The initiative seeks to reclaim it from those who have failed us: Politicians, lawyers, the judiciary, the executive, and even the people themselves.

The Constitution commences with the phrase “We, the people of India,” signifying its ownership by the citizenry. We have forgotten this ownership and connection. In times of personal crisis, we take immediate action to protect what belongs to us. Yet, despite the Constitution being under threat, we often remain passive, as if it does not pertain to us.

Through “Reclaimed Constitution”, I aimed at awakening people to the reality that this foundational document is indeed ours. By urging individuals to introspect, to read what the Constitution-makers envisioned for us, and to assess where we stand today, my goal was to evoke an innate understanding of the Constitution’s vulnerability to erosion.

By fostering this awareness, we can actively contribute to preserving the constitutional values and ideals that are essential for the progress and harmony of our nation.

Also read: Azaadi, satyagraha, and constitutional memory

Q. Is it crucial, especially for the youth, to comprehend the significance of our national flag at this juncture?

A. As we celebrate Independence Day, reflections on recent events like the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign reveal a disheartening aspect of our history. The shift from the deeply meaningful tradition of using only Khadi for the flag was regrettable. This alteration occurred as part of the flag code’s amendment to mark 75 years of freedom. Sadly, plastic flags emerged, discarded thoughtlessly, tarnishing the flag’s sanctity and the ideals it embodies.

The true essence of the flag’s colours has often been misconstrued, even dating back to 1950. Misguided interpretations suggest that specific colours denote communities or religions persist, perpetuating divisive sentiments. Yet, the flag’s creators envisioned it differently. They designed a flag that collectively and individually captures India’s spirit and heritage, celebrating both its vitality and traditions.

Jawaharlal Nehru underlined that this flag is not about imperialism or domination but freedom — a message not just for India but for the world. He hoped it would symbolise India’s intention to befriend nations and support those striving for freedom. This noble vision is starkly contrasted by the flag’s misuse and misinterpretation today.

It is disheartening that the profound intentions behind the flag’s design have faded. Revisiting these thoughts is essential, rekindling inspiration among people, especially the youth, to contribute to the realisation of these ideals.

Also read: ‘Hindutva a dangerous departure from our core constitutional values’

Q. Considering the debates during the drafting of the Constitution, do you believe that even after 75 years of Independence, the Constitution is not completely implemented?

A. The wisdom of the Constituent Assembly debates, especially in formulating the Preamble, holds immense significance. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s emphasis on fraternity is noteworthy. He stated that while liberty and equality are present in our Constitution, they lack depth without fraternity. Fraternity, he asserted, is pivotal for their realisation.

Recent research, such as Akash Singh Rathod’s book, Ambedkar’s Preamble, unveils the origins of the Preamble. Although various committees debated other sections, the Preamble’s authorship remained somewhat enigmatic. Rathod’s work underscores Ambedkar’s significant role in shaping the Preamble.

Ambedkar’s notion of fraternity draws from Buddhist philosophy, particularly the concept of metta (positive energy and compassion towards others) in Pali. Fraternity is more profound than mere brotherhood — it is empathy for distant lives. In our gender-sensitive world, the term “brotherhood” falls short. Fraternity entails empathy for all, transcending physical proximity.

Today, we lack this empathy. Events in Manipur exemplify our deficiency in national empathy. Fraternity implies feeling equally connected to distant struggles as those nearby. Ambedkar’s emphasis on fraternity is vital for unity, equality, and liberty to flourish, binding us as a nation.

Also read: ‘The Speaking Constitution’ the KG Kannabiran memoir

Q. The Constitution grants every citizen the right to question and hold elected officials accountable. Is a sense of responsibility missing among the younger generation in actively questioning those in power?

A. We have seemingly abandoned our duty to question the authorities, even though we have entrusted them with governance on our behalf. They are representatives, akin to a manager-employee relationship in an organisation. Citizens are the managers, and elected officials are our employees.

However, many fail to grasp this concept. Voting alone is not enough; ongoing engagement with the Constitution is necessary for a functioning democracy. This realisation is what I aim to convey through this project.

Also read: Constitution is under threat: Ambedkar’s granddaughter Ramabai

Q. What has been the response to the initiative?

A. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, though there have been some criticisms from those highlighting past undemocratic alterations to the Constitution. However, I stress the importance of addressing current concerns to prevent further damage.

During this period (seven months), the initiative has connected me with people worldwide who understand the Constitution’s issues and value its core principles. This engagement has introduced me to like-minded individuals globally.

In terms of numbers, over 20,000 postcards (with 23 postcards in each set) and around 700-800 tote bags featuring the Preamble have been distributed. This initiative is expanding its reach and bringing together voices that have not had a platform before.

Looking ahead, I aim to make the initiative more inclusive by translating the material into regional languages, including Braille and Indian sign language, to ensure representation for all citizens.

Also read: EWS quota is cancer in Constitution: Prof Mohan Gopal

Q. Have there been any ripple effects, where your friends or relatives have expressed interest in launching similar initiatives in their hometowns?

A. Recently, I introduced a “Reclaimed Constitution Walk” in Bengaluru, showcasing the legacy of the Constituent Assembly members around Vidhana Soudha and featuring the actual Constitution at Cubbon Park’s library. This initiative inspired many, leading them to express their eagerness to utilise the available material.

The initiative’s materials are freely accessible on the website for anyone to use. Interested individuals can order printed versions or use digital images to print themselves, emphasising its collaborative and educational nature. There’s no commercial intent behind this project,

Also read: These six books echo the freedom struggle in South India

Q. Is this initiative solely undertaken by you, or have you collaborated with any organisations or NGOs to ensure its successful execution? Could you provide insights into the financial aspects of these initiatives?

A. Primarily, I have been funding this initiative personally. In the early stages, support came from the Alternative Law Forum and the International Institute of Art Culture and Democracy, led by Professor Vijay Chandru. They facilitated some free distributions initially, which was a significant boost.

Although the project began modestly, it gained momentum as more organisations expressed interest. The initiative operates on a non-commercial basis. Any surplus generated is used to sustain the initiative, with a small markup to cover expenses and potential losses. The goal is to ensure the continuity of this initiative through printing and distribution.