Understanding Fundamental Rights for UPSC Preparation

The topic of fundamental rights is a very important portion of the polity section of the UPSC civil services. This topic is important from both the IAS prelims and IAS mains point of view.

Fundamental rights in the Indian Constitution

Originally in the Indian Constitution, there were seven fundamental rights. These included the Right to Property which was removed as a fundamental right by the 44th amendment in 1978. It was converted into a legal right under Article 300-A. Currently, there are six fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution. They are:

List of Fundamental Rights

I) RIGHT TO EQUALITY (ARTICLES 14-18):

Article 14: Equality before law.

Article 15: Prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Article 16: Equality of opportunities in matters of public employment.

Article 17: Abolition of Untouchability.

Article 18: Abolition of titles.

II) RIGHT TO FREEDOM (ARTICLES 19-22):

Article 19: Rights to freedom of speech and expression, assemble peacefully and without arms, form associations or unions, move freely throughout the territory of India, and practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Article 20: Protection in respect of conviction for offenses.

Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty.

Article 21A: Regarding obligation of the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6-14 years.

Article 22: Regarding protection against arrest and detention in certain cases.

III) RIGHT AGAINST EXPLOITATION (ARTICLES 23-24):

Article 23: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labor.

Article 24: Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc.

IV) RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION (ARTICLES 25-28):

Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion.

Article 26: Freedom to manage religious affairs.

Article 27: Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.

Article 28: Freedom as to attendance at religious instructions or religious worship in certain educational institutions.

V) CULTURAL AND EDUCATIONAL RIGHTS (ARTICLES 29-30):

Article 29: Protection of language, script, and culture of minorities.

Article 30: Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.

VI) RIGHT TO CONSTITUTIONAL REMEDIES (ARTICLE 32):

Article 32: right to move to the supreme court for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights including the Writs of (i) Habeas corpus, (ii) Mandamus, (iii) Prohibition, (iv) Certiorari and (iv) Quo warranto.

Nature of fundamental rights

First of all, it is important to understand the nature of fundamental rights. Why are they in place? Let us take an example. As a child, you would have been subject to certain rules and regulations in your house by your parents or guardians. You might have felt that these rules impinged on your freedom or personal space, especially in your teenage years. But your parents placed these rules taking into consideration your safety and well-being. These rules were put in place so that you would not be a danger to yourself or others. Fundamental rights are of a similar vein, in that the State, keeping in view any security concern can limit the freedom enjoyed by its citizens. If the government arrests its own citizens, and it is perceived as unjust, the citizens can take resort in the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Basically, the fundamental rights, together, is a weapon in the hands of the citizens to protect themselves from any abuse of power by the State. These rights act as a check on the powers of the government. The idea of the fundamental rights is central to the idea of a liberal democracy.

For example, the Supreme Court stated that transgenders should be included in the 2011 census as ‘others’ and not as either male or female. The court recognized the right of an individual to life (freedom rights) as the right to be recognized by the state also.

Why are fundamental rights called so?

Basically, there are two types of rights:

  1. Fundamental rights

These are more basic rights, more valuable and therefore, called fundamental rights. These can be called fundamental to an individual’s existence. They have a higher status than ordinary legal rights. Basic rights to existence, etc come under this category.

  1. Ordinary legal rights

These rights are also given to the citizens but are not deemed as basic or fundamental to a person’s existence. Example: Right to Work under NREGA. Certain ordinary legal or justiciable rights are derived from fundamental rights.

What makes fundamental rights different from other rights?

The difference between these rights is the manner in which they are enforced.

If a citizen is deprived of his/her ordinary legal right such as the right to work, he/she can approach the courts for restoring the same. But he should first approach the lower courts like the district court, then move to the high court and only finally the Supreme Court.

The government can also be forced to pay compensation to the injured party by the courts, in case of violation of ordinary legal rights.

However, if a fundamental right of a citizen is violated, the normal judicial machinery can be bypassed and the Supreme Court can be directly approached. This is where fundamental rights are different from other rights.

The Supreme Court is bound by the Constitution of India to restore fundamental rights. They are the guarantors of the fundamental rights as per Article 32 of the Constitution.

Model UPSC questions on fundamental rights:

  1. Discuss in what manner “Right to Equality” is guaranteed under Indian Constitution.
  2. Write a short note on abolition of titles.
  3. “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Comment.
  4. Explain the writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari.
  5. Why did Dr B R Ambedkar refer to the right to constitutional remedy as the ‘heart and soul’ of the Indian Constitution?

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