(Amisha Pareek, Board Member of National Constitution Society, reports on  CLPR’s workshop on Constitutional History and Freedom of Speech.)

On the occasion of National Youth Day, the Centre for Law and Policy Research in association with the Praja Foundation organised a workshop on Constitutional History and Freedom of Speech at Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College, University of Delhi. Disha Chaudhary, from CLPR conducted the workshop which began with a lighting of the lamp to commemorate the occasion.

Anamika, a faculty member from the college, gave the welcome address, in which she highlighted the importance of the law making process and civic governance in India. She also touched on some stalwarts of the Constituent Assembly and how important each one’s role was in giving the Constitution its shape.

The workshop began with Chaudhary giving a brief overview of CLPR and its work. She then highlighted the importance of reading and analysing the history of the Constitution, and how important it is to critically engage with it.  It helps us to know why certain articles are the way they are; why some provisions were explicitly excluded and others included. The Constitution is worded in such a manner that leaves it open for interpretation and changes in accordance to the need of the future. It is to be understood in both letter and spirit.

The audience was taken through some basic facts of the Constituent Assembly, such as the number of members in the Assembly, etc.  An important point to note is that there are broadly two types of documents while studying historical constitutions, based on authorship: British and Indian. The CAD India website has tagged as many as 20 much documents. The Constitution Assembly debates are important to study as they give us a deeper understanding of the personalities of the framers and develop a culture of ‘reason-argument giving’.

There are 3 broad general themes to analyse the Constituent Assembly and the Constitution: settlement, deferral and silence. This implies that for certain provisions like the tenure of the president, there existed a consensus between the members and, as such, the provisions are clearly stated in the Constitution, leaving little room for various interpretations. On the other hand, some principles such as the Directive Principles of State Policy and Uniform Civil Code were vigorously debated. By looking at the Constitution, one can clearly make out that the Assembly had not reached on an agreement regarding these. There’s also a third category of issues on which the Constitution is completely silent like disability rights and LGBTQ+ rights. This maybe because such issues were not felt to be as important as they are today, or maybe out of utter ignorance. The Constituent Assembly debates need to be viewed as political statements in order for them to endure.

The last segment of the workshop comprised of an exercise that familiarised the participants with the CAD India website and how it can come to great use. Worksheets were distributed that had questions related to the Freedom of Speech; the audience navigated through the website to answer and discuss the questions.

The participants solved the worksheets and gained first-hand experience in using the CAD India website and the various filters that the website offers to make the search extremely easy and convenient. The workshop ended with a representative of the Praja Foundation informing the participants about an upcoming fellowship that the foundation is offering to students in Delhi. Overall, the workshop was highly interactive and had lots to offer to the participants, especially with regards to the CAD India website.