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Understanding Article 14 of the Indian Constitution: The Pillar of Equality

Article 14 of the Indian constitution guarantees the right to equality to the every citizen of India. Articles 14 represent the general principles of equality before law and prohibit unrealistic, unreasonable discrimination between persons. This article not only underscores the commitment of the Indian state to uphold the principles of fairness and justice but also serves as a guiding light for ensuring that every citizen is treated with equal regard in the eyes of the law.

Right to equality is paramount in India. it enables all citizen to enjoy equal privilege and opportunities. The objective of this right is to establish a rule of law in which all citizen are treated equally before the law. It has five provinces (Article 14 to 18) that provide equality before the law or legal protection to all Indian citizen as well as outlaw discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 16 guarantees equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. Article 17 'Untouchability". Articles 18 abolish titles.

Article 14 of the Indian constitution guarantees that all citizen will be equal before the law. It stipulates that everyone will be equally protected by the law of the states, No Individual is above the law. It means that if two person Commits the same crime, both of them will get the same Punishment without any discrimination.

Article 7 of Universal Declaration of Human right gives us Human right of equality.

Article 14 contains the idea of equality expressed in preamble.
1. Equality before the Law: Article 14 state that "The state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection before the law within the territory of India. Its a negative phrase of Equality that no person whether rich, poor, high or low is above the law. Article 14 Incorporates the Concept of 'rule of Law' which is one of the basic structure of the Constitution. To which the "rule of law 'is declared as the basic structure of Indian Constitution in the case of " Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Shri Raj Narain 1975 ". Subsequently In the Case of Bijay Kumar Mohanty vs. Jadu 2002. its is held that " Rule of Law " is the basic structure of Indian Constitution, that why " Supreme Court " is the Guardian of " Rule of Law ".

ORIGIN OF RULE OF LAW, The phrase " Rule of Law " is derived from the French phrase " la Principle de Legalite " ( The principle of Legality ) which refer to a govt based on principle of law and not of men. The originator of the Concept of a rule of Law was Sir Edward Coke. Rule of Law Concept was Introduced in Britain by Albert V.Dicey. The law of Constitution identify three principle which together Establish the rule of law.
  1. The Equality before law : The world "Shall not "put a mandatory duty upon the state not to discriminate on any ground. The word "Any Person "used under Article 14 of Indian Constitution. Natural Person is being used whether Citizen or Non-citizen Even 3rd Gender (Transgender also).

    Case Law: National legal service Authority Nalsa vs. Union of India 2014

    Hijras and transgender are the person entitled to the legal Protection. 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 law in all sphere of state activity including employment, health care, education as well as equal civil citizenship right as enjoyed by any other citizen of this country.

    The expression ' Sex ' under Article 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of Gender identity. The expression sex is not limited to biological sex of male or female but intended to include people who consider themselves neither male nor female.

    Transgender have been denied rights under Article 16( 2 ) and discriminated against in respect of employment or office under the state on the ground of sex. Article 14 has used the word 'person ' whereas Article 15 has used the expression 'citizen 'and ' Sex ' So also Article 16 and Article 21 used the expression " person ". These expression which are gender neutral evidently refer to ' human beings '. Thus the court held that transgender was provided as a 3rd gender in the Constitution. S0ocial morality is changing from Age to Age.

    Legal Person like Corporation Companies etc Article 14 is applicable in legal companies like corporation companies etc. it was held in the case of Chiranjit lal vs Union of India AIR 1951

    Principle of Natural justice are part of Article 14. like " Audi Ultra Partum " which means that Every Person gets the Chance of being Heard.

    In the Case of State of west Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar, The court held that the " term equal Protection OF Law is a natural consecutives of the term '" Equality before Law " and it is therefore very difficult to imagine a situation in which there has been a violation of equality before law.

