In our democratic setup, the Constitution provides for certain unenviable and infallible rights to the people to provide them with a dignified and meaningful life. These rights are popularly known as “Fundamental Rights of Indian constitution” which is enshrined under part 3 of Indian constitution. These fundamental rights served as a barometer on the basis of which the legalities of subordinate laws are ascertained. These fundamental rights are also known as “Magna Karta of India”.
Meaning of fundamental Rights
Fundamental Rights of Indian constitution are a group of rights that are given under the Constitution of India. These are the basic human rights that are guaranteed to all the citizen of India. All these rights are applied without any discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, race, gender etc. All these rights are enforceable by the court.
History of Incorporating Fundamental Rights
The concept of fundamental rights in India is borrowed from the U.S.A constitution. However, it is equally important to note that the rights were shaped keeping in mind the aspirations of the common people. There were mainly two imperatives that became the core reason for their incorporation. Firstly, the prolonged atrocities unleashed by the Britishers compelled us to raise our voice for freedom of expression, speech and self-government. Secondly, the perpetual agony through the axes of caste and gender ignited people’s conscience toward equality and freedom of religion. Thus, keeping in mind these twin objectives, a committee on fundamental rights, headed by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, was constituted. It gave strict recommendations and after the approval of the constituent assembly, the rights were incorporated into the constitution.
List of fundamental rights
The Fundamental Rights of Indian constitution are broadly divided into six fundamental rights of the Indian Constitution namely-
- Right to Equality (Article 14-18)
- Right to freedom (Article 19-22)
- Right Against Exploitation (Article 23-24)
- Right to freedom of religion (Article 25-28)
- Cultural and Fundamental rights (Article 29-30)
- Right to constitutional remedies (Article 32-35)
The fundamental rights generally protect an individual from the intervention of the state. The definition of the term “State” is mentioned under Article 12 of our Constitution which includes the organs of the state and Centre government, municipal authorities, statutory & non-statutory authorities etc. It is pertinent to note that this definition is an inclusive one and any party that owes a public duty can fall under the Ambit of Article 12.
Article 13 is a non-obstante clause that provides superiority to the fundamental rights over other laws and regulations of the country. As per this, it is essential that all the statutes must be consistent with part 3 of Indian constitution as any inconsistency will make that statute void.
Right to Equality (Article 14-18)
This article is the cornerstone of fundamental rights as it aims to eradicate all sorts of inequalities in society. Article 14 encompasses 2 types of equality namely equality before the law and equal protection of law The former is a negative concept that provides for equal subjection of all citizens in front of law whereas the latter is a positive concept that provides for equal treatment in equal circumstances.
However, there is an exception of Article 14 in the form of reasonable classification which states that there may be a classification of people founded on intelligible differentia and it must be accompanied by a rational objective of doing such classification. It is essential that there shall be no arbitrariness involved in the process.
Article 15 provides for nondiscrimination on the ground of race, religion sex, caste and place of birth. However, as per this Article, the state is empowered to undertake affirmative discrimination to ensure the welfare of women and children, reservation for a social and economic backward class. Article 16 provides for the equality of treatment in the matter of public employment. This article always remains contentious on account of reservations in the manner of promotion. Article 17 prohibits any sort of untouchability in society and the Untouchable offence Act, 1955 was enacted for giving effect to it. The restrictions on conferring any sort of title are mentioned in Article 18 but it is apposite to note that titles like Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan don’t fall under its ambit.
Right to Freedom (Article 19-22)
This right demonstrates the progressive nature of our society. Article 19 of our Constitution provides for various types of freedoms including speech and expression of dissent, freedom of movement, freedom to profess any trade etc. However, it is important that this Article is not absolute and the state can impose certain restrictions in the matter of security, public order and sovereignty of the state. The recent ban on the Chinese app was justified on account of an exception clause under Article 19 of the constitution.
Article 20 consists of mainly 3 things namely 1). The criminal legislation can’t be applied retroactively to impose any punishment (2). The person shall not be convicted twice for a similar offence (3). The person shall not be compelled to be a witness of himself.
