Concept of Equality in India: Simple or Complicated?

INTRODUCTION: ORIGIN OF CONCEPT

When we talk about India, even after so many years of independence, it still cannot be called completely independent in many aspects. Evils such as discrimination, inequality and untouchability are still prevailing in our country. The same was felt by the makers of the Indian constitution. Such evils prevailed then also and are even more prevalent today. There are a large number of places even today where people are not treated equally and face discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, caste, race, sex etc.

In order to improve this scenario, Article 14 was added in Part 3 of the Constitution of India as a Fundamental Right, by the drafting committee of the Constitution. This right is available to every person, be it a citizen or non-citizen of India.

Article 14 states that every person should be treated equally without any discrimination. The State shall not deny equality before law and equal protection of laws to any person within the territory of India. Article 14 ensures the basic requirement of citizens that is to be treated equally and as liberty is directly connected to equality, Article 14 ensures liberty as well as equality to [1]citizens.

Article 14-18 of the Constitution provides for equality among the people. They were inserted by the constitution makers as an effort to scrap off discrimination from our country.

In this article we will be discussing about the Right to Equality given under Article 14 of the Constitution, which is the topic of this article.

ARTICLE 14: RIGHT TO EQUALITY

  • Article 14 declares that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India.
  • ‘Any Person’ – The words any person in article 14 of the constitution denote that the guarantee of the equal protection of laws is available to any person which includes any company or association or body of individuals. The protection of article 14 extends to both citizens and non-citizens and to natural persons as well as legal persons. The equality before the law is guaranteed to all without regard to race, colour or nationality. Corporations being juristic persons are also entitled to the benefit of Article 14.
  • The first expression ‘equality before law’ is of English origin and the second expression ‘equal protection of laws’ has been taken from the American Constitution.
  • While “Equality before law” is a somewhat negative concept implying the absence of any special privilege in favour of individuals and the equal subject of all classes to the ordinary law.
  • “Equal protection of laws” is a more positive concept implying equality of treatment in equal circumstances.
  • However one dominant idea common to both the expressions is that of equal justice.

EQUALITY BEFORE LAW AND ABSOLUTE EQUALITY

The concept of equality does not mean absolute equality among human beings which is physically not possible to achieve. It is a concept implying absence of any special privilege by reason of birth, creed or the like in favour of any individual, and also the equal subject of all individuals and classes to the ordinary law of the land.

EQUALITY BEFORE LAW AND RULE OF LAW

The guarantee of equality before law is an aspect which Dicey calls as the “Rule of Law” in England.

It means that no man is above the law and that every person, whatever be his rank or conditions is subject to the jurisdiction of ordinary courts.

Professor AV Dicey gave three meanings to the Rule of Law:

  • Supremacy of Law: It means the absolute supremacy of law as opposed to the arbitrary power of the government. In other words, a man may be punished for a breach of law but he can be punished for nothing else.
  • Equality before the law: It means subjection of all classes of people to the ordinary law of the land administered by ordinary law courts. This means that no one is above the law.
  • Constitution is the result of the ordinary law of the land: It means that the source of the right of individuals is not the written constitution but the rules as defined and enforced by the courts.

The first and the second aspect applies to Indian system but the third aspect of the rule of law does not apply to Indian system because the source of right of individuals is the Constitution of India. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and all laws passed by the legislature must be consistent with the provisions of the Constitution.

EQUAL PROTECTION OF LAWS

This has been interpreted to mean subjection of equal law applying to all in the same circumstances. Equal law should be applied to all in the same situation and there should be no discrimination between one person and another. Thus, the rule is that “the like should be treated alike and not that unlike should be treated alike.”

ARTICLE 14 PERMITS CLASSIFICATION BUT PROHIBITS CLASS LEGISLATION

The equal protection of laws guaranteed by article 14 does not mean that all the laws must be general in character.

 It does not mean that the same laws should apply to all persons. It does not mean that every law must have universal application for, all persons are not by nature, attainment or circumstances in the same position. The varying needs of different classes of persons often require separate treatment.

 From the very nature of society, there should be different laws in different places and the legislature controls the policy and enacts laws in the best interest of the safety and security of the State.