    There is some exception for the Rule of Equality before law that are:
    • The President of India and the governor of State enjoy the following Immunities (Article 361): in some cases the president and governor are not answerable to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of their office.
    • No Criminal Proceeding shall be instituted or Continued against the President or the Governor in any Court during his term of office.
    • No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the president or the governor shall be issued from any court during his term of office.
    • No Member of Parliament shall be liable to any Proceeding in any Court in respect of Anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof (Article 105).
    • No Member of the Legislature of a State shall be liable to any Proceeding in any court in respect of anything said or Any Committee thereof (Article 194).
    • Article 31C is also an exception to Article 14. It states that whatever laws are made by the state for implementing the Directive Principles contained in clause (b) or clause (c) of Article 39, such laws cannot be challenged on the ground that they are violative of Article 14 fundamental rights. The Supreme Court held that where Article 31C applies, Article 14 does not.
    • The equality before law concept is not applied to foreign Sovereign Ambassadors and Civil proceedings.
    • The UNITED NATION ORGANISATION and its Agency enjoy Diplomatic Immunity.
  2. Supremacy of Law: It means that the law rules over all people Including the persons administrating the law. Person authority like Police bring someone who has done anything. Practicing such arbitrary or discretionary power are not altered. Dicey says that wherever there is discretion there is a room for arbitrariness. Rule of law Exclude Arbitrariness and Unreasonable. Rule of law states that no person is punishable until unless it breach the pre established law. that's why we see in article 21 of Indian Constitution. Right to life and Personal Liberty are given by Procedure established by law. ( example : Untill unless anyone can't be Punished until that Person do any civil or criminal offence ) Procedure must be fair and reasonable.Rule of law in Indian Constitution, the 1st and 2nd aspect apply to Indian system by the virtue of Article 14, Article 15, Article 16 and Article 23 and Article 226. Rule of law reflect in the liberty and justice and equality mentioned in preamble, but the third rule of law does not apply to Indian system as source of the rights of Individual is the Constitution of India. The Constitution is the result of the Ordinary law of the land: It means the source of the right of Individuals is not in the written Constitution but the rule as defined and enforced by the Court. Basically this is follow in English law in Britain. In India we have written Constitution, All rights are given by Constitution of India, that's why the 3rd Aspect of the rule of law does not apply to Indian system.
  3. Equal Protection of Law: Originating from the American legal system, this principle ensures that the laws apply equally and are enforced fairly. It mandates that individuals in similar situations are treated alike, thereby preventing discrimination and promoting fairness. It is a positive phrase of equality that like should be treated alike without any discrimination. There should be no discrimination in the application of the law to all people who are in similar situation. In Unequal Circumstance you are providing same treatment would amount to Inequality.

Article 14 does not apply when equal and Unequal are treated differently.
In Society reservation is given to weaker Section. It is reasonable Classification because there Circumstances are different. Article 14 is a basic feature of the Indian Constitution and hence it Cannot be destroyed even by an amendment of the Constitution Under Article 368 of the Constitution.

Protection of Article 14 extends to Citizens and Non-Citizens both : The word ' any person ' in Article 14 of the Constitution denote that the guarantee of the equal protection of law is available to any person which Include any Company or association or body of Individuals. The protection of Article 14 extends to both Citizens and non-citizens and to natural person as well as legal persons. The equality before the law is guaranteed to all without regard to race, colour or Nationality. Corporation being juristic persons are also entitled to the benefit of Article 14.

Exception to the Rule of law � The above rule of equality is, however, not an absolute rule and there are number of exceptions to it : First 'equality before the law ' does not mean, that the ' Power of the private citizens are the same as the powers of the public officials '. As a Police officer has the power to arrest while, as a general rule, no private person has this power.

This is not the violation of rule of law, but the rule of law does require these powers should be Clearly defined by law and that abuse of authority by Public officers must be punished by ordinary courts in the same manner as illegal acts committed by private persons. Secondly, the rule of law does not prevent certain classes of persons being subject to special rules.

Thus, members of the armed forces are controlled by military laws. Similarly, medical Council of India, a statutory body and are immune from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts AS Mentioned in Article 361 provide immunity to both president of India and the State governor, they both are not answerable to any court for the exercise and performance of those powers and duties. No Criminal proceeding shall be instituted or continued against the president or the governor of a state in any court during his term office. and No Arrest or imprisonment of the president or the governor of the state.

Thirdly, minister and other executive bodies are given very wide discretionary powers by the statues. A Minister may be allowed by law ' to act as he thinks fit ' or ' if he is satisfied '. Such power is sometimes abused. Today, a large number of legislation is passed in the form of delegated legislation, i.e., rules, order or statutory instruments made by ministers and other bodies and not directly by parliament. fourthly, certain members of society are governed by special rules in their professions, i.e..., lawyers, doctors, nurses, members of armed forces and police. Such classes of people are treated differently from ordinary citizens.

