Thinking About the Constitution of India: A Reading List

A series of articles from the EPW Archives examine the factors that shaped the making of the Constitution, how the Constitution has been amended and interpreted over the years and whether the spirit of the Constitution prevails in practice, when it comes to state violence, liberty and dissent.


History as it Happened

On 26 Jan 1950, the same day India became a Republic, an Economic Weekly (the erstwhile name of the EPW), published an editorial called The Constitution of the Republic. It said:

The Constitution of a country is, in essence, adjectival rather than substantive; it does not seek to prescribe what should be done, but how the authority of a government should be exercised. It is strictly procedural in character. The procedure thus laid down is always based on a specific political philosophy, which when it strongly emphasises the consent of the governed, will be the philosophy of democracy with its insistence on the necessity of free persuasion in time for every substantial decision for change in the order of things.


The Birth of the Constitution

A Text without Author | Aditya Nigam

This paper looks at the constituent assembly as an 'event.' How did different currents and polyphonic voices come together in the forming of the conjuncture within which the assembly took shape?

 Emergence of the Indian Constitution | Vivek Prahladan

This article attempts to examine the history of the idea of the text that is the Indian Constitution as an ideological contest between two visions, “constitution through nation” and “nation through constitution.” How did discourses of caste and community and not merely the INC negotiate to create a constitutional consensus?

Constituent Assembly Debates on Language | Rama Kant Agnihotri

This paper examines the Constituent Assembly Debates (CAD) of India held during 1946–50 in the context of discussions on language and language rights of minorities. Did the focus on containing the existing political safeguards available to the religious and backward minorities compromise the rights of linguistic minorities?

 Rights versus Representation | Shefali Jha

This essay argues that the granting of a range of individual and collective religious rights to the minorities was used, in the constituent assembly, to justify the refusal of their demand for more adequate mechanisms of representation. Did this contribute to the members of the Constituent Assembly giving in to a view of democracy as majoritarianism?

Representation and Its Epiphanies | Shefali Jha

The focus in this paper is on the Constituent Assembly debates on the nature of electoral mechanisms that would ideally translate people's will into governmental decisions. What assumptions did these debates make about the meaning of representation? 

Secularism in the Constituent Assembly Debates, 1946-1950 | Shefali Jha

This article contends that this 'contempt for religion' was marginalised in the course of the secularism debates in the Constituent Assembly. How did these early discussions on religious freedom also highlight a paradox that  it was precisely some of the advocates of a broad right to religious freedom who were also the most vociferous opponents of any political rights for religious minorities? 

 Forgetting Partition: Constitutional Amnesia and Nationalism | Kanika Gauba

Undertaking a closer reading of the Constituent Assembly's debates, this article clearly discerns the implicit influences of partition on key constitutional decisions, such as citizenship, political safeguards for religious minorities and provisions creating a strong central tendency in the union. How did constitutionalism “forget” episodes that did not fit within nationalist narratives?

Interpretations and Amendments

Some Constitutional Dilemmas | Ramaswamy R Iyer

This article proposes to discuss certain questions relating to the Constitution of India and the respective roles of the different organs of state. Should amendments to the Constitution be easy or difficult? How far should interpretations of the Constitution by the judiciary go? Should there be any limits to such interpretation? 

First Amendment to Constitution of India | C K Mathew

Undoubtedly, India is the only country in the world with a written constitution that has been amended so many times in the six and a half decades since its inception in 1950. This article asks: how did the very first constitutional amendment succeed in abridging the most valued of fundamental right of a citizen, namely that of freedom of speech?

 Citizenship and the Passive Revolution | Nivedita Menon

In India unlike in the west, the two processes of modernity and democracy emerged almost simultaneously. This paper explores the dilemmas created by the ‘different sequentiality’ by focusing on one revealing moment – the 1951 Act that first amended the Constitution, interpreted here as a landmark in the story of modernity in India. How did the amendment reflect the imperatives of the modernising project envisaged by India’s anti-imperialist elite that included the creation of a bourgeois democracy, the capitalist transformation of the economy and the establishment of social justice?

The Constitution and Supreme Court | Pran Chopra

The Indian Constitution, true to its commitment to the federal imperative, includes the important provision that any amendment which may affect rights granted by the Constitution to the federated states can be made only with the consent of the majority of the constituents, obtained by methods prescribed by the Constitution. Despite such clarity, some important aspects of the Indian Constitution have been misunderstood from time to time. How has this misunderstanding occurred at the highest levels of government and the judiciary?

Conscience of the Constitution 

Constitutional Geographies and Cartographies of Impunity | Kalpana Kannabiran

This paper explores the fields of constitutionalism and human rights with specific reference to tribes/Adivasis in India. In doing this, the attempt has been to trace some connections that emerge from collective engagements with the Constitution and law with respect to Adivasi rights in India.

 Conscience of the Constitution and Violence of the Indian State | Anand Chakravarti

This  article examines the Indian state’s criminal disregard of the constitutional rights of large segments of its citizens in conflicts over the acquisition and use of natural resources, capital’s overriding influence over the terms of employment of labour, struggles for national self-determination,religious-communal pogroms, and  atrocities perpetrated against the “underclass”. In what ways does the conscience of the wielders of state power fails to resonate with the conscience of the Constitution?

 Article 370 of the Constitution | Jai Shankar Agarwala

A brief history of why Article 370 of the Constitution was framed in a certain manner. What is the importance of the text of the Article from the viewpoint of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?

Mutilated Liberty and the Constitution | Nirmalendu Bikash Rakshit

Without liberty there cannot be democracy and Article 19 of the Indian Constitution guarantees that right to all citizens.In order that the state can regulate the individual's freedom in the greater interest of society a number of restrictions have been placed on these rights.  How have these restrictions  tilted the balance towards social control rather than liberty?


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