One thing has bothered me no end about the Indian Constitution – the concept of fundamental duties. Every Indian I know takes it for granted that because we have “fundamental rights”, we should have “fundamental duties”. As if one is a counterbalance to the other. As if we require a certain moral responsibility to counteract the privilege of receiving certain rights.
These so-called “fundamental duties” occupy a curious position in the Constitution. They are not laws in the normal sense of the word. There is no punishment or penalty for violating them. Many of them are ridiculously vague such as the injunction to “strive for excellence”. Suppose I don’t want to strive for excellence? What if I’m perfectly content the way I am and with the way my life is going? Am I less of a citizen of India? Should I leave the country? What the hell does it mean?
This dangerous concept of fundamental duties has poisoned the minds of Indians. It has made them feel that the state is doing them a favor by giving them a set of fundamental rights. Indians do not feel entitled to their rights. They look on them as privileges at best – something that must be paid for through a kind of moral obligation.
Think for a moment how absurd the concept is. Suppose you and I have a contract. The terms of the contract are quite specific laying down what I’m supposed to do, what you’re supposed to do and what consequences will arise if either of us violates the agreement. Now imagine that I come up to you and say “This contract is all very well. But guess what? You also have a moral obligation to do this, and this, and this! It’s not there in the contract. There are no penalties or consequences for you not doing them. But I’d like you to do them any way!”
Wouldn’t you laugh in my face?
As citizens of India, we have a contract with the state. The state guarantees our fundamental rights like freedom of expression etc., provides us with facilities such as a police force, printed currency, and certain public amenities. In return we agree to pay our taxes and follow the laws. Nothing else. We have no other obligation. There is no other “moral duty”.
And yet, many Indians will trot out the standard dialogue of “with freedom comes responsibility” as if we are not already paying the price with our taxes and by following the law. Let me be clear here – I have NO moral obligation to India or to any other country I live in other than the bare terms of the social contract. I do not view my fundamental rights as privileges. They are RIGHTS. I pay for them. And I demand them. Don’t come to me and try and tell me that I have to exercise my rights “responsibly” from a legal point of view. I might indeed choose to restrict the use of my rights – but that is my choice and my choice alone. No one, least of all the government, has the right to claim otherwise.
So what do you think this absurd concept of fundamental duties means? Isn’t it time we got together and abolished them? To my knowledge, no other free country has such a nebulous, and purposely vague set of injunctions meant to make a population of citizens feel guilty and privileged. Why should we have it?