Like other modern Constitutions of most of the democratic countries, the Constitution of India, too, contains a number of Fundamental Rights for its citizens. These Fundamental Rights are not only guaranted by the Indian Constitution, but also are more elaborate and real than those found in other Constitutions of the world. In this chapter, we will study about vision of Fundamental Rights enshrined upon in part third of the Constitution of India.
Looking back at the history of Fundamental Rights, we know that the United States of America was the first country to incorporate these rights in its Constitution. Germany adopted them in 1919 through Weimer Constitution and so did Ireland and Russia in 1922 and 1936 respectively. During our freedom struggle, our national leaders realised the importance of rights for the people. So, there came the proposed bill of rights demanded by the ‘Nehru Committee’ in the year 1928. When India became independent, the Constituent Assembly did include the rights that would be specially protected and called them ‘Fundamental Rights’. The word fundamental emphasises the following points:
Let us try to understand how Fundamental Rights are different from ordinary rights given under a Law enacted by the Legislature.
The Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution stand higher than ordinary laws.
Originally, seven Fundamental Rights were enshrined in Part-III of the Indian Constitution. These included the Right to Property which was removed from the list of Fundamental Rights by the 44th Constitutional Amendment. Now there are only six Fundamental Rights. These are:
Equality before the Law to all persons, citizen and aliens means that the state shall not deny to any body equality before the law or equal protection of the law within the territory of India. It is covered under Article 14 of the Constitution and prevents discrimination only by the state and not by the individual.
Prohibition of Discrimination under Article 15 provides that no discrimination can be made against a citizen on the grounds of race, religion, caste, sex or place of birth. It implies that every citizen has access to shops, public place or the use of wells, tanks or roads etc. This Fundamental Right is necessary to bring about social equality.
Equality of opportunity under Article 16 means that all the citizens have equal opportunities in matters of employment or appointment to any office under the state. It implies that employment will be given only on the basis of merit and qualification.
Untouchability has been abolished and its practice in any form is prohibited. It has been made a punishable offence under Article 17. Millions of Indians who were ill-treated, discriminated and looked down upon in society are no more untouchables. Efforts are always on for the upliftment of their social status. It was Mahatma Gandhi’s utmost desire to root out the evil of untouchability. But it is very unfortunate that this evil is still seen in some parts of the country.
Article 18 prohibits the state from awarding any title except a military or India-I academic distinction. Before we attained independence, the Britishers used to award titles to those who were loyal to them and served their interests. Titles like Rai Bahadur, Rai Sahab, Khan Bahadur, Sir etc. not only created social distinction but also divided the Indian society. Therefore, they have been abolished. Instead, the President of India can award national honours like ‘Bharat Ratna’, ‘Padma Vibhushan’, ‘Padma Bhushan’ and ‘Padma Shree’ to eminent citizens in any field such as public, social, academic or sports. Similarly, military and bravery awards are also given for service or sacrifice by the military or paramilitary forces.
Articles 19-22: The Right to Freedom constitutes the core of civil liberty and protects the individual from the repressive acts of the executive.
Article 19 guarantees six freedoms which are essential for the development of one’s personality and for the successful working of the democracy. These freedoms are :
Although the framers of the Indian Constitution were strongly committed to various forms of fundamental freedoms which are absolutely necessary in a free democracy, yet they believed that all such freedoms should not be absolute or uncontrolled. Therefore, certain reasonable restrictions were imposed so that freedoms may not lead to anarchy, disorder and even disintegration of the country.
Constitution of India under Articles 20-22 provides safeguards to individuals against arbitrary action by the State. Therefore, the Right to life and personal liberty is of utmost importance and very essential to the enjoyment of all other rights.
Article 20 deals with protection in respect of conviction for offences
Usually described as rules of natural justice, Article 20 grants protection against arbitrary arrest, and excessive punishment to any person who commits an offence.
Article 21 lays down that, no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. This Article guarantees freedom of life to every Indian citizen against arbitrary interface by the state. It was during the internal emergency (1975-77) that the state had acquired unprecedented powers to limit the freedom of the people. Therefore, 44th Amendment was passed to avoid the recurrence of such a situation. According to this Act, the Fundamental Right to life and personal liberty must continue without any interference even if the emergency is imposed.
The long standing demand of having education as a Fundamental Right was met with in 2002 by the 86th Amendment of the Indian Constitution and consequently enactment of Right to Education Act 2009. The Article 21A states that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age group of 6-14 years in such a manner as the state may, by law, determine. This implies that all children within the said age group can claim compulsory and free education as a matter of Fundamental Right.
