The diversity of India is very typical. From the times of the Indus Valley civilisation to modern-day India, the subcontinent witnessed an explosion of cultures, religions, and languages. Various rulers and kingdoms came and ruled the subcontinent, making significant changes thereby. But, like every other civilisation of the world, what remained at the core, though continuously evolving, was the idea of rights. Early people were also vigilant about human rights and societal rights, and the rights as of now owe their existence somewhat to the colonial period. There are various categories of rights in the Indian legal system, but the Fundamental Rights are unique in the sense that they are basic human rights that cannot be taken away by the state.
Every human being requires that he is capable of asserting certain claims against acts of injustice or discrimination, and is able to develop his/her personality and standing in the society.
The role of Fundamental Rights in shaping the individuality of a person is of utter importance, so much as the protection they accord against the arbitrary actions of the government. In Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, Chief Justice Subba Rao stated that Fundamental Rights were the modern name given to what were traditionally known as natural rights.
The Indian Constitution
When India got its Constituent Assembly in 1946, which was assigned the duty to frame the Constitution of India, there was a high demand for the inclusion of “Fundamental Rights” in the Constitution. During the British Raj, the colonial government did give certain rights to Indians through a few Acts, but in general civil liberty was absent in the country. This was one of the reasons why the newly independent nation wanted a set of rights that could be exercised without hinderance. Moreover, the existence of a number of diverse groups in the country, their differences being based on language, culture, region, religion, caste etc., it was imperative to accommodate the various interests without discriminating the others. The presence of untouchability in the country as well as the deplorable conditions of women was yet another factor that prompted the debate on Fundamental Rights.
At a time when democratic ideals were peaking, and the United Nations General Assembly was drafting its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constituent Assembly deemed it fit to adopt the substance of human rights in the Constitution, which was inspired by the UDHR itself. In Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, the Supreme Court observed that even though the UDHR is not of a binding nature, it reflected what India understood from it regarding the nature of human rights at the time of its adoption. The Supreme Court again remarked on this point again in Chairman, Railway Board and ors. v. Mrs. Chandrima Das by stating that the UDHR is a sort of Moral Code of Conduct having international recognition, and its principles may be read in domestic jurisprudence if the need is felt.
Fundamental Rights have also drawn some influence from England’s Bill of Rights, France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the United States’ Bill of Rights.
The Constitution of India is the supreme law of the country and is perhaps the most comprehensive piece of legislation to ever exist, making it also one of the lengthiest constitutions in the world. Consequently, Part III of the document, which is headed “Fundamental Rights”, is also detailed out to cover almost all aspects of fundamental rights and liberties. There are six Fundamental Rights in total, occupying Articles 12 to 32 of the Indian Constitution.
Right to Equality
The Right to Equality is the first Fundamental Right in the Indian Constitution, mentioned in Articles 14 to 18. It is one of the chief guarantees taken up by the Constitution.
- Article 14 guarantees equality to all before the law as well as equal protection of the law to all within the territory of India. This implies equal subjection of all people to the law and similar treatment of people under similar circumstances.
- Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, gender or place of birth.
- Article 16 encourages equality in terms of employment opportunities and the state is prohibited to discriminate against anyone solely on the basis of race, religion, caste, gender, descent, place of birth or residence, or income.
- Article 17 abolishes untouchability of all forms and makes it an offence punishable by law.
- Article 18 abolishes titles present during the colonial times, and prohibits the state to award any titles other than those of military or academic distinctions.
Right to Freedom
Articles 19 to 22 cover the Right to Freedom, which guarantees certain essential liberties to the people of the country.
- Article 19 guarantees the six quintessential freedoms to the citizens, namely: the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of assembly without arms, the freedom of movement throughout the territory of the nation, the freedom of association, the freedom to reside and settle down in any part of the country, and the freedom to practice any profession, trade or occupation.
- The freedoms enlisted under Article 19 are further protected by Articles 20 to 22. Article 20 protects a person from double jeopardy, ex post-facto laws and self-incrimination. Article 21 guarantees the most important right – the right to life and personal liberty, and Article 22 provides the right to be presented at trial when under preventive detention.
- The Right to Information has also been made a fundamental right under Article 19, which allows citizens to know the workings of the government.
Right against Exploitation
The Right against Exploitation protects the weaker sections of society against acts of discrimination.
- Article 23 prohibits human trafficking, forced labour or begar.
- Article 24 prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in mines, factories, and other hazardous jobs.
Right to Freedom of Religion
Considering the fact that India has a multiplicity of faiths, it was the need of the hour to incorporate a separate fundamental right on the protection and liberty regarding religion i.e. Right to Freedom of Religion.
- Article 25 guarantees the people the freedom of conscience, and the right to practice, profess and propagate the religion of their choice.
- Article 26 guarantees every religious domination the right to manage their own religious affairs, to set up institutions for charitable or religious purposes, and to acquire and manage property.
