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Unfortunately, we remember our fundamental rights but forget our fundamental duties

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The idea of citizenship has acquired a new meaning, content and purpose in the democratic world. While emphasising on rights, it is very important that one is also sincere about one’s duties towards the society at large and the country, especially its safety and security imperatives.

Universally, great emphasis has been laid on citizens’ duties. Article 29(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.”

Many nations across the world have transformed into developed economies by embodying the principles of “responsible citizenship” — all the responsibilities and duties that citizens of a nation should exercise and respect. The United States of America is a classic example in this respect. The Citizens’ Almanac, issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, details the responsibilities of its citizens — a copy of this document is given to every person on becoming a citizen of the country. Every year, during September 17-23, Americans celebrate the “Constitution Week”, using the time to reflect on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and what it means to be a US citizen.

Another example is Singapore, whose growth story has been fueled by its emphasis on the relentless pursuit of duties by its citizens. As a result, Singapore has transformed from a less developed nation to a highly developed one in a short span of time.

India is one of the few countries in the world with a glorious tradition of democracy since ancient times. Eminent historian K P Jayaswal remarks that the concept of republic in ancient India is older than of the Roman or Greek republican system. The ancient republics or janpadas such as Vaishali, Kapilavastu and Mithila — and their constitutions — date back to 600 BC. These form the foundation for the constitutional democracy that India is today — as well as for the role of Indian citizens in making democracy a success in India.

Since ancient times, people in India have had a tradition of performing their duties — even in partial disregard of their rights and privileges. Since time immemorial, an individual’s “kartavya” — the performance of one’s duties towards society, his/her country and his/her parents — was emphasised. Describing the role of a king, Chanakya stated, “It is a king’s utmost duty to look after the progress and welfare of the people of his country”. Modern civilisations, sadly, do not offer many inducements for the performance of duties — they certainly don’t teach people that the real reward for responsible citizenship is the preservation of a free society.

Traditionally, the fundamental impulse to accept responsibilities and perform duties, in every society, has been religious. Performing one’s duties with sincerity, is in fact, a worship mechanism. As a line from the Rig Veda notes,”O, citizens of Bharat! As our ancient saints and seers, leaders and preceptors have performed their duties righteously, similarly, you shall not falter to execute your duties”. (Rig.10.191.2)

The Bhagwad Gita and Ramayana also ask people to perform their duties. In the Gita, Lord Krishna ordains, “One should do one’s duties without expectation of any fruits”. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I learnt my duties on my mother’s lap. She was an unlettered village woman… She knew my dharma. Thus, if from my childhood we learn what our dharma is and try to follow it our rights look after themselves… The beauty of it is that the very performance of a duty secures us our right. Rights cannot be divorced from duties. This is how satyagraha was born, for I was always striving to decide what my duty was.” Gandhi further said that the true source of right is duty. He said, “If we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek”. Swami Vivekananda rightly observed, “it is the duty of every person to contribute in the development and progress of India”.

The authors of the Constitution, under the able leadership of Babasaheb Ambedkar, put their hearts and minds into drafting an inclusive Constitution for a diverse India. As chairman of the Drafting Committee, Ambedkar displayed utmost clarity on one point — the purpose of the Constitution. He stated, “the Constitution is not a mere lawyer’s document; it is a vehicle of life and its spirit is always the spirit of age”.

A very significant feature of our Constitution is that it balances citizens’ rights and duties. These are social concepts that have grown through time, tradition and usage. The citizens’ duties as enshrined in the Constitution are essentially a codification of tasks integral to the Indian way of life — they focus on tolerance, peace and communal harmony. A close scrutiny of the clauses of Article 51A of the Constitution, indicate that a number of them refer to values, which have been part of Indian tradition, mythology, religion and practices.

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