Abhijeet Khyalia a 5th Year student of the Centre For Professional And Allied Studies, MDU has written this comprehensive explanation of the Right to Equality under the Indian Constitution.
The phrase “Right to Equality” doesn’t require any explanation because it speaks for itself. An in-depth explanation of the “Right to Equality” concept is attempted in this article. As is well known, all Indian citizens are given certain fundamental rights under Part 3 of the Indian Constitution, regardless of their caste, ethnicity, place of origin, religion, or gender. These fundamental rights are inherent to every one of us and cannot be taken away. These have been accorded a particular place in the Indian Constitution since they are essential to our way of life.
These Fundamental Rights targets to demise of the misuse of power by the government, faced by the citizens of India as well as non-citizens of the country. These rights try to achieve the goals set out in the Preamble, of justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, and dignity.
This ‘Right to Equality’ has been explained in our Indian constitution from Articles 14-18.
Right to Equality under the Indian Constitution-Complete elaboration
I am influenced more than ever before by the conviction that social equality is the only basis of human happiness.Nelson Mandela
The right to equality is one of the six fundamental rights in the Indian constitution. It includes equality before the law, and prohibition of discrimination on grounds of race, religion, gender, caste, or birthplace. It also includes equality of opportunity in matters of employment and abolition of untouchability and titles.
The State will treat people in the same circumstances alike. The right to equality applies to both the citizens and to all the people within the territory of India. Every citizen, from Prime Minister to an ordinary individual, is subjected to the same laws.
All citizens have access to public places like shops, restaurants, hotels, and multiplexes. Similarly, no restrictions with regard to the use of wells, bathing ghats, roads, playgrounds, and places of public resort are maintained by the government. The law should neither be arbitrary nor should it guarantee privilege.
Under the Indian Constitution, the Right to equality is divided under the following subheadings:
- Equality before the law (Article 14)
- Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, race, 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)
1) Article 14 Under the Indian Constitution–Equality Right
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law to all persons. This provision ensures that every citizen of India is treated equally under the law, without any discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, gender, race, or place of birth.
The right to equality before the law under Indian Constitution means that every person is entitled to the same treatment under the law, and no person can claim any special privilege or immunity. The principle of equality before the law is an essential element of democracy. It ensures that every person is subject to the same laws and procedures.
Equal protection of the law means that the law must be applied equally to all persons, and no person can be denied the protection of the law. This provision ensures that everyone has access to justice and can seek legal remedies for any violation of their rights.
Article 14 also prohibits discrimination on the basis of any of the aforementioned grounds. This provision ensures that every person is entitled to equal opportunities in all spheres of life, including education, employment, and public services.
The right to equality before the law under Indian Constitution has been interpreted broadly by the Indian judiciary to include the principle of non-arbitrariness. This means that every decision taken by the government or any public authority must be based on a reasonable and non-arbitrary criterion. The principle of non-arbitrariness ensures that every decision taken by the government is fair and just and is not motivated by any extraneous considerations.
(a) Equality before the Law
All written constitutions that protect fundamental rights include the phrase “equality to the law” somewhere in their text. “All citizens are equal before the law, without regard to their place of birth, religion, sex, or race;” that is, there should be no arbitrary distinction between one citizen or class of citizens and another. “Every citizen will be treated equally before the law as human individuals.” “Equality before the law is guaranteed to all republicans.”
In State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952), the Supreme Court defined the concept of “equality before the law” as follows: “Equality before the law means that among equals the law should be equal and should be equally administered, that the like should be treated alike.”
The Supreme Court has also held that the principle of equality before the law includes the principle of non-arbitrariness. In E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu (1974), the Supreme Court observed that “equality before the law” means that every state action must be based on a reasonable and non-arbitrary criterion.
According to Dr. Jennings said that: “Equality before the law means that equality among equals the law should be equal for all and should be equally administered, that like should be treated alike. The right to sue and be sued, to prosecute and prosecuted for the same kind of action should be same for all citizens of full age and understanding without distinctions of race, religion, wealth, social status or political influence.”
Important Case laws on equality before the law
One important recent case law on equality before the law under the Indian Constitution is the Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India case. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India declared Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) unconstitutional, which criminalized consensual homosexual acts, on the grounds that it violated the fundamental rights of citizens. The court held that Section 377 violated the constitutional guarantees of equality, non-discrimination, and dignity, and it was also against the constitutional values of liberty and fraternity.
