In the previous post in this series, we traced the trajectory of the education provisions in the committee stages of the Constituent Assembly. The Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights had placed a right to education style provision in the fundamental rights section of the Constitution. The Advisory Committee then shifted these provisions to the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP).
On 23 November 1948, the Assembly took up Draft Article 45 for debate. The provision read –
36. Every citizen is entitled to free primary education and the State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.
The debate began with Assembly member Lakshmi Kanta Maitra moving an amendment. He wanted to bring the phrasing of Draft Article 36 in line with the other Articles in the DPSP. While other provisions began with a ‘State shall strive to…’ type phrasing, Draft Article 45 began with ‘Every citizen is entitled to…’. The former phrasing was the most prevalent in the DPSP provisions and was an outcome of the conscious decision of the Committee stages to communicate that these were principles that the State was to adopt and not legally enforceable rights. The phrasing of Draft Article 36 however, looked more like a fundamental right rather than a DPSP.
Naziruddin Ahmad moved an amendment to change ‘education’ to ‘primary education’. He argued that the intention of the Drafting Committee and the Assembly would have been ‘primary education’. Since primary education was the only kind of education that could be provided to children in the age group of 0 – 14 years, the Draft Article should just say ‘primary education’. Also, it was better to confine the state's efforts to ‘primary education’ exclusively.
B Das was sceptical about Draft Article 36 - a position that was informed by his view on the DPSP as a whole. He termed the DPSP as ‘pious hopes and pious wishes’. Here, Das seems to be alluding to the fact that the DPSP while containing critical socio-economic measures, were toothless as they were not legally enforceable. This kind of criticism was often brought up on various occasions in the constitution-making process.
He also said that Draft Article 36 did not really clarify the form of primary education in India. Specifically, he wanted to know ‘Will it be in one language, or will it be in two or three languages if a province has two or three kinds of people making up the province?’. He was concerned that linguistic minorities in a state – say Bengalis in Tamil Nadu – would be forced to receive education in the State language.
Ambedkar responded to the points raised in the debate. He agreed with Maitra and accepted the amendment to change the phrasing of Draft Article 36 to bring it in line with the other DPSP provisions. However, he rejected Nazzirudin’s amendment and the underlying rationale.
Ambedkar clarified that Draft Article 36 was not confined to primary education and the use of only ‘education’ was a conscious decision. He argued that Draft Article 36 was inextricably linked to Draft Article 18 that barred the employment of children under the age of 14. ‘If the child is not to be employed below the age of 14’, Ambedkar continued ‘the child must be kept occupied in some educational institution. That is the object of article 36 and that is why I say the word “primary” is quite inappropriate in that particular clause”.
Here, Ambedkar inaccurately interpreted Draft Article 18: the provision only barred children under the age of 14 from being ‘employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment’. The Article did not really say anything about other fields of work.
Nonetheless, when Draft Article 36 came up for voting, the Assembly adopted Maitra’s amendment and rejected Naziruddin’s. It adopted the Draft Article with the amendment.