Tuesday, June 17, 2014

From Buddha's 3 Gems to Allah's Universal Sovereignty: South Asian Preambles

Most Countries around the world have a single consolidated written document as their Constitution (UK, New Zealand, Israel and Canada being notable exceptions here) and among these, a great many also have a preamble- a brief introductory text, preceding the main body of the written constitution. Preamble is essentially a polemic/set of guiding principles/visionary statement on the part of Constitution makers, before laying the foundation of a State in the main body. While it is of little consequence in day to day workings of a State, a Preamble does give us a fascinating insight into the ideals and cultural-historical myths propagated by a State- the context, the bigger picture, THE purpose behind that particular State's existence.
Japan's post-war preamble, for instance, vouches for International Peace and affirms that people of Japan shall never again be visited by horrors of war due to Government actions. French Preamble recalls Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from 1789 and establishes France as a secular and democratic country. Likewise, North Korean Preamble promises a self-reliant socialist state that has realised the ideas and leadership of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

And what do South Asian Preambles say? All 7 South Asian Countries have a written constitution and all, but Maldives, have a preamble. Here's the list :

Preamble of Afghanistan Constitution
In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficient, the Most Merciful
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of Worlds; and Praise and Peace be upon Mohammad,
His Last Messenger and his disciples and followers
We the people of Afghanistan:
• Believing firmly in Almighty God, relying on His divine will and adhering to the Holy religion of Islam;
• Realizing the previous injustices, miseries and innumerable disasters which have befallen our country;
• Appreciating the sacrifices, historical struggles, jihad and just resistance of all the peoples of Afghanistan, admiring the supreme position of the martyr’s of the country’s freedom;
• Comprehending that a united, indivisible Afghanistan belongs to all its tribes and peoples;
• Observing the United Nations Charter as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
And in order to:
• Strengthen national unity, safeguard independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country;
• Establish an order based on the peoples’ will and democracy;
• Form a civil society void of oppression, atrocity, discrimination as well as violence, based on rule of law, social justice, protecting integrity and human rights, and attaining peoples’ freedoms and fundamental rights;
• Strengthen political, social, economic as well as defense institutions;
• Attain a prosperous life and sound living environment for all inhabitants of this land;
• And, eventually, regain Afghanistan’s appropriate place in the international family;
Have, herein, approved this constitution in accordance with the historical, cultural and social realities as well as requirements of time through our elected representatives in the Loya Jirga, dated January 3, 2004, held in the city of Kabul.

Preamble of Bangladesh Constitution
We, the people of Bangladesh, having proclaimed our Independence on the 26th day of March, 1971 and through [a historic war for national independence], established the independent, sovereign People’s Republic of Bangladesh;
[Pledging that the high ideals of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy and socialism meaning economic and social justice, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in the war for national independence, shall be fundamental principles of the Constitution;]
Further pledging that it shall be a fundamental aim of the State to realise through the democratic process to socialist society, free from exploitation-a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens;
Affirming that it is our sacred duty to safeguard, protect and defend this Constitution and to maintain its supremacy as the embodiment of the will of the people of Bangladesh so that we may prosper in freedom and may make our full contribution towards international peace and co-operation in keeping with the progressive aspirations of mankind;
In our Constituent Assembly, this eighteenth day of Kartick, 1379 B.S corresponding to the fourth day of November, 1972 A.D., do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.

Preamble of Bhutan Constitution
• We, the People of the Kingdom of Bhutan,
• Blessed by the Triple Gem, the protection of our guardian deities, the wisdom of our leaders, the everlasting fortunes of the Pelden Drukpa and the guidance of His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck;
• Solemnly pledging ourselves to strengthen the sovereignty of Bhutan, to secure the blessings of liberty, to ensure justice and tranquillity and to enhance the unity, happiness and well being of the people for all time;
• Do hereby ordain and adopt this Constitution for the Kingdom of Bhutan on the Fifteenth Day of the Fifth Month of the Male Earth Rat Year corresponding to the Eighteenth Day of July, Two Thousand and Eight.

Preamble of Indian Constitution
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA,having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the [unity and integrity of the Nation];

Preamble of Nepal’s Interim Constitution (2007)
Recognizing the mandate of the Nepali people expressed, from time to time, since before 1951 until now, through historical struggles and people’s movements for democracy, peace and progress; Having determined upon the progressive restructuring of the state in order to resolve the existing problems of the country relating to class, caste, region and gender; Expressing our full commitment to democratic norms and values including a system of competitive multiparty democratic rule, civil liberties, fundamental rights, human rights, adult franchise, periodic elections, full freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary and concepts of the rule of law; Guaranteeing the basic rights of the Nepali people to frame a Constitution for themselves and to participate in the free and impartial election of the Constituent Assembly in a fear-free environment; And keeping democracy, peace, prosperity, progressive economic-social changes and sovereignty, integrity, independence and dignity of the country as a central concern; NOW THEREFORE, in order to institutionalize the achievements of the revolution and movements till this date, hereby promulgate this INTERIM CONSTITUTION OF NEPAL, 2063 (2007), prepared through a political consensus and to be in force until a new Constitution is framed by the Constituent Assembly.