State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas (1976): In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that the right to equality before the law also includes the right to be heard before a decision affecting one’s interests is taken. The court struck down a provision in the Kerala Education Bill, 1957, that allowed the government to dismiss teachers without giving them a hearing.
Minerva Mills Ltd. v. Union of India (1980): In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that the right to equality before the law is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution and cannot be amended by the Parliament.
(b) Equal protection of the Laws
The principle of equal protection of law requires that all persons, regardless of their status or background, be treated equally under the law. This means that laws and regulations must be applied uniformly to all persons, and that there should be no arbitrary or discriminatory treatment of any individual or group.
This is one of the positive concepts of Equality. Equal protection of the law is incurred from Section 1 of the 14th Amendment Act of the US constitution. According to this principle, everybody who resides in India should be treated equally and will get equal protection under the law. It guarantees all people inside the territory of India should be treated equally and the state cannot deny it (for equal protection of the law).
It puts a positive obligation on the state to prevent the violation of rights. This can be done by bringing socio-economic changes.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India: In this case, the Supreme Court held that the right to equality includes the right to a fair and reasonable procedure, and that any procedure that is arbitrary, unfair or unjust would violate the principle of equal protection of law.
(c) Rule of Law
The rule of law is a cornerstone of a society that is based on justice and fairness. The Rule of law has been given by prof. Dicey the expression the guarantee of equality before the law. It means that no man is above the law, all are equal in the eye of the law. The concept of rule of law comes from Magna Carta.
According to Plato, The Rule of Law is supreme in nature and nobody is above the law.
Aristotle has written that law should be the final sovereign of the state.
According to Sir Edward Coke “Rule of Law” means the absence of arbitrary power on the part of Government.
Dicey was against making different rules for different classes of people so he stood by against this concept and promoted the idea of Rule of law. Here the term used “Droit administrative” was introduced by Napoleon and in France, it was known as Droit Administratif.
The doctrine of Rule of law has 3 meanings in Dicey’s book.
- Supremacy of law
No one should be punished unless for breaking the law, and there should be no arbitrary power. In order to be punished legally, an infraction must be established by the national government before the regular courts.
2. Equality before the law
All people regardless of their status or position should be bound by common law, which is handled by common courts. It aims to guarantee that the law is applied and upheld in a just and fair manner.
3. The Predominance of legal spirit
Dicey believed that there should be an enforcing authority to enforce effectively the above two principles. According to him, such enforcing authority should be ‘courts’.
Case laws on the Rule of Law-
In Kesavananda Bharati vs. the State of Kerala, the principle of Basic Structure was propounded. It was said that any part of the Constitution can be amended without disturbing its basic structure.
In Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain, the court held that rule of law is also part of the basic structure and in the list rule of law was also added and which means that no amendment can be done to rule of law.
It was held in The State of Bihar vs. Sonawati Kumari, it is an integral part of Rule of law that all the authority within the State including the executive government should be bound to obey the rules.
Exceptions to Rule of law
- Delegated Legislation
Parliament does not have the time or the variety of technical knowledge necessary to fully analyse a law’s intricate details. As a result, the cabinet and the administration add substantial details and rules after the parliament establishes the framework, guiding principles, and objectives of the bill.
- Administrative adjudication
Parliament has established certain tribunals and departments which are equipped with some judicial and Quasi-judicial powers to decrease the burden of traditional courts. It also provides the technical knowledge required to adjudicate such cases. The establishment of such tribunals and departments is a departure from the traditional notion of rule of law.
Reasonable Classification under Article 14
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law to all persons. However, it does not prohibit the government from making reasonable classifications for the purposes of legislation. The principle of reasonable classification is an essential component of the right to equality. It has been interpreted and elaborated upon by the Indian judiciary in several cases.
The principle of reasonable classification allows the government to make a classification of persons or things based on a reasonable and rational criterion for the purposes of legislation. However, such classification should not be arbitrary, discriminatory, or capricious. It should have a rational nexus with the objective sought to be achieved by the legislation.
In State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952), the Supreme Court laid down the test of reasonable classification. The Court observed that the classification should not be based on personal or arbitrary characteristics and that it should have a reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the legislation. The Court further held that the classification should not be excessive or disproportionate to the object of the legislation.
In E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu (1974), the Supreme Court observed that the classification should be based on an intelligible differentia, which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others who are left out. The differentia should have a rational nexus with the object of the legislation and should not be arbitrary or discriminatory.
