Table of Contents
The Constitution of India
A constitution is a set of laws by which a nation is governed. In India the Constitution was framed by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and later enforced on January 26, 1950. It envisioned India as a sovereign, secular, socialist, democratic republic and enshrined the ideals of the governance of the nation.
The Fundamental Rights originated as an outcome of the Indian struggle for independence which laid down the ideals and values of liberty and social welfare as the vision aspired to in the Utopia of independent India.
The concept of Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India was inspired by historical precedents like the Bill of Rights of England and the United States and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man.
The demand for civil facilities which could be legally enforced was a major agenda of Indian independence. The Commonwealth of India Bill, drafted by Annie Besant in 1925, clearly advocated the need for seven fundamental rights – individual liberty, freedom of conscience, free expression of opinion, freedom of assembly, non-discrimination on the ground of sex, free elementary education and free use of public spaces.
This was later incorporated into the draft of the “Swaraj Constitution” framed by the eleven member committee spearheaded by Motilal Nehru.
The Definition of Rights
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of liberty. They constitute rules of conduct and communication between people in a civilized society. They enforce a code of personal and official conduct in the relations of the individual and his country.
For example, if one has a right to property, this means that others cannot encroach, trespass or forcefully acquire his property. Rights can be defined as claims of an individual that are crucial for the self-development of an individual and enforced as a mandatory official rule by the government of that nation.
These lay down specifications about what is the norm about what is permitted or owed to people in consonance with the legal system, social convention, or ethical belief.
The Scope of Fundamental Rights
There are many rights which are recognised by society and even adhered to in terms of social intercourse so that the society may progress and flourish. Among these numerous rights are some very specific rights which are the most important and are recognized by the nation and clearly stated in the Constitution.
Such rights are called fundamental rights. These rights are fundamental because first of all they are enforced by virtue of being mentioned in the Constitution. Second, these are justifiable and legally enforceable.
They cannot be denied or violated as they can be challenged in a court of law. Such rights are provided in Part III of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution guarantees six fundamental rights to every Indian citizen and these are:
- right to equality,
- right to freedom,
- right against exploitation,
- right to freedom of religion,
- cultural and educational rights, and
- right to constitutional remedies.
In the beginning when the Constitution was framed, there were seven Fundamental Rights in the Constitution. The seventh Right to Property. It led to a wide disparity of wealth and status and fostered ill-feeling. It also hampered the cherished constitutional goal of socialism and equitable distribution of wealth.
Thus it was removed from the list of Fundamental Rights in 1978 by the 44th constitutional amendment. Despite this removal till today citizens of India have a legal right to acquire, hold and dispose of property but this is no longer a fundamental right.
Various Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution
Right to Equality
The Right to Equality guarantees equality before law and equal protection of the law to all citizens of India within the geographical borders of the country. It ensures that there will not be any discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth for any purpose including employment opportunities.
It has led to a ban on the abhorrent social practice of untouchability as well as the nullification of all princely titles and honours bestowed on Indians by the British during the Raj.
Right to Freedom
The Right to Freedom guarantees individual rights such as freedom of speech, thought, belief, and expression, freedom of assembly without arms, freedom of forming association, freedom of physical movement and travel, residence and settlement and the practice of any profession throughout the geographical area of India. It is also a basic human right.
Right against Exploitation
The Right against Exploitation stipulates certain provisions to prevent exploitation of the underprivileged by the elite and powerful, be it the individual or the State. Article 23 prohibits human trafficking and states that it is a legally punishable offence. It also prohibits forced, bonded and unpaid labour. It has banned child labour and led to awareness of human trafficking.
Right to Freedom of Religion
The Right to Freedom of Religion provides religious freedom to all citizens in order to achieve a secular state in India. According to the Constitution, there is no official national religion, all faiths must be regarded equally, objectively and impartially.
Article 25 guarantees all Indian citizens the freedom of conscience and the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice provided no forcible conversion is done or any infringement made of the other’s right to freedom of conscience. Also there is no compulsory tax levied on any religious ritual or practice.
Cultural and Educational Rights
Cultural and Educational Rights have stipulations to safeguard the rights of cultural, linguistic and religious minorities who constitute less than 50% of the total population of the country. It aids them in conservation and protection of their heritage and safeguards them against exploitation and discrimination of the basis of their ethnic identity.
