Right to equality is a part of Rule of law and it has legal force of article 17 of the Constitution abolishes the practice of untouchability. The practice of untouchability would be considered an offense and anyone practicing so would be subject to punishment as provided in law. The Untouchability Offences Act of 1955 which was renamed the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976 provides penal consequences in case a person is prevented from entering a place of worship or denied from taking water from a well or other source of water. This Article read with Article 39(a) (ii) of the Directive Principles of State Policy, provides that untouchability has been abolished and its practice is forbidden. Article 18 further deals with the mechanism for protective or reverse discrimination of persons and is prohibitory in nature. Hence the National Awards are not violative of Article 18 as the doctrine of equality does not mandate that merit should not be recognized
The Constitution of India articulates the eradication of Untouchability. Untouchability Offences Act, 1955 which was renamed the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976 provides for penal consequences in case a person is prevented from entering a place of worship or denied from taking water from a well or other source of water. Further in this lane Article 18 states about the mechanism for protective or reverse discrimination of persons and is prohibitory in nature. The Indian Constitution also adheres to the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the social and legal realm which embodied the multidimensional spirit of liberty, freedom, equality, and dignity of human beings with the ideal of brotherhood.
2. Legal Framework :
Article 17 – Abolition of untouchability
“Untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “Untouchability” shall be an offense punishable in accordance with the law.
Internationalization of human rights and the humanization of international rights begin with the United Nations Charter, according to the prominent philosopher. In exercise of the powers conferred by Article 35 the Parliament of India has enacted the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955.1 This Act was amended by the Untouchability (Offences) Amendment Act, 1976 and it extends, in order to make the law more stringent to remove the menace of untouchability from the society at all levels-individual, societal, regional and national. It has now been renamed as, the protection of the Civil Rights Act, 1955. The expression “Civil Right” is defined as “any right accruing to a person by reason of the abolition of Untouchability on the ground of Untouchability by Article 17 of the Constitution.” One of the major obstacles in the implementation of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 is the lack of statutory definition of the offense of Untouchability. The term Untouchability has neither been defined in the Constitution nor in the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. Under the protection of the Civil Rights Act, 1955 any discrimination on the ground of Untouchability will be considered an offense. Duty being imposed on public servants to investigate such matters. If a public servant wilfully neglects such investigation he or she shall be deemed to have committed an offense under this Act.
Under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 the offenses committed on the ground of untouchability have penal consequences of imprisonment of up to six months or by a fine of up to 500 Rs. or both. It would be considered as a disqualification for parliamentary elections or state legislatures elections
The Supreme Court in 1993 in State of Karnataka v. Appa Balu Ingale,3 held that Untouchability was an indirect form of slavery and only an extension of the caste system. The Court observed that Caste System and Untouchability stand on the same platform. For the smooth functioning of law and democracy, the caste system should be abolished. This Article now prohibits the State from conferring any hereditary titles on its Citizens. Citizens of India are not allowed to have acceptance of titles from a foreign state But, military and academic distinctions can be conferred on the citizens of India. The National Awards like Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Shri came into effect in 1954 and cannot be used as titles and do not, accordingly, come within the constitutional prohibition.
In the Supreme Court in 1961 in Devarajiah v. Padmanna, held that the purpose of Article 17 was to end the inhuman practice of treating certain fellow beings as dirty by reason of their birth in certain Castes. The right under Article 17 is available more against private individuals than against the State since the likelihood of the State promoting or supporting untouchability is rare and hence in the view of the Supreme Court, it is the Constitutional obligation of the State to take necessary action to ensure that the said right is not violated.
When there was vehement criticism from some quarters that the introduction of these awards violated Article 18, the Supreme Court, in 1996 in Balaji Raghavan v. Union of India, upheld the validity of National Awards by saying that they should not be used as a suffix or a prefix. If this is done the defaulter should forfeit the award/s, following the procedure laid down in the regulations. The awards were discontinued in 1977 but were finally revived by the Indira Gandhi Government in 1980. Therefore, these awards are not violative of Article 18 as the doctrine of equality does not mandate that merit should not be recognized.
3. Conclusion :
The practice of untouchability and titles has been abolished. Thence the practice of untouchability is an offense and anyone doing so is punishable by law. As per provisions of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 in this regard which states penal consequences for anyone committing any act which amounts to untouchability as provided in the relevant Act and makes all offenses rightly non-compoundable. Articles 330-345 of the Constitution provide special provisions for safeguarding the interests of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Anglo-Indians, and the backward classes. The law is first among all remedies for the abolition of untouchability, and the titles related thereto. Therefore, the law for the abolition of Untouchability and titles should be implemented letter and spirit so as to achieve the goal of Social equality, Social Justice, and the Rule of Law.
1. AIR 1961 Mad 35
2. AIR 1993 SC 1126, per K. Ramaswamy, J.
3. AIR 1996 SC 770
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