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ARTICLE 17: ABOLITION OF UNTOUCHABILITY IN INDIA

Indian Constitution establishes equality among all its citizens. Article 14 states that there should not be any discrimination among individuals on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth. The makers of the Constitution made such provisions to establish equality among individuals in society. Before independence, there were many malpractices in our society like Satipratha, Untouchability and etc. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and other officials wanted that our country should be completely free from Untouchability so they made separate Article 17 to overcome this practice and achieve the goal of equality among individuals.

ARTICLE 17

Article 17 abolishes Untouchability and its practice in any form. The practice of it will be considered an offense and will be punishable. The word Untouchability is defined nowhere in the Constitution. In the case of Jai Singh vs. Union of India and Devrajiah vs B. Padmana, Rajasthan High Court in the former and Madras High Court in the latter has defined the word Untouchability. In Article 17, the word Untouchability is written under inverted commas which means that the meaning of the word Untouchability should not be considered in its literal grammatical sense but should be understood by keeping the Indian society in mind. In Indian Society especially in Hindu Society, Untouchability is practiced for a long time. People were considered untouchables either because of their birth in a particular caste or community or because of their profession. In past, Shudras were considered untouchables. Article 17 constitutes an important part of the Right to Equality. It aims to establish social justice in society.

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IMPORTANT LAWS MADE BY THE GOVERNMENT

To protect the fundamental rights of citizens and to eradicate the practice of Untouchability, the government has made laws by exercising its power mentioned under Article 35.

The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955

The government made the Untouchability (Offenses) Act, 1955, which was later amended and a new act was introduced The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. This act provided many provisions to fight against Untouchability. This Act made provision of offenses against Untouchability being non-compoundable offenses. The law made it mandatory for a public servant to investigate every complaint. If he does not do his duty properly so he will be made a part of the abettor of the Act. Any preaching under this Act will be punishable.

Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

This Act made provisions for the prevention of atrocities against the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe. This Act made provision for the establishment of Special Courts for deciding cases related to offenses under this Act. Section 18 of this Act makes offenses under this Act non-bailable.

CASES

The State of Karnataka v. Appa Balu Ingale

In this case, respondents were sued because they had forcibly restrained the complainant from taking water from the newly dug-up borewell because he belonged to the community which was considered untouchable. There was a testimony given against the respondent by 4 Harijans. It was said in this case that the purpose of Article 17 is to establish those ethical and moral roots which have been lost by society because of blind and ritualistic conformity to cultural values. It was said that it aims to create equality for the Dalits with the general population. There should be a ban on caste and faith grounds. There should be an abundance of resources.

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State M.P. And Another v. Ram Krishna Balothia and Another

In this case, Apex Court held that Section 18 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act which makes offenses under this Act non-bailable offenses makes the Anticipatory bail provision not applicable to this Act.

Suhasini Baban Kate (Sou.) v. the State of Maharashtra

In this case, the complainant was thirty years old woman. Her credit has had no bad antecedents. She was a mother of three children the youngest one was one year old. The alleged occurrence occurred because of impulsive action and all of a sudden the alleged utterances were probably from the momentary rising in temper. She was detained for three years. As per the severity of the crime, it was considered unfair to bring her off to jail so she was released under the probation that has been served in the interests of justice, even if the mandatory term was of one month.

People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, AIR 1982

In this Court, it was said that if the rights provided under Article 17 be violated by any private individual then it is the responsibility of the State to take immediate action in this regard. It should be ensured that poor SC and ST people should not come to Court just for enforcing fundamental rights.

Safai Karamchari Andolan and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors.

In this case, a writ was filed under Article 32 by the Petitioners praying for the enforcement of the Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 by the Central Government, State Governments, and Union Territories. In this case, there were various directions issued by the Court which are:

  • Rehabilitation of all the manual scavengers.
  • Provision of giving scholarships to the children of scavengers
  • Providing one-time cash assistance to scavengers
  • One member of each family should be provided skills training to earn a livelihood
  • Other legal assistance needed by them
  • Provision for compensation for every sewer death
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PUNISHMENT FOR VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 17

The practice of Untouchability amounts to an offense and is punishable. There is a provision of punishment for six months of imprisonment or a fine of not more than Rs. 500.

CONCLUSION

The fight against Untouchability is very old and the makers of the Indian Constitution incorporated Article 17 to eradicate this malpractice from India. Mahatma Gandhi called the Untouchables ‘Harijans’ which means children of God. He worked for their liberation.

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