The law on maternity benefits applies to women working on the way to maternity, not to others. Because the purpose of the law on maternity benefits is to grant privileges only to women who turn out to be mothers when they need them. Hence, the category of men and women is based totally on an intelligible differentia.
Article 14 of the Indian constitution law says that all are equal in the eye of the law. No one can prevent the state from making any special provisions for women and children. For example, special seating arrangements for women in buses, trains, and metros trains are not unconstitutional. It was held by the court that “reservation of some seats for women in college is not discriminatory but reasonable classification.”
(Article 15) Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, race, sex or place of birth.
Article 15 is a crucial provision in protecting the right to equality under Indian Constitution. It prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The provision lays down that no citizen shall be subjected to any disability, liability, restriction or condition on any of these grounds with regard to access to public places like shops, hotels, public restaurants, and places of public entertainment or the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of state funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.
Article 15 also empowers the State to make special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and women and children. This provision allows for affirmative action measures such as reservations in education and employment, to help marginalized communities who have been historically discriminated against and deprived of opportunities.
The Supreme Court of India has interpreted Article 15 widely and has held that it not only prohibits direct discrimination but also indirect discrimination that has the effect of denying equal opportunities to citizens. The court has also held that the right to equality includes the right to live with dignity, and the right to protection from social disabilities and humiliation.
Clause (1) Article 15
‘The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.’
Article 15(1)’s use of the word “only” made it clear that discrimination could not be justified based solely on a person’s caste, sex, or other characteristics. This means that it is legal to discriminate on grounds other than religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.
No Indian citizen shall be subjected to discrimination based on religion, race, caste, gender, or place of birth, as stated in Article 15(1). Regardless of the way that castes are divided into scheduled castes/tribes, backward classes, and by and large, nobody ought to be oppressed. Discrimination, which is a broad term, has many aspects and is unfair. Dalits and other members of lower castes have frequently been the subject of unfair treatment. According to the Hindu survey, unfavourable bias toward Dalits has increased by 6% since 2009.
In the case State of Rajasthan v. Pratap Singh, the Supreme Court held that the Police Act of 1861’s notification that declared certain regions as disturbed and required their residents to pay for additional police to be stationed there was unconstitutional. The Court held that the exemption granted to all Muslims and Harijans from paying the additional police fee was discriminatory and violated Article 15(1) of the Constitution.
Clause (2) Article 15
Article 15(2)’s Clause 2 states that it is forbidden for an Indian citizen to treat another Indian citizen unfairly for the reasons listed in Clause 2.
According to Article 15(2)(a), people should not be denied entrance to public venues because of their religion, colour, caste, gender, place of birth, or any other similar factor. This includes stores, restaurants, hotels, and other places that are open to the general public.
Article 15(2)(b) states that no individual can restrict another individual on the basis of religion, race, caste, gender, or place of birth from using septic tanks, wells, roads, or any other public facility maintained by the state funds or specifically designated for public use.
This provision explains how discrimination should be prevented instead of being practised. Any discrimination mentioned above shall be prohibited and unlawful. It is illegal and unjust to restrict or prevent access to a public place established by the state exclusively for public use.
Case Law- R. C. Poudyal v. Union of India
The court upheld the reservation of one seat in the State Legislative Assembly in favour of Sangha contending that it is not just a religious community but also a cultural and historical community. It was asserted that it was the effect and operation of the law which is important to find out if there are any grounds for discrimination rather than its purpose or motive.
Clause (3) Article 15– Provisions Particularly for Women and Children
In order to protect the interests and rights of persons who belong to vulnerable groups, such as women and children, the Indian Constitution established Clause (3) of Article 15. Only in order to protect the rights of women and children is the state given the power to offer extraordinary privileges.
Women are at a disadvantage in the quest for survival due to their characteristics and maternal function performance. Hence, a statute to that effect won’t be in violation of Article 15(1), and women employees are entitled to a special maternity benefit under Article 42.
Case– In State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas: the Supreme Court held that Article 15(3) is a special provision enabling the state to make special provisions for the advancement of women and children, and it is not violative of the principle of equality.
Clause (4) Article 15
Article 15(4) of the Indian Constitution provides for a special provision that empowers the state to make reservations or affirmative action in favor of socially and educationally backward classes.
Nothing in Article 15 or Article 29(2), prohibits the state from establishing specific provisions for socially and educationally disadvantaged classes of citizens, according to Article 15(4). Two significant events served as the primary impetus for including such a provision in Article 15.
