A right, in order to bear its fruits emanates from the ideals of a duty. One cannot enjoy the privileges he/she deserves unless, the other performs the duty of recognizing and respecting those rights and John’s quote has proved it rightly so. We live in a world where the significance of rights has been on the rise. However, the importance of duties has been easily sidelined. As a result, people are constantly hunting for enjoying rights but have failed to pay attention to their duties. In other words, they haven’t realised, that if rights are important, then duties are equally important since both of them lie equally on each side of the fence. This article aims to shed some light on why fundamental duties go hand in hand with fundamental rights and the need for giving due emphasis to the fulfillment of duties by citizens.
History has always helped us understand the evolution of society. Subsequently, fundamental duties have also been given due importance in Indian History. Through the course of our freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi has always stressed on the fact that “right is a duty well performed”. He further emphasised that “if we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek”. Dwelling further back, we also find ancient scriptures mentioning the significance of duties and the kind of duties that a human being should perform. From Dharmashastra till Mahabharata, duties have been prioritized and given greater importance than rights.
The emphasis was based on the rationale that every human being, in order to peacefully co-exist in a society, has to fulfill certain moral obligations towards the society and towards other individuals since the performance of these duties would ensure peace and structure in the society. Some of the excerpts include the ten-fold dharma from vamanapurana, duties of all the varnas from Mahabharata. All these scriptures have peace, truthfulness, liberation from anger, lust and greed as common elements.
It goes on to show that our ancestors have always understood the concept of duties and have performed it to maintain harmony and peace within the society.
Co-relation between fundamental rights and fundamental duties
In furtherance to our understanding the relevance of duties, we need to understand the relationship between rights and duties, especially fundamental rights and fundamental duties. Professor Keeton said, “Duty is an act of forbearance which is enforced by the state in respect of a right vested in another and breach of which is a wrong act”. This very definition proves that rights and duties are inseparable and are inter-related.
By definition, rights have the element of claims and interests which are protected by the state. But protection alone will not be enough if violations of these rights continue to take place. At this juncture, enforcement of these rights comes into picture through fundamental duties. For a right to be protected, it is essential for people to preserve those rights by fulfilling the duties righteously. There are many circumstances when rights get violated without the violation of any duties.
However, the underlying fact is for a human being to follow the duties laid down so that he/she can enjoy the rights wherein, the other individual performs his/her duties properly. This link forms a cycle.
Moving on to the relationship between fundamental rights and fundamental duties, we can take a look at how each of them operate individually and then explore the inter-relatedness between them. Fundamental rights emerged as an outcome of our freedom struggle. Centuries of slavery and oppression made it quite clear to the framers of the constitution that people deserved freedom, autonomy and the opportunity to exercise the already inherent rights within them in order to reach their fullest potential and to preserve human dignity.
Emerged out of this are the six fundamental rights that holds the highest significance and is the topic of discussion in today’s times. These rights include right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights and right to constitutional remedies. These rights are under the custody of the citizens of India and it is the duty of the state not to violate them and also have the responsibility to protect them. These rights were also framed to curtail state power and to establish rule of law. Any citizen, who feels that his/her right has been violated can move the courts for its restoration since Constitution is the law of the land and nobody is above the law, not even the state. In simple words, fundamental rights are an integral part of this country and are legally enforceable.
On the other hand, fundamental duties have a different background altogether. It was not a part of the constitution. One of the understandable reasons is that people during the colonial rule were forced to obey arbitrary rules and follow them blindly devoid of any sort of power in their hands to voice their concerns. Thus, during the drafting of the constitution, priority was given to restoring the rights of people and there was no mention about fundamental duties.
However, in the year 1976, upon the recommendations of the Swaran Singh Committee, ten fundamental duties through the 42nd amendment and further in 2002, the eleventh fundamental duty was added as well through the 86th amendment. Unfortunately, these duties are not completely enforceable. While a couple of them have managed to be a part of certain statutes, most of these duties are mere obligations and nobody can force its fulfillment upon its citizens. A citizen does not have a remedy if he/she feels that another individual is not performing their fundamental duties.
