Fundamental Rights

Abolition of Titles

Article 18

In the creation of a society which aims at establishing political, social and economic equality and thereby aspires to become truly democratic, there is no room for some individuals to hold titles, thus creating artificial distinctions among members of the same society. Recognition of titles and the consequent creation of a hierarchy of aristocracy had been denounced as an anti-democratic practice as early as the eighteenth century by both the American and the French Revolutions. A democracy should not create titles and titular glories.

In India, the practice of the British Government conferring a number of titles every year, mostly on their political supporters and Government officers, had already created a peculiar class of nobility among the people totally loyal to the foreign rulers. It was difficult, in principle, for Independent India to recognise and accept these titles apart from considerations of the merit of those who held them. Article 18, therefore, abolishes all titles and the State is prohibited from conferring titles on any person. The only exception made to the strict rule of non-recognition of titles is provided in favour of academic or military distinctions.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly that Article 18 did not create a justiciable right :

“The non-acceptance of titles is a condition of continued citizenship. It is not a right, it is a duty imposed upon the individual that if he continues to be the citizen of this country, then he must abide by certain conditions. One of the conditions is that he must not accept a title. If he did, it would be open for Parliament to decide by law what should be done to persons who violate the provisions of this Article. One of the penalties may be that he may lose the right of citizenship.”

Thus, under Article 18, not only is the State in India prevented from conferring titles on any person, but Indian citizens are also forbidden to accept any title from a foreign State without the consent of the President of India. The prohibition applies not only to the acceptance of titles but also to that of any presents, emoluments or office of any kind from any foreign State by any person holding an office of profit or trust under the State.

The battle against the titles conferred by the British Monarch started with the passing of the United States Constitution in 1787, which prohibited all titles of nobility in the United States. Another British dependency, Ireland, on establishing its independence, followed suit and its Constitution, too, prohibits the conferring of titles by the State. India and Myanmar (formerly Burma) were the next to follow the example, especially India, despite the fact that it decided to continue to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations whose titular head is the British Monarch.

Right to Freedom

Article 19

Article 19 enumerates certain positive rights conferred by the Constitution in order to provide the ideal of liberty promised in the Preamble. However, absolute individual rights cannot be guaranteed by any modern State. Articles 19 to 22 deal with different aspects of this basic right. Taken together, these four Articles form a charter of personal liberties, which provides the backbone of the chapter on Fundamental Rights.

“Six freedoms” under the Constitution are guaranteed to all citizens conferring upon the State power to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions in the larger interests of the community. These are  :

(1) Freedom of speech and expression;

(2) Freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms;

(3) Freedom to form associations or unions;

(4) Freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India;

(5) Freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and

(6) Freedom to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of these freedoms in any democratic society. Indeed, the very test of a democratic society is the extent to which these freedoms are enjoyed by the citizens in general. These freedoms, as a whole, constitute the liberty of the individual. And liberty is one of the most essential ingredients of human happiness and progress. The most important among the inalienable rights of man, according to the Declaration of American Independence, are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The Preamble of almost every Constitution declares the same in one form or the other as its objectives. The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, for instance, declares that one of its objectives  is “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity”.  The Preamble of the Indian Constitution, too, proclaims that one of its objectives is to secure Liberty—“Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.”

Freedom of the Press

Article 19 (1) (a)

There had been much criticism, both within the Constituent Assembly and outside, of the omission of a specific reference to the Freedom of the Press and the failure to guarantee it along with the freedom of speech. The omission was considered a serious lapse on the part of the Drafting Committee by the protagonists of a “Free Press” as a separate right. Nevertheless, the Drafting Committee did not think it necessary to incorporate a separate right of this nature in the Chapter on Fundamental Rights.

Speaking on behalf of the Committee,Dr. B. R. Ambedkar said, “The Press has no special rights which are not to be given or which are not to be exercised by the citizen in his individual capacity. The editor of a newspaper or the manager of a Press are all citizens and, therefore, when they choose to write in newspapers, they are merely exercising their right of expression and in my judgement, therefore, no special mention is necessary of the freedom of the Press at all.”

Freedom of speech and expression are basic to the functioning of a democratic system. The word “expression” that is used in Article 19(1)(a), in addition to “speech”, is comprehensive enough to cover the Press. In fact, the lack of specific mention of the Press in the Constitution created no difficulty when the Supreme Court was called upon to protect the freedom of the Press in cases which came before it. Further, modern science and technology have invented, and are still inventing and bringing into use, many forms of expression through which communication of ideas is facilitated. The radio, the cinema, the telephone and the television are a few important examples of these new forms.  Some of these may, in the course of time, become even more powerful and important media of expression than the Press itself. Freedom of expression assists in the discovery of trust and strengthens an individual’s potential for taking part in decision-making. Freedom of the Press implies freedom from interference from authority leading to a suppression of  views or news which have an adverse effect on circulation. Freedom of the Press would be protected by the courts, as has been pointed out in many judgements.