Article 14 forbids class legislation but permits reasonable classification. Two condition are given for permit of reasonable classification.
  • It is based on intelligible differentia which means difference which is capable of being understood. It must not be arbitrary, artificial, evasive.
    • Case Law: EP Royappa vs. State of Tamil Nadu
      In this case, new interpretation was given to equality and arbitrary actions, which are sworn enemies. One belongs to the rule of law in a republic state, but arbitrariness is capable of absolute monarch.
  • Differential must have a relation to the object:
    There must be a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the act which makes the classification.
    • Case Law: Satya Devi Bhagun vs. State of Rajasthan 2022. In this case, by applying intelligible differentia, the Supreme Court upheld the state policy to deny bonus marks to NRHM/NHM employees in other states.

The Scope and Interpretation
Article 14 is not just a theoretical concept but a practical tool for challenging discriminatory practices. Over the years, the Indian judiciary has played a pivotal role in interpreting and expanding the scope of this article to adapt to the evolving needs of society.

Landmark Judgments
  • Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India (1978): This landmark case broadened the interpretation of Article 14. The Supreme Court held that any law or action by the state must be just, fair, and reasonable. This judgment linked Article 14 with Articles 19 and 21, emphasizing the interconnection between equality, personal liberty, and the right to freedom.
  • E.P. Royappa vs. State of Tamil Nadu (1974): This case introduced the concept of arbitrariness as anathema to equality. The Supreme Court asserted that where there is arbitrariness, there is a denial of equality. This judgment reinforced that arbitrary actions by the state violate Article 14.
  • Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India (2018): In a historic judgment, the Supreme Court decriminalized consensual homosexual acts between adults, stating that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code violated Article 14. This case was a significant step towards ensuring equality and non-discrimination for the LGBTQ+ community.

Recent Research and Latest Judgments:
  • Joseph Shine vs. Union of India (2018): This case led to the decriminalization of adultery in India. The Supreme Court ruled that Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized adultery, was unconstitutional as it violated Article 14. The court stated that the law was archaic, patriarchal, and infringed on the fundamental right to equality.
  • Shayara Bano vs. Union of India (2017): In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court declared the practice of instant triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat) unconstitutional. The court held that this practice violated Article 14 as it was arbitrary and discriminatory towards Muslim women.
Recent Research on Gender Equality and Article 14: A study published in 2023 by the Centre for Social Justice and Governance highlights the impact of Article 14 on gender equality in India. The research underscores the role of Article 14 in promoting women's rights, particularly in areas such as equal pay, workplace discrimination, and property rights. The study emphasizes the need for continued legal reforms and public awareness to bridge the gender gap effectively.
  • Impact on Indian Society: Article 14 has far-reaching implications for Indian society. It acts as a guardian against discrimination and arbitrary actions by the state. Whether it is in matters of employment, education, or access to public facilities, Article 14 ensures that every individual is treated equally.
  • Promoting Social Justice: The principle of equality has been instrumental in promoting social justice in India. Affirmative action policies, such as reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes, are justified under the broader umbrella of Article 14. These measures aim to uplift marginalized communities and ensure equal opportunities for all.
  • Gender Equality: Article 14 has also been a catalyst for gender equality. Progressive judgments and legislative measures inspired by this article have challenged patriarchal norms and promoted the rights of women. Whether it is the fight against gender-based violence or ensuring equal pay for equal work, Article 14 has been at the forefront of advocating for women's rights.
  • Challenges and the Way Forward: Despite its profound impact, the journey towards achieving absolute equality is ongoing. Discrimination based on caste, gender, religion, and economic status persists in various forms. The challenge lies in effectively implementing the principles enshrined in Article 14 and addressing systemic inequalities.
  • Strengthening Legal Frameworks: To overcome these challenges, there is a need for stronger legal frameworks and effective enforcement mechanisms. The judiciary, along with civil society, must continue to play an active role in upholding the principles of equality and justice.
  • Promoting Awareness: Public awareness and education about the rights guaranteed under Article 14 are crucial. Empowering citizens with knowledge about their rights can enable them to challenge discriminatory practices and seek redressal.
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution stands as a testament to India's commitment to equality and justice. It is a beacon of hope for millions, ensuring that every individual, irrespective of their background, is treated with dignity and respect. As India continues to evolve, the principles of Article 14 will remain central to the nation's quest for a just and equitable society.

Written By: Himasnshu Muniyal, 2nd Year Law Student - DAV PG College Dehradun, Uttarakhand
Email: [email protected]

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