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Significance of Article 14 of Indian Constitution

Posted by Admin on July 18, 2014 | Comment

After the Supreme Court gave its verdict on Sharia courts stating that they have no legal authority and their decisions are not legally binding, the discussions on fundamental rights gained momentum. The court had categorically mentioned that fatwas must not violate the rights of individuals guaranteed by law. In this context, people should be reminded and made aware of the Article 14 in the Constitution of India.

Significance of Article 14 of Indian Constitution

What is Article 14 of Indian Constitution?

According to Article 14, “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. While the concept of “equality before the law” was borrowed from the Common Law upon which English Legal System was founded, the phrase “equal protection of laws” has its link with the American Constitution.

Both the phrases advocate “equality to status and of opportunity.” In fact, “equal protection of laws” also emphasises on equal treatment under equal circumstances. Thus, Article 14 stands against any arbitrary or discriminatory laws passed by legislatures. Whenever there’s arbitrariness in the State action, an individual can fall back on Article 14.

Article 14 also takes into consideration the fact that not all laws must be generic in nature and not same laws are applicable to all persons. Hence, it has the provision of treating different individuals differently if circumstances demand so. Although it allows “reasonable classification” of individuals, objects, and transactions to achieve specific ends, it prohibits “class legislation” which adopts a discriminatory approach by “conferring particular privileges upon a class of persons.”

Violation of Article 14 in Indian States

Be it the sharia courts or the khap panchayats (caste council), the rulings of these extra-constitutional bodies have been invariably regressive. For that matter, rulings of judicial bodies of all religions often tend to rob an individual of his fundamental rights. Under the garb of obeying religious laws, these authorities try to impose restrictions on personal freedom.

The problem that’s visible to naked eye is the proliferation of various personal laws, which are exploited by the heads of these local bodies. There had been several occasions when panchayats have pronounced judgments that are unconstitutional. Instances such as honour killings and female foeticide are country-wide phenomena which not only damage the concept of “equal protection of laws” but also perpetrate human rights violations.

The importance of Article 14 seems to have eroded gradually with the emergence of an alternate judicial system with a medieval mindset. The only silver lining is the fact that the Indian judiciary has consistently disapproved of these extra-constitutional entities and their pronouncements.

Uniform Civil Code is the Way Ahead

‘Selective secularism’ is what we presently witness in India. That is primarily because of the parallel existence of constitutional and religious laws. The apex court has often advocated the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code, which the states have failed to implement. For those who apprehend, the code doesn’t intend to limit the freedom of people to practise their religion, but proposes a discipline for all citizens of India to follow the same laws irrespective of their religion, caste, sex and other differentiating factors.

As some of the women’s organisations had pointed out time and again, personal laws of different communities are all gender-biased. If Uniform Civil Code comes into place, the notion of “equality before the law” might come true. Instead of letting old religious rules condemn women to suppression, the government should work towards enactment of the code to ensure women get equal treatment in any court of law.

If the ultimate aim is to have universal applications of the law of the land to ward off injustice, then Uniform Civil Code should become a reality. In that case, significance of Article 14 is likely to be diminished or rendered irrelevant.

Reference: Media Reports