As we live in a Democratic Country in which the power to elect the representatives of the nation is vested in the citizens of the country, can we proudly say that each & every a citizen of the country is treated equally? Despite the inclusion of the various articles which provides for equality among people in matters of availability of education, opportunities & distribution of wealth in our constitution. There come several matters in which some or more special privileges are being given to a certain section of the society & on other hands, there exist some groups which are, till today, suffering from various discriminatory practices. Thus, it itself puts a question mark regarding the term “equality”. The Preamble to the constitution, which is considered to be the soul of the constitution expresses & secures every citizen “Equality – of status and of opportunity;” but looking at other side of the coin, In a country like India in which there exists such a complex & varied cultural, regional & linguistic difference . Is it possible to provide people with equality in absolute terms?
Right to Equality under the Indian Constitution
In our constitution Article 14-18 are the articles which ensure the fundamental right of equality to its citizens. In which, Article 14 lays down the general principle of equality before the law & equal protection of laws. It permits reasonable classification of persons and forbids unreasonable discrimination between them. The succeeding articles 15,16,17 & 18 lays down a specific application of the general rules laid down in Article14. Article 15 restricts discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 16 talks about equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. Article 17 abolishes ‘Untouchability’. Article 18 abolishes titles.
Article 14 – Equality before the law and Equal Protection of Law
The very spirit of equality lies in Article 14 of the constitution which states that ‘the state shall not deny to any person equality before law & equal protection of the laws within the territory of India’.Thus there are two expressions under Article 14 – “equality before the law “ and “equal protection of the law”. Both these expressions aim to establish what is called “equality of status” in the preamble of the Indian constitution. While ‘Equality before the law can be termed as a negative concept implying the absence of any special privilege in favour of individuals & the equal subject of all classes to the ordinary law’. Whereas “Equal protection of the law” is a more positive concept describing equality as equal treatment in equal circumstances. However, the essence of both expressions is to deliver equal justice.
The drafting committee of the constitution, at the time of Independence, while considering the discrimination which has been going on since several decades on various weaker & unprivileged sections of the society inserted various provisions in order to promote & protect the basic rights which are being violated on daily terms. As we live in a country where there exists a variety of religions & cultural differences we are more prone to such discriminatory practices being performed & delegated from years to years. In order to cut off this chain of discrimination based on religion, race, castes, gender, sex or place of birth. The framers of the Constitution inserted Article 15, 16 ,17 & 18 respectively in the constitution.
Article 15 – Prohibition of discrimination at Public Places
Article 15 clearly prohibits any form of discrimination or subjection of any liability, disability, restriction or condition with regard to access to any shops, public restaurants, hotels & places of public entertainment. It also prohibits any kind of discriminatory practises in use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resorts which are being maintained wholly or partly by the State. Article 15(3) states that Nothing provided in Article 15 shall prevent the state from making any special provisions for Women & children or for socially or educationally backward classes or for Schedule Caste & Scheduled Tribes.
Article 16 – Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
Article 16 talks about equality in matters of public employment & for ensuring this motive the State provides various Reservation policies for the upliftment of the weaker sections of the society. It also promotes & enhances the participation of women in the working sector. Therefore, the idea of Art 16 is to prohibit discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, in respect of, any employment or office under the state.”
Article 17 – Abolition of Untouchability
At the time of Independence, the taboo of Untouchability was widely being practised & spread. Thus it tends to divide the society into the higher class & lower class. Usually, the lower class people were not given ample opportunities & educational facilities, as well as there, were several restrictions implied on them which hinders half of the Indian population to participate in various social, educational & economical activities. Thus, Article 17 abolished the practice of Untouchability in any form & is declared to be an offence which is punishable as per law.
Article 18 – Abolishment of Title
Article 18 of the constitution talks about the Abolishment of titles. Article 18 prevents the state from giving any form of titles except military & academic distinction. Article 18 put a bar on Indian citizens to receive titles from any foreign states. The foreign nationals holding the office of profit under the state requires permission from the President to accept titles from the foreign government. In a true democracy, there is no space of for artificial distinctions among the same society. Titles such as Rai Bahadur, Rai Sahab and Zamindar etc were prevalent in medieval & British India. All these were abolished& restricted by Article 18 of the constitution.
The equal protection of laws guaranteed by Article 14 does not mean that all laws must be general in character. The varying needs of different classes of persons often require separate treatments as in the case of Socially or educationally backward groups or Scheduled Castes or Schedule Tribes. Therefore, the special provisions for Reservations in public employment & various educational institutions, which has always been a hot topic for debates & discussions, are being made to uplift such section of society which has suffered & came along with various widespread discriminatory practices so that, such groups can also participate towards the overall development of the nation. Moreover, several special provisions to enhance the contribution of women in various public services is a crucial step to discourage gender inequality. On the other hand, The state must be aware of the prevailing conditions of the growing nation so that the reservation policy itself does not become a tool for creating the class gaps.
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