Right to Equality

Introduction

The general objective of right to equality is to establish an egalitarian society, devoid of any kind of discrimination, which leads to exploitation and suffering of the people who are discriminated against. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to equality to every citizen of India as well as non-citizens. It is one of the greatest goals of a democratic society. Article 14 is a general principle relating to equality and Articles 15, 16, 17 and 18 lay down the specific application to the general rule laid down in Article 14.

Equality is one of the magnificent corner-stones of Indian democracy, however, it is easier said talked about than achieved. The right to equality may be discussed under the following heads:

  • Equality before law – Article 14.
  • Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or
  • place of birth – Article 15.
  • Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment – Article 16.
  • Abolition of untouchability – Article 17.
  • Abolition of titles – Article 18.

Article 14: Equality before Law

According to Article 14, “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. Article 14 is elaborated by two concepts, which are “equality before law” and “equal protection of law”.

  1. Equality before law

It is a negative concept which ensures that there is no special privilege in favor of any one that all are equally subject to the ordinary law of the land. “Amongst equals the law should be equal and should equally administered, that the like should be treated alike.”

The meaning of above phrase is that there shall not be any discrimination made by laws on factors like rank, office etc. The Rule of Law requires that no person shall be subjected to harsh, uncivilized or discriminatory treatment. In fact, it imposes a duty upon the state to protect the human rights of the people like taking special measures to prevent and punish brutality. ‘The Rule of Law’ however, is not absolute, includes some exceptions.

  • Equal protection of law

This concept owes its origin to the American Constitution. While both the concepts aim at establishing equality of legal status for all, the essential difference between them is that the former is a negative concept while later is a positive concept. ‘Equality before the law’ implies the absence of special privileges in favor of individuals while ‘Equal protection of law’ implies the right to equal treatment in equal circumstances, both in the privileges conferred and in the liabilities imposed by the law.

Article 15: Prohibition of Discrimination

This article is directed against all State actions affecting the human rights of the individual, whether political, civil or otherwise. The principle of non-discrimination is based on equality and dignity, and also guaranteed in other rights like adult suffrage, equality in employment and eligibility for the President, membership of Parliament, etc. There are aspects of this right mentioned in the following clauses below:

  • It prohibits the state to discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
  • This right provides that no citizen can be denied access to public places, places of entertainment or the use of wells, tanks, roads etc. maintained wholly or partly out of state funds or dedicated to the use of general public.
  • Nothing in article 15 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children. The Constitution permits this positive discrimination because they definitely need to be protected and encouraged, at least in India.
  • It is constitutional for the State to reserve seats for backward classes of citizens, Scheduled Castes and Tribes, in public institutions and also make special provisions for their advancement.
  • It allows the government to make special provisions such as reservation of seats in aided and non-aided educational institutions. (except minority institutions) for any socially and educationally backward classes, SCs and STs.

Article 16: Equality of Opportunity in matters of Public Employment

This article aims at providing equal opportunity to all citizens in nature of public employment. It includes five clauses which are:

  • It recognizes equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
  • It prohibits discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them in respect of any State employment.
  • It allows the Parliament to make laws that stipulate residential requirements in relation to public employment or appointment in that state.
  • It explains that Parliament can make protective legislations for appointments or posts for backward classes of citizens who are not adequately represented in the services of the State that:
    • This sub-clause was inserted by the Constitution (77th Amendment) Act, 1995, allows the government to make provisions for reservation in the matters of promotion in favor of SCs and STs in certain cases.
      • Sub-clause was inserted by the Constitution (81st Amendment) Act, 2000 allows the government to carry forward unfilled vacancies in reserved posts. The restriction of fifty percent restriction shall not apply to such vacancies carried forward in subsequent years.
  • It explains the holder of a religious office or position in any religious body/institution or any member of its governing body can be a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a particular denomination (religious group within a particular faith).

Article 17: Abolition of Untouchability

This Article is not found in any other state Constitution in the world due to the fact that ‘Untouchability’ as a social tradition of discrimination against the Dalits had been prevalent only in India. The deterioration of our caste system resulted in the practice of Untouchability.

Article 18: Abolition of Titles

Titles are abolished as they tend to create unnecessary distinctions among the people and such distinctions would not be in line with the ideals of social, economic and political justice. Conferring titles has been the British custom. It ultimately goes against the ideal of establishing equality of status. However, Article 18 does not prohibit the conferment of military or academic titles. In 1954, the government also started conferring civilian awards such as Bharat Ratna, Padma and Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shree which, are considered as honors and not titles. A person who has been awarded the honor is not supposed to use it as suffixes or prefixes to his or her name.

Conclusion

Right to Equality is a necessity for every individual living in any democratic set-up. In a country like India, equality is essential due to significant economic, social and political disparities. Some have benefitted from the system of reservation while a specific section of the society doesn’t accept reservation in today’s time. Barring reservation, equality attempts to put everyone on a level playing field, which is a person’s natural right. Nobody is born equal physically or mentally, and some are very good and some not so good. One can overcome these if equality is there in the society. To achieve equality in the practical sense, one has to do away with discrimination.

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