What does it mean to be citizens? To have a vision for our society, to build a democracy for the people, of the people, by the people? The constitution of India is that social contract that binds us as citizens but it is not set in stone. So what would it entail? To get people to engage with it as a living document, with both the letter and the spirit, with how the constitution forms the social contract and the basis for identity and citizenship in the country?
In order to start the conversation, we decided to hold a day-long workshop at FoV house, where people from diverse backgrounds could come and work in interdisciplinary teams to build tools that will facilitate discussion, debate, and dialogue with the Constitution.
On March 17th, a mildly humid Saturday morning, the front porch of the FoV house was lined up with 30 odd pairs of shoes. Inside, the room was packed with lawyers, academics, policy researchers, designers and artists. A few sips of tea and coffee were followed by a round of introductions. It was 10 a.m and the constitution workshop had kicked off with great enthusiasm.
The participants were divided into four groups:
Group 1- Apurba with a background in Law, Uruj from Green Peace, Ambika from CIS with a background in English literature and Media studies, Mehul Kanodia from Quest Alliance, Shreyan Acharya a Lawyer currently working at Centre for Law and Policy Research, Shruti Kabo a designer from Icarus and Simar from Lifetide.
Group 2 had the following participants: J. Mandakini from Centre for Law and Policy Research, Vinod Ravindran, a freelance theatre artist, Sophia Chung with a background in Education, Tushant with a background in Game theory, mathematical and theoretical economics, Priya NM from NIAS and Samhita, a law student, Darshana from Alternate Law Forum.
Group 3 had the following participants: Guru Aiyyar from Takshashila Institute, Nishtha Sinha from CIS, Niveditha Menon from CBPS, Srijan Mandal, Faculty at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and Ragini, Designer from Quest Alliance.
Group 4 had the following participants: Parth Sharma, an engineer from ISRO, Malvika Prasad, a lawyer by practice, Sushma with a background in HR, Anirudh Kanisetti, a researcher at Takshashila Institute, Ana with a background in political science and Siddhanth, with a background in conservation ecology and local governance.
The deep blue sea
The participants were given 2 cues to begin with a) Concepts from the preamble / Citizen-Person, and b) What goes into making of the Constitution of a country such as India. Participants could also choose an entry point of their own to guide their inquiry for the day. The exercise began with each group mapping the ecosystem of their chosen target audience and then further refining the audience they would like to build the tool for. By the end of session one, each group had to identify a) the objective of their tool, b) who is the tool for and c) what will the dissemination of this tool involve.
Minutes into the exercise one could see, the participants breaking away from their mild hellos and diving into ardent discussions around equality, fundamental rights, democracy. They could take many directions and the possibilities seemed endless. They were caught many times in the tug of war between the theoretical and the actionable. At last after a few nudges here and the participants committed to an objective, an audience and an idea.
After lunch the participants had fueled up and rolled up their sleeves to dive into the next phase of the workshop – building concepts and iterate over their tools. There were conversations around empathy, role plays and games. By the end of the second session the four groups had come up with working prototypes of four different games.
Group 1 had come up with an activity-based game to communicate fundamental rights to offline adults. They designed a card-based game (like rummy) where players can match right cards to their profile (which described their particular situations). By playing the game, the player would understand which rights are applicable to the kind of situation they face.
Group 2 designed a game on right to life. The aim here was to keep the person alive. The game starts out with certain markers of identity of a person and with each round new markers are introduced. Certain situations that affect the right to life of the person crop up during gameplay. All players have to collaborate to keep the person alive. The game was designed for offline adults in informal spaces.
Group 3 wanted to create a tool that facilitates a breakdown of concepts in the preamble. Their intended audience were young adults (students in publicly funded universities/schools, disadvantaged youth, community colleges). They created a card-based game that dealt with the concept of equality. In the game each player held a profile that was endowed with certain privileges/disadvantages. The intent of the game was to generate empathy by evoking a sense of inequality that existed between the players themselves.
Group 4 created a card-based game around the functioning of a democracy. The objective of this tool was to explore how to use democracy in order to bring change. The game for designed for urban young adults. The players were assigned different identities and based on their respective profiles, they could negotiate with the system in order to acquire certain assets. The game tries to evoke the power of citizens along with the sense that not all citizens are equal.
When it comes to something like the Constitution or the Law, the urge to look up an expert’s opinion, for one right answer comes easily. But at the workshop our participants tackled a number of ideas from the constitution by working with the document. The pressure to create a tool in limited time, laid down constraints that a lot of the participants had never worked with before. Each person brought to the table their own disciplinary perspectives and layered in their view of this document in order to have a dialogue.
With a lot many reflections, musings and laughs, we wrapped up for the evening, hoping that the conversation will be taken even to those neighborhoods where the rain hasn’t brought respite from the humid afternoon.