A Quick guide to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution

Last year India celebrated it’s 75th Independence Day. We were born into an independent India but our forefathers still lived the agony of colonial discrimination. These were on various basis like gender, caste, religion, etc. To eradicate this kind of discriminations, various provisions were made in the Indian Constitution. And one of the most Important among these is the Article 14.

In it’s broadest sense, Article 14 can be understood as ‘Right To Equality’. However this is very superficial understanding. There are various components in this. Let us look at Article 14 in detail along with some important case laws.

To begin with, let us understand what Article 14 is regarding. The constitution says, “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”. This was the statement of the Article. However, it is not only limited to this. It has following components. 

  • Equality before law
  • Equal protection of law.
  • Rule of Law 

Let us look at each of these concepts in detail. 

Equality before law

 The principle of equality before law, derived from the constitution of England, asserts that every person is considered equal in the eyes of the law, regardless of their social status. It means that every individual in society should receive equal treatment, and the same punishment should be imposed for the same offense committed by anyone.

This principle prohibits discrimination based on factors such as wealth, caste, color, race, and others. It ensures that the state does not provide special privileges or advantages to any particular person. Equality before law is also known as legal equality, as it emphasizes the equal application of laws to all individuals without any favoritism or bias.

Equal Protection of Law 

 The concept you’re referring to is derived from the constitution of the United States of America and is known as the principle of equal protection of law. According to this doctrine, the state has a responsibility to ensure that its citizens have equal opportunities.

The essence of this principle is that individuals who are equals should be treated equally by the state. In other words, it emphasizes that there should be no distinction between those who are equal, and therefore, the state should adopt measures of positive discrimination.

Positive discrimination refers to socio-economic steps taken to improve the condition of specific sections of society. An example of positive discrimination is the reservation system, which aims to provide opportunities and uplift marginalized communities. The principle of equal protection of law recognizes the need to address historical disadvantages and promote equality by implementing measures that rectify social imbalances.   

Rule of Law

Article 14 of our Constitution encompasses the principle of the rule of law. The term “rule of law” finds its origins in the French phrase ‘La Principe de Legalite,’ which signifies the governance of a state based on the principles of equality and justice.

It serves as a fundamental principle within a democratic system, opposing any form of arbitrariness. The core idea behind the rule of law is that a democratic society should function in accordance with established laws, rather than being subject to the whims of individuals.

This concept, known as the Magna Carta, was elucidated by Professor Dicey and consists of three essential elements:

  • Supremacy of law: According to Professor Dicey, the rule of law entails the absolute supremacy of the law. It dictates that every individual, ranging from an ordinary citizen to a government minister, must abide by the sacred Constitution. Moreover, no person should face prosecution unless a violation of the law has occurred and is proven in a court of law.
  • Equality before the law: As discussed earlier, this principle necessitates that the law applies equally to all individuals, without any special privileges based on wealth, caste, sex, race, or other factors. The law should treat everyone with impartiality.
  • Dominance of the legal spirit: The term “legal spirit” represents the pursuit of justice. It emphasizes that the law should consistently uphold the principle of justice, ensuring that no individual is deprived of their life and liberty without due process. The rights of individuals should be accorded due importance and protection.

Doctrine of Legitimate expectation

The doctrine of legitimate expectation is a legal principle that aims to protect individuals’ reasonable expectations and reliance on the actions or promises of a public authority. It is derived from the principles of administrative law.In essence, the doctrine holds that if a public authority has made a clear and unambiguous representation or promise to an individual or group, and that representation or promise creates a legitimate expectation, the individual or group has a right to rely on that expectation.

This means that the public authority is generally bound to act in accordance with the expectation and cannot act in a manner that frustrates or contradicts it. The doctrine is based on the principles of fairness, good governance, and the rule of law.

It seeks to prevent public authorities from arbitrarily or unfairly reneging on their commitments or promises, and to ensure that individuals are treated fairly and reasonably in their dealings with the government.

What is Reasonable Classification under Article 14 of Constitution ? 

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to equality, and within this context, the concept of reasonable classification plays a crucial role in determining the constitutionality of laws or policies that create differential treatment among individuals or groups. The Supreme Court of India has developed the doctrine of reasonable classification through its interpretations of Article 14.

According to Indian jurisprudence on Article 14, a classification will be deemed reasonable and valid if it satisfies several tests. Firstly, there must be an intelligible differentia, meaning that there must be a reasonable basis for distinguishing the individuals or things included in the group from those who are excluded. The differentia should have a rational nexus with the objective sought to be achieved by the law.

Secondly, there must be a rational relation between the basis of classification and the intended objective of the law. The classification should not be arbitrary or capricious; instead, it should have a logical connection to the purpose of the law.

Thirdly, the classification should serve the public interest or promote the common good. It should be aimed at achieving legitimate state purposes, such as maintaining public order, safeguarding public health, promoting social welfare, or ensuring administrative efficiency.

Lastly, the classification should adhere to the principle of proportionality. It should not be excessive or disproportionate to the intended objective of the law. The means employed should be reasonable and necessary, striking a balance between the interests of the state and the rights of the individuals affected.

Landmark Cases of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution

 1. Vishaka and others v/s State of Rajasthan 

The case of Vishaka & others v. State of Rajasthan[1] addresses the          issue of workplace sexual harassment against women. This landmark judgment, decided by the Supreme Court, holds significant importance in the history of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome and non-consensual sexual favors or gestures from one gender to another, causing feelings of humiliation, offense, and insult to the victim. Instances have been observed where individuals of the same sex engage in harassment, such as homosexual co-workers harassing someone of their own gender.

In India, sexual harassment, commonly known as “Eve Teasing,” encompasses acts such as making derogatory comments, unwanted physical contact, soliciting sexual favors, sharing explicit content, and defaming individuals based on their gender. These actions violate women’s fundamental right to gender equality (Article 14) and their right to live a dignified life (Article 21) as per the Indian Constitution. Despite the absence of specific provisions for workplace sexual harassment, it is still considered a serious infringement. 

Held:

Chief Justice J.S. Verma, alongside Justices Sujata Manihar and B.N. Kripal, delivered the judgment in the Vishakha case. The case originated from a writ petition filed by the victim, Vishakha. The court observed that the fundamental rights enshrined in Article 14, Article 19(1)(g), and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantee a safe working environment for employees in every profession, trade, or occupation. It was emphasized that this right is essential to protect the right to life and the right to live with dignity. Therefore, ensuring a safe working environment became a fundamental requirement at workplaces     

2. Shayara Bano vs. The Union of India

 In a decision favoring Shayara Bano and others, a five-judge bench     of the        Supreme Court declared the practice of Triple Talaq unconstitutional by a 3:2 majority. The court directed the legislature to take action against this practice to prevent its abuse against women. It was emphasized that while the practice of Triple Talaq is predominantly followed by the Hanafi School, it is considered sinful. The court noted that several other Muslim countries have already abolished this practice, as it lacks sanction from the Quran and was not endorsed or followed by the Prophet. The court held that Triple Talaq violates fundamental rights protected under Part III of the Constitution. 

Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution: 

The petitioner in this case argued that the practice of triple talaq, also known as instantaneous talaq, violates fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. The primary argument was based on Article 14 of the Constitution, which ensures equality for all citizens, and Article 15, which prohibits discrimination based on factors such as caste, creed, religion, race, and gender. The petitioner contended that husbands had the unrestricted right to exercise instantaneous talaq, while women were denied the same right. This gender disparity was seen as discriminatory and contrary to the principles of equality

Leave a Reply