Protection Against Discrimination: The Indian Constitution & The Supreme Court’s Stand

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

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The Constitution of India, in its commitment to securing justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity, lays down several provisions that expressly prohibit discrimination. These provisions, combined with the interpretive power of the Supreme Court, have laid a solid foundation for protecting individuals against various forms of discrimination.

Constitutional Provisions Against Discrimination:

  1. Article 14: It guarantees “equality before the law” and “equal protection of the laws” to all persons within the territory of India.
  2. Article 15(1): It expressly prohibits the State from discriminating against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them.
  3. Article 15(2): No citizen can be subjected to any disability, liability, restriction, or condition on the use of public amenities on the grounds mentioned in Article 15(1).
  4. Article 15(3): It allows for special provisions to be made for women and children.
  5. Article 16: This Article provides for equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and prohibits discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence, or any of them.
  6. Article 17: It abolishes “untouchability” and forbids its practice in any form.
  7. Article 18: It prohibits titles, ensuring that there’s no discrimination based on titles of nobility which were prevalent in the colonial era.

Notable Supreme Court Judgments:

  1. State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952): The Court held that if a law doesn’t serve a reasonable purpose and discriminates, then it would be deemed unconstitutional. This case bolstered the idea that laws can’t be framed to discriminate against a particular section or group without a valid rationale.
  2. Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India (1992): Popularly known as the Mandal Commission case, the Court upheld the reservation for OBCs (Other Backward Classes) in public employment, but emphasized that the total reservation should not exceed 50%.
  3. Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018): In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality by reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The Court held that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a violation of fundamental rights.
  4. Anuj Garg v. Hotel Association of India (2008): The Court struck down a provision that prohibited women from working in establishments where liquor is consumed, stating that such a provision is based on stereotypical notions of gender and thus, discriminatory.
  5. Joseph Shine v. Union of India (2018): Decriminalizing adultery, the Court in this case held that treating adultery as an offence only for men, and considering women as the property of their husbands, is discriminatory and against the essence of equality.
  6. National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (2014): The Supreme Court recognized the rights of transgender individuals, marking a significant step against discrimination based on gender identity.

Conclusion:

The Indian Constitution, through its anti-discrimination provisions, has sought to foster a society where every individual, irrespective of their background or identity, is treated equally. The Supreme Court, over the years, has played a pivotal role in upholding these principles, continually expanding the scope of these protections to ensure that the spirit of the Constitution is realized in its fullest sense.