Preamble Of Pakistan Constitution
Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;
And whereas it is the will of the people of Pakistan to establish an order—
Wherein the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people;
Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed;
Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah;
Wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures;
Wherein the territories now included in or in accession with Pakistan and such other territories as may hereafter be included in or accede to Pakistan shall form a Federation wherein the units will be autonomous with such boundaries and limitations on their powers and authority as may be prescribed;
Wherein shall be guaranteed fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to law and public morality;
Wherein adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed classes;
Wherein the independence of the judiciary shall be fully secured;
Wherein the integrity of the territories of the Federation, its independence and all its rights, including its sovereign rights on land, sea and air, shall be safeguarded;
So that the people of Pakistan may prosper and attain their rightful and honoured place amongst the nations of the World and make their full contribution towards international peace and progress and happiness of humanity:
Now, therefore, we, the people of Pakistan,
Conscious of our responsibility before Almighty Allah and men;
Cognisant of the sacrifices made by the people in the cause of Pakistan;
Faithful to the declaration made by the Founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, that Pakistan would be a democratic State based on Islamic Principles of social justice;
Dedicated to the preservation of democracy achieved by the unremitting struggle of the people against oppression and tyranny;
Inspired by the resolve to protect our national and political unity and solidarity by creating an egalitarian society through a new order;
Do hereby, through our representatives in the National Assembly, adopt, enact and give to ourselves, this Constitution.

Preamble Of Sri Lankan Constitution
The PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA having, by their Mandate freely expressed and granted on the sixth day of the waxing moon in the month of Adhi Nikini in the year two thousand five hundred and twenty-one of the Buddhist Era (being Thursday the twenty-first day of the month of July in the year one thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven), entrusted to and empowered their Representatives elected on that day to draft, adopt and operate a new Republican Constitution in order to achieve the goals of a DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC, and having solemnly resolved by the grant of such Mandate and the confidence reposed in their said Representatives who were elected by an overwhelming majority, to constitute SRI LANKA into a DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC whilst ratifying the immutable republican principles of REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY, and assuring to all peoples FREEDOM, EQUALITY, JUSTICE, FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS and the INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY as the intangible heritage that guarantees the dignity and well-being of succeeding generations of the People of SRI LANKA and of all the people of the World, who come to share with those generations the effort of working for the creation and preservation of a JUST AND FREE SOCIETY:
WE, THE FREELY ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA, in pursuance of such Mandate, humbly acknowledging our obligations to our People and gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain and preserve their rights and privileges so that the Dignity and Freedom of the Individual may be assured, Just, Social, Economic and Cultural Order attained, the Unity of the Country restored, and Concord established with other Nations,do hereby adopt and enact this CONSTITUTION as the SUPREME LAW of the DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA.

Maldivian Constitution does not have a Preamble.

Few (superficial?) Observations:
  1. Indian, Nepali and Sri Lankan Preambles are the only ones that do not invoke any God/deity.
  2. “Secular” is explicitly mentioned only in Indian Preamble. However Nepali Interim Constitution also sets up a Secular State in main body of the text.
  3. Preamble of  Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bhutan give explicit precedence to religion of majority populace. In case of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh- the Preamble is silent on Secularism, but the main body of the Constitution makes it clear that they are not Secular States- Islam is the state religion in Bangladesh and Buddhism given "foremost place" in Sri Lankan Constitution. Interesting to note that Secularism was one of the four founding principles in the original Bangladeshi constitution but was struck down by General Ziaur Rehman in 1977 and Islam made the State religion. In 2010, Bangladeshi SC restored Secularism as one of the founding principle but Islam remains the State religion, so her claim to a Secular State remain dubious.
  4. Pakistan & Afghanistan have the longest while Bhutan & India have the shortest Preambles of the 6 South Asian Countries whose constitution begins with a Preamble.
  5. Afghanistan’s Preamble is the only one that claims to abide by UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  6. The word “Socialism/Socialist” is part of only Bangladeshi, Indian and Sri Lankan Preambles (inserted in 1970s for all three).
  7. Bhutanese Preamble is the only one that seeks guidance from a Royal family. Pakistani Preamble is the only other that explicitly cites an Individual’s name (Mr. Jinnah’s)
  8. Some other interesting titbits: naming of the drafting year (Male Earth Rat Year in Bhutan, Kartick in Bangladesh); mention of Jihad in Afghanistan; sovereignty of entire Universe (not just Pakistan) left with Allah alone in Pakistani Preamble; explicit mention of  independence of judiciary in Sri Lankan & Pakistani Preambles and so on, so forth.

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