Article 22 grants protection against arbitrary arrest and detention in two ways:
Preventive Detention Act had been criticised by several eminent personalities due to its widespread abuse, like for detaining even political opponents. So, it was allowed to lapse at the end of 1969. In December 1971, a new law was passed by the Parliament to deal with anti-national elements at the time of Bangladesh war. This was popularly known as MISA (i.e. the Maintenance of Internal Security Act). Inspite of the assurance that MISA would not be used against political opponents, a large number of leader, workers, sympathisers were detained all over the country when a state of emergency was declared in June 1975. So much so, that people were denied even the right to go to the court.
As a result, the provision of regarding preventive detention were amended by the Janta Government and the authority of the state was restricted by the 44th Amendment in 1978.
The present situation regarding preventive detention is that no persons can be detained ordinarily for more than two months without references to the Advisory Board.
Articles 23 and 24 of the Indian Constitution deal with the Right against Exploitation. The right aims at preventing exploitation of the weaker, vulnerable and underprivileged sections of the society. This right is in keeping with the objective of ‘dignity of the individual’, mentioned in following articles two of the Indian Constitution.
Article 23 places a ban on traffic in human beings, ‘begar’ and similar other forms of forced labour. No person can be compelled to work without payment. But this does not prevent the state from imposing compulsory service for public purposes without any discrimination.
Article 24 prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 years in factories, mines or any other hazardous jobs. Any violation of this provision is a punishable offence in accordance with the law. It is very unfortunate that employing small children as domestic servants is a common practice in India. This type of exploitation by the rich is not strictly covered by this Article because domestic work is not considered ‘work in a factory’ Similarly, employment of children in both the organised and unorganised sectors is so rampant that factories, shops, small hotels or dhabas etc are flooded with the children of tender age.
Articles 25-28 of the Indian Constitution guarantee religious freedom to the citizens of India. India being a secular state, allows full freedom to all its citizens to have faith in any religion and to worship the way they like but without interfacing with or offending the religious belief and sentiments of others.
Under Article 25, all people have freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate any religion subject to the norms of public order, morality and health. The state has the privilege to restrict any economic social, political or other activity which may be associated with religious practice.
Article 26, It recognises the right of every religious denomination to manage its own affairs and to own and acquire as well as to administer properties for religious or charitable purposes.
Article 27 lays down that no person shall be compelled to pay any taxes. The proceeds of which are to be appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.
Article 28 deals with freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions. According to this Article:
All the above mentioned provisions given in the Constitution of India aim at full religious freedom without any interface by the state, or by any other community. India, therefore, is a secular state.
Article 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution assure every citizen of India, especially the minorities, to conserve their culture, language and script.
Articles 29 and 30 do not promise Right to Education which is separately provided by 86th Amendment of the Indian Constitutions. These two articles take care of cultural and educational interests of the religious and linguistic minorities.
Article 32:It is this right which was considered to be the heart and soul’ of the Constitution of India by Dr. B.R Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee. In order to be effective, the Fundamental Rights require a judicial sanction behind them. Besides listing Fundamental Rights, the constitution makers have also presented remedies against the violation of these rights. It is under Article 32 that the Constitution has guaranteed the people to move to the High Court and the India-I Supreme Court for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights. These Courts can issue order and give directive to the government for the enforcement of rights. Such directives or special orders are known as Writs. Writs are of five types:
A Writ of Habeas Corpus means that the arrested person should be presented before the court so that the court may examine whether the arrest made is lawful or not. In case the arrest made is unlawful, the court can order to set free the arrested person. This writ is regarded as the most valuable right for the protection of personal liberty.
This Writ is issued when the court finds that a particular official is ignoring to perform his/her legal duty and thereby infringing upon the right of some other individuals or individual.
The Writ of prohibition is issued by a higher court asking a lower court not to proceed in a case which is beyond its jurisdiction.
If the court finds that a person is holding an office for which he/she is not entitled or to a person who is performing a function for which he/she is not lawfully entitled to, the court may stop that person from holding that office and exercising that function.
This Writ is issued asking a lower court to transfer a matter pending before it to the higher court so that it may be able to deal with the case more effectively.
The difference between the Writ of Prohibition and the Writ of Certiorari is that in the case of former a lower court is asked to stop dealing with the case, where as is the case of later writ, the superior court requires the lower court to supply it with some information, records or the whole proceedings for further hearing.
Although our Fundamental Rights are justiciable, yet they can be suspended during the state of Emergency. As soon as the state of Emergency is declared under Article 352 (war or internal armed rebellion), all the freedoms under Articles 19 automatically stand suspended Besides this, Articles 359 authorises the Parliament to issue a separate order during emergency to suspend even the Right to Constitutional Remedies. It implies that no one can move to the court for any remedy and all Fundamental Rights except right to life and personal liberty are virtually stand suspended.