Such specific sections of citizens having their unique and indigenous language and culture are guaranteed the right to conserve and develop their ethnic identity and its related aspects and institutions. This fundamental right also prohibits the State from imposing any external or mass culture on such people.
Article 30 confers upon all religious and linguistic minorities the right to establish and govern their own educational institutions for the purpose of preservation and development of their own culture.
It prohibits the State from discriminating against any institution on the basis of the fact that it is administered by a religious or cultural minority, while granting aid and benefits to bring the same at par to the mainstream.
Right to Constitutional Remedies
The Right to Constitutional Remedies is very empowering. It strengthens the assertive quality of citizenship. It enables citizens with the legal power to approach the Supreme Court of India to seek enforcement, or protection against violation, denial or infringement of their Fundamental Rights.
Article 32 provides a guaranteed remedy for enforcement of all the other Fundamental Rights. In this matter the Supreme Court is, by the power of the Constitution, the designated protector and enforcer of these Rights.
The Supreme Court has the unilateral power to issue such writs as habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, certiorari and quo warranto, for the enforcement, protection and restoration of the Fundamental Rights.
The Definition of Duties
A duty is a moral obligation and / or an ethical expectation in a civilized society. It must be voluntary. Parents, for instance, have a duty towards rearing their children by providing basic amenities and good education. An adult citizen then also has a duty to care for his elderly parents by giving them financial support and adequate health care. A teacher has a duty to educate his or her students.
Similarly the students have a moral duty to reach out to the lesser privileged sections of society and impart learning. Rights are often considered essential for the progress of civilization and are the foundations on which society develops. Yet these rights cannot exist without duties.
Rights and Duties are complementary to each other. Rights are what an individual expects from others as actions in his interest but duties are those actions which an individual should perform for the benefit of others in order to usher in the greater good of the society at large.
If an individual has the right to enjoy public facilities offered by the government such as health, sanitation and water, it is his duty to allow others to enjoy the same.
Thus public property must not be destroyed or defaced or any facilities misused ad misappropriated. Similarly if an individual has a right to life, he in turn must not lethally harm or kill other people.
The Definition of Fundamental Duties
Social progress is not possible without collective efforts and reciprocated endeavours. So thus in return for every Fundamental Right there is a Fundamental Duty. This is a clear manifestation of the fact that the society is based on collective effort and interpersonal reciprocation.
It expects its citizens to voluntarily perform certain actions which can lead to its benefit since it is upholding and enforcing certain facilities given to its inhabitants in return. These actions are collectively known as duties. The initially framed Constitution of India enforced on 26th January, 1950 did not mention anything specific about the duties of the citizen.
It was expected that the citizens of free India would perform their duties willingly and consider these to be their moral obligation. However after Independence also there was a simmering unrest among the newly liberated citizens of the nation and thus their behaviour did not live up to the expectations of the nation-builders.
The nation went through a dark phase as regressive practices like untouchability and gender bias developed and people from elite castes and classes began to exploit and victimize their lesser privileged brethren.
In the year 1976 through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment several duties were stipulated as desirable of the Indian citizen. Thereafter ten such important Fundamental Duties were incorporated into the Indian Constitution in Part-IV of the Constitution under Article 51-A. The following ten duties were listed therein:
- to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag, National Anthem;
- to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired the national struggle for freedom
- to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
- to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
- to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
- to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
- to protect and improve the natural environments including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife;
- to develop the scientific temper and humanism;
- to safeguard public property and not to use violence; and
- to serve towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity.
In addition to these a new duty has been added after the implementation of the Right to Education Act, 2009. A parent or guardian must perforce ensure the compulsory and education of his child/ward between the age of six and fourteen years. This has been done to prevent child labour, exploitation of the girl child and to help the nation attain complete literacy.
The Difference between Rights and Duties
The Rights are enforced by law and are guaranteed by virtue of being mentioned in the Indian Constitution but the Duties are not enforced by law and remain simply a desired activity highlighted in the Indian Constitution.
Rights can be compulsorily implemented but Duties can only be voluntarily performed. Both however are complementary and interdependent for social welfare.
Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution serve to uphold the rights of Indian citizens as the denizens of a true democracy. They are the cornerstones of the society that evolved after India attained Independence and has been continuously developing since then.
The pillars of our society, they function as the guiding principles of daily life and enable every citizen to assert his dignity, live with equality and implement the virtues of democracy in the daily life of his society.
Fundamental Rights provide the basis for a symbiotic and synergistic relationship between the individual and the nation state.