Article 21– This article has been the most transformative one since its incorporation and it provides that every person has a right to life and personal liberty. In Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, it was held that the essence of the right to life vested in the right to have a dignified life. Several other facets including the right to a dignified death, right to a safe environment. In 2002, the Right to life was made a fundamental right under Article 21(a) of the constitution. Article 22 provides protection against arbitrary detention of a person.
Read the full article on Article 21- Right to Life and Personal Liberty
Right against Exploitation (Article 23-24)
Article 23 of the Constitution put a restriction on the trafficking of human beings, beggars and other similar forms of forced labour. It is important to note that the payment below the minimum wages attracts the definition of the beggar and the subsequent ramifications. As per Article 24, a child below the age of 14 years shall not be employed in hazardous places and the apex court held that the construction sites also come under its scope. Further, the parliament in order to enforce these Articles in the latter and spirit enacted the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.
Freedom of religion (Article 25-28)
India being a Secular country, provides equal treatment to all religions and as per Article 25, the citizens are empowered to profess and practise any religion as per their beliefs. However, this article is subject to the exception of public order and morality. Article 26 gives complete autonomy to an individual in the matter of their religion and handling their affairs. They are empowered to hold and acquire property for a religious denomination.
As per Article 27, no such tax shall be levied which is exclusively used for the promotion of any religion. Further Article 28, provides for the dissemination of religious instruction in certain specified institutions. This article specifically prohibited religious education in state-run and state-aided organizations.
Cultural and Fundamental rights (Article 29-30)
They aimed to preserve the diversity of the country by protecting the rights of cultural, religious and educational minorities. Article 29 provides them with the right to preserve one’s culture, spirit and ethnicity. Further Article 30 provides them exclusive rights to establish their own institutions and the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) was established for the same. Madrasas are established under the provisions of Article 30.
Right to Constitutional Remedies (Article 32-35)
This article is the spirit of the entire Constitution as it empowered the citizen to approach the apex court for enforcement of their other fundamental rights. The Supreme Court being a Custodian of fundamental rights can issue 5 sorts of writs to undo the damage. The writ “Habeas Corpus” protects liberty and it’s generally issued in case of unlawful detention.
The Writ of Certiorari is issued to transfer the case from a lower court. The Writ of Prohibition is issued to inject inactivity in the jurisdictional issues. The writ of Mandamus provides an order to the government, officer etc. to perform certain tasks. Lastly, the writ of quo-warranto is used to assess the legality of a claim by inquiry of authority.
Read the full article on Writs under Articles 32 and 226
Is Waiver of Fundamental Rights Permissible??
The term waiver states that the voluntary relinquishment or doing surrender of their rights. It is important to note that our Constitution doesn’t permit a waiver of rights. These rights are not related to an individual but they affect the interest of the public at large, thereby waiver is not possible.
The apex court stated that if the waiver permits, then the entire check and Balance machinery will collapse and the government might free Scott from all its responsibility and accountability. The vast diversity, large population and lack of education made the scheme of waiver of fundamental rights totally irrational.
What are the 6 fundamental rights under Indian Constitution?
The Fundamental Rights of Indian constitution are enumerated from Articles 12 to 35. There were 7 Fundamental rights in the Indian constitution, but currently, there are 6 fundamental rights like the Right to property was removed and not it’s only a legal right.
Read the article on Fundamental Duties in the Constitution of India
Conclusion and Way Ahead
The Fundamental Rights of Indian constitution are of paramount importance for us as they contributed substantially to establishing an egalitarian society by eradicating all sorts of inequalities in the society. These rights provide an impetus to the development of an individual without any impediments, thereby leading to the growth of the country. The sanctity of the rights is evident from the non-obstante clause which makes every legal enactment void if it is inconsistent with the fundamental rights. These rights are unalienable as they can’t be waived.
However, there are certain intricacies associated with the effective enforcement of fundamental rights. The justice delivery mechanism is very slow and a whopping majority of cases are pending in the apex court. Further, the high cost of litigation dissuades an individual to resort to the mechanism available under Article 32 of the constitution. Thus attempts shall be undertaken to ensure free and fair justice at a reasonable cost to the lower strata of the society so that the ideals of our forefathers are achieved in its spirit.