In fact, identical treatment in unequal circumstances would amount to inequality. So, a reasonable classification is not only permitted but is necessary if society is to progress.

Thus, what article 14 forbids is class legislation but it does not forbid reasonable classification. The classification however must not be arbitrary, artificial or evasive, but must be based on some real and substantial distinction bearing a just and reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by the legislation.

Article 14 applies where equals are treated differently without any reasonable basis. But where equals and unequals are treated differently, article 14 does not apply.

Class legislation is that which makes an improper discrimination by conferring particular privileges upon a class of persons arbitrarily selected from a large number of persons , all of whom stand in the same relation to the privilege granted that between whom and the persons not so favoured no reasonable distinction or substantial difference can be found justifying the inclusion of one and exclusion of the other from such privilege.

Test of Reasonable Classification – Article 14 permits reasonable classification for the purpose of achieving specific ends. But the classification must not be arbitrary or artificial it must always rest upon some real and substantial distinction bearing a just and reasonable relation to the objects sought to be achieved by the legislature.

Classification to be reasonable must fulfil the following two conditions:

  1. The classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group.
  2. The Differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the [2]Act.

LANDMARK JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS RELATED TO ARTICLE 14

  • Hijras/ Transgenders are the persons entitled to legal protection –

In the case of, National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India[3]

In this case the Supreme Court held that article 14 does not restrict the word ‘person’ and its application only to male or female and Hijras/ transgender persons who are neither male nor female fall within the expression ‘person’. They are entitled to legal protection of laws in all spheres of state activity including employment, healthcare, education as well as equal civil citizenship rights, as enjoyed by any other citizen of this country.

  • Classification made between pensioners on the basis of retirement date –

In the case of, D.S. Nakara v. Union of India[4]

The Supreme Court struck down rule 34 of the Central Services (Pension) Rules, 1972 as unconstitutional on the ground that the classification made between pensioners retiring before a particular date and retiring after that date was not based on any rational principle and was arbitrary and violative of article 14 of the Constitution.

  •  Marks in Oral Test –

In the case of, Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujjib[5]

The regional engineering college made admissions of candidates on the basis of oral interview after written test. The test of oral interview was challenged on the ground that it was arbitrary and unreasonable because high percentage of marks were allocated for oral test and candidates were interviewed only for two or three minutes.

The court struck down the rule prescribing high percentage of marks for oral test i.e. allocation of 1/3 of total marks for total interview was plainly arbitrary and unreasonable and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

  • Preference to less educated person in granting license –

In the case of, Y. Srinivasa Rao v. J. Veeraiah,[6]

The appellant, who was an unemployed graduate with experience of the running fair price shop, was not appointed as fair shop dealer whereas a matriculate person was given dealership in view of the government policy of giving preference to less educated person.

The court held the policy of the government to prefer an educated person over an educated person amounts to allowing premium on ignorance, incompetence and consequently inefficiency, and therefore unconstitutional.

The court held the government’s policy to give preference to less educated persons over more educated persons in granting licence for running fair price shop was arbitrary and liable to be set aside.

  •  Age of retirement and pregnancy bar of air hostess –

In the case of, Air India v. Nargesh Meerza,[7]

Regulation 46 of the Air India regulation provided that an air Hostess would retire from the service of the corporation upon attaining the age of 35 years or on marriage, if it took place within four years of service or on first pregnancy, whichever occurred earlier. 

The Supreme Court struck down the Air India an Indian airlines regulations on the age of retirement and pregnancy bar on the services of air hostesses as unconstitutional on the ground that the conditions laid down therein were manifestly unreasonable and arbitrary and clearly violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

  • Wholesale reservation on the basis of domicile or institutional preference –

In the case of, Pradeep Jain v. Union of India,[8]

While delivering a judgement of far reaching importance, The Supreme Court held that the wholesale reservation of seats in the MBBS and BDS courses made by the state government of Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Union Territory of Delhi on the basis of domicile or residence within the state or on the basis of institutional preference for students who had passed the qualifying examination excluding all students not satisfying the residence requirement, regardless of merit, was unconstitutional being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

  •  Mandatory Death Penalty –

In the case of, Mithu v. State of Punjab, [9]

The Court struck down Section 303 of the IPC as unconstitutional on the ground that the classification between persons who commit murders while under the sentence of life imprisonment and those who commit murders while not under the sentence of life imprisonment, for the purpose of making the sentence of death mandatory in the case of the former class and optional in the latter class, was not based on any rational principle.

EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT OF EQUALITY

The evolution of the concept of equality took place through different phases:

     1)The Greek Philosophy

  • In this period, Equality was supported by thinkers such as Pericle, Sophists, Antiphon and Stoics.
  • The Stoic Philosophy gave the idea of Universal Brotherhood and Citizenship.
  • It was based on natural law and reason.
  • They opposed slavery and pleaded for natural equality among men.
  • Therefore, equality is a force which binds together friends, cities and allies.

      2)The Medieval Period

  • During this period, Christianity raised the voice for equality. But soon it got converted into equality before God.
  • Feudalism emerged in Europe and unequal rules of aristocracy developed.
  • Social inequalities got legal recognition and legal privileges available to the clergy and nobility were accepted in society.
  • The Renaissance
  •  The Renaissance and the reformation played an important part in weakening and shaking the existing social and political system.
  • Besides this the renaissance highly influenced gender equality basically in terms of marriage, wealth ownership and freedom of expression.
  • The 19th Century
  • It saw a demand for social economic equality for newly emerging working class.
  • As a result of industrial revolution, economic disparities has increased and the demand for economic equality and justice came from many quarters.
  • The movement for political equality also became stronger and Adult Franchise became the birth cry of the Democrats.
  • Liberals
  • Liberals focused on the following different kinds of equality:
  • Moral Equality: It implied the rights of each man to be treated as an end and not a means.
  • Judicial Equality: It implied the right of each man to justice on the same terms as other man. It stresses on equality before the law, that all are subject to the same law of justice.
  • Political Equality: It implied the right of each man to a vote that counts no more and no less than the vote of any other man.
  • Thus the liberals carried on their struggle for equality through constitutional process.
  • The 20th Century
  • It witnessed many revolutionary struggles for equality.
  • For example: various national movements have emerged against imperialism in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
  • The 20th century has seen various movements of the black people against the white race.

In this way, the Evolution of Concept of Equality took place from the ancient period till date.

CONCLUSION

Article 14 enshrined in Part 3 of the Constitution as a Fundamental Right is a very important as well as basic right guaranteed to every person, underlying the Freedom of Equality.

It is very much necessary in order to remove discrimination among the people of our country on any ground such as caste, creed, sex, religion and the like. It forms the bedrock of the democratic setup. In a diverse country like India, principles such as liberty, equality and fraternity enshrined in the Constitution act as a binding force.

The makers of the Indian Constitution knew about the requirements of the society and thus gave us freedom of Equality such as right to vote equally regardless of gender, right to be treated equally before law, etc. The makers of our Constitution provided us these Rights while other countries had to fight for these rights and shed blood for. They made sure that the new India is free from the dark shadows of past.

However, evils such as inequality and discrimination are still prevalent in many places in India even today. Still people face discrimination in some or the other way, but the rights provided under the Constitution such as the right to equality and other basic rights help to a great extent in removing these inequalities and disparities.

We need to respect the provisions of our Constitution which is the “grund norm” of our country. All must follow the principles enshrined in it and treat everyone with respect and dignity.


[1] Aditi Singh, Right to Equality under the Indian Constitution, IPLEADERS ( June 14, 2021, 2:30 PM) blog.ipleaders.in

[2] Dr. J.N. PANDEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA 83-89 ( 56th ed. 2019)

[3] AIR 2014 SC 1863

[4] AIR 1983 SC 130

[5] AIR 1981 SC 487

[6] AIR 1993 SC 929

[7] AIR 1981 SC 1829

[8] 1984 (3) SCC 654

[9] AIR 1983 SC 473: 1983(2) SCC 278


Author: Nancy Goel from Amity Law School, Noida.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s