Though both of them seem very different, they cannot be separated from each other. As Justice J.S Verma once said, “Human Rights can best be realised when the corresponding duties are performed by the state and individuals”. This statement in itself speaks volumes about how significant duties are. Fundamental rights and fundamental duties are the same in intent and different in nature and operationality. It can be seen through the following example. The 7th fundamental duty of the Indian Constitution states that it shall be the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment. At the same time, Article 21 which talks about the right to life and personal liberty, also has in its ambit, the right to live in a clean environment. Logically, an individual cannot claim his/her right to live in a clean environment unless that individual and others, take steps to improve and preserve the environment, including the state. With that said, it is safe to assume that fighting for rights at a time when the fault lies in the non-performance of duties can lead to wastage of efforts and would end up becoming meaningless. Therefore, fundamental rights and fundamental duties are intertwined and are intricately linked to each other.
Need for enforcing fundamental duties in the 21st century
In the present-day context, it is quite imperative that we look at why there was a need for fundamental duties, how it came to be enshrined in the constitution and its need and relevance today.
As mentioned before, colonial rule led to a significant rise in the demand for rights for well-established reasons. Moreover, it was beginning to be understood that it was not just the constitution protecting the people of the country, but the opposite was also true, in the sense that the citizens of the country also preserved it by accepting it and cherishing it. So, there arose a need to incorporate a list of fundamental duties in the constitution. As the former prime minister Indira Gandhi pointed out, “People tend to forget their duties but remember their duties”. In that context, fundamental duties came to be enshrined in the constitution under part IV, article 51A in 1976 and was amended further in 2002.
Fundamental duties are very important for people of a country because it vests in them the responsibilities to hold the country together by being socially, legally and economically responsible. This has been further enumerated in the case of Chandra Bhavan Boarding and Lodging v. State of Mysore by former Justice Santosh Hegde as follows- “It is fallacy to think that in our Constitution, there are only rights and no duties”. The statement holds a lot of value because as a pluralistic and a multi-cultural society, it becomes imperative that we respect other’s rights and do our duties properly. At this juncture, we need to look at certain events that are taking place in the country and analyse them with respect to fundamental duties.
The communal conflicts that have been taking place in various parts of Karnataka by two major religions are in stark violation of article 51A(e), which states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen to promote harmony and the spirit of brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women”. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case on ground. Conflict spurred by differences in ideology has sparked a huge rage, wherein schools and colleges have been shut and public places have been vandalized. It clearly shows what can happen if people don’t realise their responsibilities and act accordingly.
Similarly, article 51A(k), calls of all the parents or guardians to provide education between six and fourteen years of age. However, after the pandemic took a toll on our country, nearly 259.6 million children were affected severely with 18.9 million children being denied educational opportunities currently, due to poverty and child labour. This indicates not just the responsibility of parents/guardians, but also shows that the state needs to be more proactive in tackling this issue.
Lastly, but not the least, Article 51A(g), states that, “It shall be the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment”. The reality is that, despite the Swachh Bharat Scheme and other policies in place, millions of people still continue to pollute the environment despite provisions established. For example, throwing litter into canals and ponds despite dustbins available nearby, spitting on pavements, purchasing bags and covers made of plastic despite the availability of reusable bags at home. These instances clearly show how important fundamental duties are and how equally important it is to legally enforce them.
Having established the rationale, a few suggestions would enable in advancing the sensitivity and the awareness towards fundamental duties. They are as follows-
- To make fundamental duties, an essential part of assemblies in all educational institutions.
- To conduct pan-India competitions for all classes based on fundamental duties.
- To constitute a committee to oversee, monitor and observe the fulfillment of fundamental duties and to submit reports to the government from time to time.
- To insert fundamental duties in all the textbooks for all classes, both in public and private institutions.
We have tread through a tough journey of living in an independent, civilized society and we still have a long way to go in furthering our objective of becoming increasingly progressive. At the same time, we still have the duty of making ourselves aware of our fundamental duties and sensitising people to the magnitude and significance of fundamental duties so that people get the opportunity to enjoy the rights and protect the rights of others, which in fact, are the crucial factors towards revitalising a peaceful society.
Author: Pragathi S