- Article 27 prohibits the compelling of payment of taxes for the promotion of a particular religion.
- Article 28 prohibits religious instruction in an educational institution wholly funded by the state, and educational institutions receiving state aid cannot compel their members for religious instruction.
Cultural and Educational Rights
The cultural and educational rights protect the interests of the country’s cultural, religious and linguistic minorities.
- According to Article 29, any sect having a distinct language, script or culture of its own has the right to protect, conserve and develop the same.
- Article 30 states that all religious and linguistic minorities have the right to set up and administer their own educational institutions in order to preserve and develop their culture.
Right to Constitutional Remedies
It is to be noted that these Fundamental Rights are not absolute, except for the Right to Life and Personal Liberty. The state can impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of these rights on the grounds of public order, decency, morality or the like. Moreover, even though the Constitution prohibits discrimination, the state can promote certain classes of the society to uplift them, as well make provisions for certain sects for their development in the guise of positive discrimination.
Significance of Fundamental Rights
The rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution preserve the dignity of the individual and allow one to thrive in the community. Without these rights, the very basic features of democracy would be of no avail. These rights not only protect but also prevent the violation of human rights. They act as a check not only on the state but also on private individuals.
The Supreme Court in Kesavananda Bharati stated that these fundamental rights were natural or inalienable rights. Since India is a party to the UDHR and the UDHR holds most of these rights as inalienable, the same status is accorded to them in India. In State of West Bengal v. Subodh Gopal Bose, Chief Justice Patanjali Shastri viewed fundamental rights as being those great rights which were guaranteed as natural rights to the citizens of a free country.
The Indian judiciary, being in charge of the interpretation of the Constitution, has expanded significantly the scope of these rights, and has gone a step further to include other essential rights, such as the right to privacy, within the ambit of fundamental rights. It has also resolved controversies and clashes regarding certain clauses in Part III of the Constitution, and has stood as a guardian of fundamental rights. However, there are various actions of the state that can hamper these rights immediately, such as the provisions of emergency. Article 19 and all the freedoms thereunder are suspended, and the President may suspend the right to move to the courts for the enforcement of the rest of the fundamental rights. Thus, even though these rights are inalienable, certain aspects of law abridge or affect them negatively, which may create conditions of unrest. The only relief as of now is the fact that Fundamental Rights fall in the basic structure of the Constitution and therefore, no amendment can take away the rights so enshrined.
Overview of Fundamental Rights
The Indian Constitution is a rich document when it comes to jurisprudence regarding rights and liberties. The makers of the Constitution knew the injustice and inequalities existing in the pre-independence period, and how social practices of those times proved as a resistance in the growth of India. A sound measure, the incorporation of a chapter only revolving the idea of rights was not only applauding, but essential to the working of the country. All forms of social evils such as untouchability, discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, gender, forced labour, human trafficking etc., were looked into and the rights on these issues were carefully drafted. The father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, heavily emphasised the importance of Article 32 since it protects the rest of the rights as well.
Part III of the Indian Constitution can be correctly described as the Magna Carta of the country because of the value and weight it carries. But what is equally important is that the rights be up to par with the contemporary society, otherwise they will be rendered ineffective. Constant revision of these rights without altering their basic ideologies is healthy for a democracy so that the people can have a sense of freedom and control of the democracy that they are living in.
FAQs on Fundamental Rights
Following are the six fundamental rights mentioned in the Constitution of India:
1. Right to Equality: Articles 14 – 18
2. Right to Freedom: Articles 19 – 22
3. Right against Exploitation: Articles 23 and 24
4. Right to Freedom of Religion: Articles 25 – 28
5. Cultural and Educational Rights: Articles 29 and 30
6. Right to Constitutional Remedies: Article 32
The rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution preserve the dignity of the individual and allow one to thrive in the community. Without these rights, the very basic features of democracy would be of no avail. These rights not only protect but also prevent the violation of human rights. They act as a check not only on the state but also on private individuals. Every human being requires that he is capable of asserting certain claims against acts of injustice or discrimination, and is able to develop his/her personality and standing in the society. The role of the Fundamental Rights in shaping the individuality of a person is of utter importance, so much as the protection they accord against the arbitrary actions of the government.
As per Article 32, if a person’s fundamental rights have been violated, then he/she can approach the High Courts under Article 226 or the Supreme Court under Article 32 itself. The father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, heavily emphasised the importance of Article 32 since it protects the rest of the rights and stated that it was the heart and soul of the Indian Constitution. Without this right, it would be impossible to enforce the fundamental rights in a court of law, which would mean gross violation of the same. It acts as a protector of the rest of the rights, and gives an aggrieved person the most appropriate remedy in case of any violation.
 AIR 1967 SC 1643 at 1656.
 AIR 1973 SC 1461 at 1510.
 AIR 2000 (1) SC 265.
 Supra note 2.
 AIR 1954 SC 92 at 96.
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