Two Significant events that served as the primary impetus for including such a provision in Article 15 was when the government of Madras issued an order laying out how seats would be allotted in medical and engineering colleges based on a student’s community and caste in the case State Of Madras v. Srimathi Champakam (1951). Examination revealed that the decision contravened Clause (1) of Article 15, which specified that seats were assigned according to student castes rather than merit. After that, the seven-judge panel reversed the decision that allocated seats based on caste and not merit.
Second, the development of a colony exclusively for Harijans was deemed to violate Article 15 in Jagwant Kaur v. State of Maharashtra (1952). Thus, in order to assist the citizens who are socially and educationally underprivileged while abiding by all other laws, Clause(4) under Article 15 was adopted.
In State of AP v. USV Balaram (1972), the Supreme Court ruled that caste should not be used to determine a person’s membership in a backward class. The term “backward class” shall mean a caste as a whole that is academically and socially backward. The Court further said that the list of backward classes would be automatically updated in the event that a backward class made enough progress in its social and academic standing to no longer need special assistance from the government.
Clause 5 of Article 15
Article 15(5) states that nothing in Article 15 or Article 19(1)(g) prevents the Government from making special legal provisions to improve the lives of socially and educationally backward citizens as well as those from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In some cases, special provisions may apply to the admission of the backward classes, SCs, and STs in educational institutions, either private or public, with or without state funding, except for those minorities identified in Article 30(1).
Every citizen of India has the freedom to pursue any profession, trade, business, or occupation of their choice, according to Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution. Article 30 contains a clause that expresses every minority’s freedom to form and run schools of their choosing in India, regardless of whether that minority is religious or linguistic. According to the Supreme Court, Article 15, Clause 5 does not infringe on the Constitution’s Article 14 provisions. According to Article 14, Indian nationals are entitled to equal protection under the law and inside the nation’s borders.
Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment (Article 16)
Equality of opportunity refers to the idea that all individuals should have an equal chance to succeed and achieve their goals, regardless of their background or circumstances. It is a fundamental principle of democratic societies and is enshrined in many constitutions and laws for the right to equality, including the Indian Constitution.
The aim of this article is to promote equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and to prevent discrimination based on various grounds such as religion, race, caste, sex, etc. It prohibits the State from discriminating against any citizen in matters of employment or appointment to any office under the State.
However, the article also allows for affirmative action measures such as reservation of posts or appointments in favour of backward classes of citizens that are not adequately represented in the services under the State. Such provisions are subject to certain conditions, such as the need to ensure that efficiency and merit are not compromised.
Equal opportunity is a very individualized concept, and many jurists have assigned it varying interpretations. Yet, it is evident from all of the definitions that this term refers to more than just eliminating discrimination; it also places responsibility on the state to provide chances for the less advantaged or backward members of society.
The Article 16 is an important aspect of the right to equality under Indian Constitution, as it seeks to ensure that all citizens have an equal opportunity to be considered for public employment or appointment to any office under the State
Article 16 (1)
Article 16 (1) guarantees equality of opportunity in matters relating to ‘appointment’ or ’employment’ to any post under the State. It is applicable only to offices or employment relating to or held by the Government/State.
Case laws related to Article 16(1)-
- Randhir Singh v. Union of India
This is one of the landmark cases in which the court explicitly laid down the doctrine of “Equal pay for equal work”. The court held that the spirit of Article 16 ensures that there shall be no discrimination in the quantum of the remuneration if the work is the same.
- Markandeya v. State of Andhra Pradesh
In this case, there was a difference in the pay scale for a graduate and a non-graduate supervisor. However, the work performed by both people was the same. It was challenged before the court on grounds of violating the right to equality. The court held that Article 16(1) is not absolute and the state is empowered to make reasonable classification on the ground of some rational or valid difference between two persons. In this case, the difference was based on the qualification between both persons, thus, the court held that it is valid.
According to Article 16(2), no citizen shall be subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, caste, gender, place of birth, residence, or descent in any employment or position under the State. The basic rule is outlined in Article 16 Clause 1 and states that no one will be discriminated against for employment in the public sector on the basis of their religion, caste, race, sex, place of birth, descent, or place of residence. Additionally, only State appointments or employment are covered by Article 16(1) and (2). The Indian Constitution’s Article 16 provides for exceptions to the basic principle of equality of opportunity in clauses (3), (4), (4-A), (4-B), and (5).