Right to Assembly
Article 19(1)(b) and 19(3)

One of the basic safeguards to freedom of speech is the right to assemble freely. In fact, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech go hand in hand. The framers of the Constitution knew that the right to assemble peaceably for public debate and discussion, for political activities and such other purposes was essential to make the freedom of speech and expression real. Hence, the Constitutional guarantee to assemble peaceably and without arms has been provided.

The right to assembly can be restricted only in the interest of public order and the restrictions ought to be reasonable.

Right to Form
Associations or Unions
Article 19(1)(c) and 19(4)

The right to form associations or unions is more or less a charter for all working people in this country. Trade union activity was not only discouraged by most of the Western countries until recently, but in many countries it was even looked upon as an anti-social and anti-State activity. Workers had to undergo great suffering before they could obtain even the elementary right that virtually affected their existence as a separate group or class in society. It was only in the twentieth century, particularly after the end of the First World War, that any significant measures were undertaken to ensure the legitimate rights of workers through labour and industrial legislation. To make these rights fundamental and embody them as such in the Constitution was indeed a much bolder step forward. After recognising the trend of the times, the Constitution of India has made the workers’ right to form unions a fundamental one.

The right to form associations or unions can be restricted only in the interest of public order or morality. There can be no association or union for an illegal or conspiratorial purpose. Nor can there be an association to further immorality.

The right to form associations or unions, however, is not available to every citizen in the same measure. A member of the public services, although he is a citizen, cannot claim the right to the extent that a private citizen can. Being a Government servant, he is bound by his service rules and he cannot challenge his service rules on the ground that they stand in his way of fully enjoying the right to form associations. This has been made clear by the Supreme Court.

Right to Free Movement
and Residence
Article 19(1)(d), (e) and 19(5)

The right to move freely throughout the territory of India and to reside and settle in any part of it are guaranteed under Sub-clauses (d) and (e), respectively, of Clause (1) of Article 19. The importance of the freedom of movement cannot
be exaggerated. In fact, the enjoyment of the freedom guaranteed under the other rights depends largely on the freedom of movement, unhampered and uncircum­scribed. The State’s power to place reasonable restrictions on these freedoms is limited to two: the interests of the general public and the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe. For instance,  it  is  in  the  interest  of  the general public to restrict the free movement of a person suffering from a contagious disease. Similarly, the Scheduled Tribes form separate communities by themselves, backward and unsophisticated, with separate cultural and property interests.

Although complete segregation of the tribal people in the name of their separate culture and general backwardness is wrong and against the ultimate aim of complete national integration, certain safeguards, as envisaged here, seem to be justified. Otherwise, the tribal people may become easy victims of exploitation at the hands of their more ‘civilised’, shrewd and designing brethren. Hence, there are various provisions to safeguard the rights of tribals to their land and property. In their own interest and for their benefit, laws may be made restricting the ordinary citizens to go and settle in particular areas inhabited by the tribal people or acquire property there. The reference to the interests of the Scheduled Tribes makes it clear that the free movement, spoken of in the clause, relates not to general rights of locomotion but to the particular right of shifting or moving from one part of the Indian territory to another without any sort of discriminatory barriers.

Freedom of Profession, Occupation, Trade
or Business

Article 19(1)(g) and 19(6)

Article 19(1)(g) guarantees the freedom to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business. Doubts were expressed in the Constituent Assembly whether these were Fundamental Rights at all or not. Perhaps, the only other Constitutions which have given them the status of Fundamental Rights are those of Ireland and Switzerland. It seems that the framers of the Indian Constitution had been influenced by the complex social system that prevailed in India in seeking to guarantee rights such as these. It has been a bane of India’s social life that professions were inherited rather than acquired. A society dominated by caste and professions based upon caste or region has little to offer for the building up of a community enlivened by social mobility and dynamism. Such a society is often intolerant to persons who change the traditional profession of their ancestors and is eager to maintain a petrified social order. A Constitutional guarantee of the right to take up the profession, calling, trade or business of one’s choice is indeed a significant aid to the building up of a dynamic and democratic society. The framers of the Constitution have done well to incorporate these rights in the chapter on Fundamental Rights and have, thereby, helped the evolution of a truly democratic society. 

The State’s power to restrict the enjoyment of these freedoms is limited to the making of any law imposing reasonable restrictions in the interests of the general public in so far as it relates to: (a) the prescribing of professional or technical qualifications necessary for practising any profession or carrying on any occupation, trade or business, or (b) the carrying on by the State or by a corporation owned or controlled by the State, of any trade, business, industry or service.

Safeguard in Respect of

Conviction for Offences

Article 20

Article 20 affords protection against arbitrary and excessive punishment to any person who commits an offence. There are four such guaranteed protections: (1) A person can be convicted of an offence only if he has violated a law in force at the time when he is alleged to have committed the offence. (2) No person can be subjected to a greater penalty than what might have been given to him under the law that was prevalent when he committed the offence. (3) No person can be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once. (4) No person accused of an offence can be compelled to be a witness against himself.

Taken together, these provisions guard against retrospective application of a punitive law and double punishment for
the same offence. These are, indeed, guarantees of great importance which establish “the primacy of law over the passions of man”.                    

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