For Illustration – If State X issued a notification of 10,000 government jobs in the railway sector with a condition that only male candidates are eligible to apply as the work involves great physical work. This condition will be violative of Article 16(2) of the constitution and this notification will be struck off.
Clause (3) of Article 16
states that the Parliament can enact any legislation requiring residence in a state or union territory as a pre-condition for particular employment or appointments in the respective state or union territory or in local authorities or other authorities within that state or union territory.
Clause (4) of Article 16
The State may enact laws that reserve jobs or posts in the public sector for citizens from economically underprivileged groups that it deems have not been adequately represented in the State’s services, as stated in Article 16’s clause (4). The national government thought that since the Indra Sawhney case only impacted the underprivileged classes, the promotion reservation for SCs and STs should continue. However, the Parliament passed the 77th Amendment Act of 1995, which added clause 4-A to Article 16 of the Constitution. The House can now make provisions for reservations for SCs and STs in promotion jobs as a result.
By way of the 81st Amendment, 2000, Clause (4-B) was added to the Indian Constitution under Article 16 after Clause (4-A). It was added to the Constitution with the intention that the 50 per cent reservation for the SCs, STs, and Other Backward Classes on the total number of vacancies in the following year would not be combined with the backlog vacancies that could not be filled due to the lack of eligible candidates from the SEBC category in a previous or preceding year.
This clause is the non-obstante provision that overrides all other provisions enshrined under Article 16 of the constitution. This provision states that no law will affect the appointment in an office that is connected with some religious or denominational institution. It is empowered to appoint any person which is professing that particular religion or is related to that religious denomination.
was added to Article 16 by the 103rd Amendment, 2019, which came into effect on January 14, 2019, and empowers the State to make various provisions for reservation in appointments of members of the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of society to government posts. However, these provisions must be within the 10% ceiling, in addition to the existing reservations.
In 2023, in Janhit Abhiyan v. Union Of India with 32 connected matters case, the Supreme Court upheld the 103rd Constitutional Amendment providing EWS reservation. With this, the Court extended the net of reservation benefits to include solely economic backwardness
Important case on Article 16 of the Indian Constitution
- Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992): This is also known as the Mandal Commission case. The Supreme Court upheld the government’s decision to provide reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in public employment. The court held that the reservation policy should not exceed 50% and that creamy layers among the OBCs should be excluded from the benefits of reservation.
- M. Nagaraj v. Union of India (2006): This case dealt with the issue of whether the government can provide reservations in promotions to SCs/STs. The Supreme Court held that the government must show that the backward classes are not adequately represented in the services before providing reservations in promotions. The court also held that the efficiency of administration should not be compromised while providing reservations in promotions.
- Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India (2008): This case dealt with the issue of reservation in higher educational institutions. The Supreme Court upheld the government’s decision to provide reservations for SCs/STs and OBCs in higher educational institutions. The court also held that the reservation policy should not exceed 50% and that creamy layers among the OBCs should be excluded from the benefits of reservation.
Abolition of Untouchability (Article 17)
“Untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “Untouchability” shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law.’
What is Untouchability?
There is no definition of untouchability in the Indian Constitution and not in any act passed by the Parliament.
In a general sense, Untouchability is a social practice that has been historically prevalent in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the Hindu caste system. It refers to the practice of discriminating against and treating certain individuals or groups as ‘untouchables’ or ‘outcasts’ based on their birth or caste.
These individuals are considered impure and are ostracized from mainstream society. They are denied basic human rights, social interaction, and access to education, healthcare, and other essential services
The Mysore High Court has clarified this meaning in one of its decisions. The court said that the subject matter of Article 17 is not untouchable in its literal or grammatical sense but the ‘practice as it had developed historically in the country’. It refers to the social disabilities imposed on certain classes of persons because of their birth in certain castes. Hence, it does not cover the social boycott of a few individuals or their exclusion from religious services, etc.
Due to the many verdict and instructions given by the court, some works will be treated as the observance of untouchability, for which a provision of punishment has also been made. Article 17 under the Indian constitution protects the right to equality for people who were earlier treated as untouchables in India.
By abolishing the practice of untouchability, the Constitution seeks to create a society where every citizen is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their background or identity.
Article 17 – Explanation
- Article 17 says “Untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “Untouchability” shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law.
- The concept of “untouchability” has been abolished, and its application in any form is prohibited. The imposition of any limitation resulting from “Untouchability” is a criminal offence punishable by law.
- To put a stop to the caste system, untouchability, prejudice, and other forms of oppression that have existed in our culture for generations, Article 17 was included in the Indian Constitution
- It provides security not only against the government but also against private individuals.
- The state has a legal obligation to take the appropriate efforts to ensure that it is not violated. (People’s Union for Democratic Rights v Union of India Case)
- Of all the rights articles established in the Constitution, Article 17 is the only one that is absolute. That is, practising untouchability in any form is prohibited and there are ‘no ifs, no buts,’ only punishments if you practice untouchability.
- The inclusion of this article in the Constitution demonstrates the priority placed by the Constituent Assembly on the abolition of this heinous practice.
- Article 17 is also a key clause in terms of equality before the law (Article 14). It ensures social justice and human dignity, two rights that have been denied to a large segment of Indian society for millennia.
- Article 17 is absolute in nature, which means it cannot be violated under any circumstances.
Important Case law on Article 17 of the Indian Constitution
The Supreme Court of India has interpreted and applied Article 17 in various cases to address issues of caste discrimination and untouchability. One of the landmark cases in this regard is the case of the State of Gujarat v. Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat
In this case, the State of Gujarat challenged a judgment of the High Court of Gujarat that had directed the State to take measures to prevent atrocities against Dalits and to ensure their protection and rehabilitation. The State argued that the High Court had exceeded its jurisdiction in issuing such directions and that the issue of atrocities against Dalits was a law and order problem that was within the executive’s domain.
However, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s judgment and held that the issue of atrocities against Dalits was not just a law and order problem, but was also a human rights issue that required urgent attention. The Court emphasized that the practice of untouchability had been abolished by the Constitution and that it was the duty of the State to ensure its effective implementation.
Article 18 & Right to Equality under Indian Constitution
The purpose of Article 18 is to eliminate the remnants of the feudal system and to promote the ideals of equality and meritocracy in Indian society. It prohibits the conferment of any titles by the State, except for military and academic distinctions. This means that the government cannot confer titles like “Sir,” “Lord,” “Raja,” “Maharaja,” etc. on individuals, as they are considered to be a vestige of the colonial era and are seen as contrary to the democratic ideals of the Constitution.
Article 18 and the right to equality under the Indian Constitution are closely linked, as both seek to promote equality and prevent discrimination based on social status, rank or title.
The state’s obligation is stated in the first clause. All titles are forbidden by Article 18 (1). With the exception of titles in the military and academic professions, it prohibits the government from awarding titles to anybody, a citizen or a non-citizen. A university may therefore award a title or honour to a deserving person.
The second clause and the following clauses apply to Indian citizens. It prohibits an Indian citizen from assuming any titles from another country.
It prohibits anyone who holds a government position or trust post but is not an Indian citizen from assuming a title from another country without the President’s permission.
It states that no individual, whether citizen or non-citizen, possessing any office of profit or charity post under the government of India, should receive any gifts, emoluments, or office of any type from or under any foreign nation without the President’s assent.
Clauses (3) and (4) were inserted to guarantee that a non-citizen remains faithful to the government, i.e., does not violate the confidence placed in him.
Overall, Article 18 is an important provision of the Indian Constitution that promotes the principles of democracy, equality, and meritocracy by abolishing the practice of conferring titles based on birth or other extraneous factors.
Landmark case on Article 18 of the Indian Constitution-
In Balaji Raghavan vs UOI, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of civilian honours but criticized the government for not exercising restraint in awarding these. It held that the national awards were not meant to be used as titles and those who have done so should forfeit the award. In this case, the petitioners challenged the conferment of the awards on the ground that it was violative of Article 18(1).
They were of the view that the word ‘title’ should be given the widest possible meaning and amplitude in order to give effect to the legislative intent since the only exception to this rule has been carved out in respect of military and academic distinctions. The contention of the Union government (Respondents) was that since the national awards are not titles of nobility and are not to be used as suffixes or prefixes, they are not prohibited by Article 18. Further, almost every country in the world follows the practice of conferring awards for meritorious services rendered by its citizens.
In the case of Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India (2017), a complaint was lodged in this matter questioning the usage of the term ‘senior advocate’ before the names of the advocates. The Supreme Court ruled that this is not the title, but rather a demarcation, and therefore does not violate Article 18 of the Indian Constitution.
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