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Equity in Action: Exploring Social Justice through Constitutional Mandates in India

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   27-Feb-2024 | Priyanka Todariya



World Social Justice Day, observed on February 20th each year, serves as a global reminder of the importance of promoting social justice and tackling inequality worldwide. This day underscores the need to address various social issues such as poverty, unemployment, gender inequality, social exclusion, and human rights violations. It emphasises the fundamental principles of fairness, equality, and solidarity, highlighting the imperative of creating a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

At the heart of the Indian Constitution lies a profound commitment to social justice, echoing the foundational principles articulated in its preamble. As "We, the people of India" solemnly resolved to constitute a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, the preamble serves as a beacon illuminating the necessity of social justice in the fabric of Indian democracy. It encapsulates the collective aspirations of a nation striving for equity, inclusivity, and progress.

Embedded within its words is a resounding call to action, urging the nation to uphold the ideals of socialism and democracy as indispensable pillars for addressing socioeconomic disparities and ensuring the welfare of all citizens. Indeed, the preamble stands as a testament to India's unwavering dedication to fostering a society where every individual enjoys equal rights, opportunities, and dignity, irrespective of their background or circumstances. This dedication finds resonance in the recent posthumous conferment of the Bharat Ratna upon Karpoori Thakur, a stalwart advocate for social justice and empowerment in India.

Significance of Social Justice in India

In a diverse society like India, social justice holds paramount significance as a cornerstone for fostering unity, equality, and progress. With its richness of cultures, languages, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds, India's diversity is both its strength and its challenge. Social justice serves as a powerful mechanism for mitigating inequalities, bridging divides, and promoting harmony among disparate communities. Equity in action in the Indian context encompasses a multifaceted approach towards addressing socioeconomic disparities and ensuring fairness, justice, and inclusivity for all citizens. It underscores the necessity of proactive measures to mitigate inequalities based on various factors such as caste, gender, religion, ethnicity, and economic status.

Constitutional Mandates for Social Equity

The Indian Constitution contains several constitutional mandates aimed at ensuring equality and promoting social justice in the country. These mandates are enshrined in various provisions, including fundamental rights, directive principles of state policy, and specific legislative measures. Here are some key constitutional mandates in the Indian Constitution to ensure equality:

1. Right to Equality (Article 14-18):

The Indian constitution provides the right to equality to ensure equal treatment and opportunities for all citizens, regardless of their background or social status, and promotes an egalitarian society.

  • Article 14 guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of laws to all persons within the territory of India.
  • Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth in matters of access to public places, educational institutions, and public employment.
  • Article 16 ensures equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, or residence.
  • Article 17 abolishes untouchability and prohibits its practice in any form.
  • Article 18 abolishes titles and prohibits the state from conferring titles except for military and academic distinctions.

These provisions collectively establish the right to equality as a fundamental principle in the Indian constitutional framework.

2. Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV, Articles 38-51):

Directive Principles of State Policy are not enforceable by courts but they provide a clear roadmap to the Indian state for governance. Few of them are mentioned below:

  • Article 38 directs the state to secure a social order for the promotion of the welfare of the people, ensuring social, economic, and political justice.
  • Article 39 directs the state to ensure that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to adequate means of livelihood, equitable distribution of resources, and ownership and control of the material resources of the community.
  • Article 46 directs the state to promote the educational and economic interests of SCs, STs, and other weaker sections of society and protect them from social injustice and exploitation. This directive principle emphasises the importance of affirmative action and welfare measures for marginalised communities.

3. Reservations and Affirmative Action:

Various provisions in the Indian Constitution provide for reservations in education, employment, and political representation for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) which aim to uplift historically marginalised groups by providing them access to education, employment, and political representation. These provisions are aimed at promoting social inclusion and ensuring equitable opportunities for marginalised communities. Here are the key provisions:

  • Article 15(4): This provision allows the state to make special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes, including SCs, STs, and OBCs. It enables the government to provide reservations in educational institutions for these communities to ensure their access to quality education.
  • Article 16(4): Article 16 ensures equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. Clause 4 of this article empowers the state to make reservations in government jobs for SCs, STs, and OBCs. It allows for the reservation of posts, promotion quotas, and relaxation of qualifying marks in recruitment examinations to facilitate the representation of these communities in public service.
  • Article 330 and Article 332: These articles provide for reservations in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies respectively. Article 330 reserves seats for SCs in the Lok Sabha, while Article 332 reserves seats for SCs and STs in the State Legislative Assemblies in proportion to their population in the respective constituencies.
  • Article 334: This article originally provided for the reservation of seats for SCs and STs in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies for a period of 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution (1950). It has been amended several times to extend the duration of these reservations.

4. Protection of Minorities:

  • Article 29 guarantees the protection of the interests of minorities by providing them with the right to conserve their distinct language, script, or culture.
  • Article 30 provides minorities, whether based on religion or language, with the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

5. Uniform Civil Code (Directive Principle):

  • Article 44 directs the state to endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India, aiming to promote equality and justice by replacing personal laws based on religion or custom with a common set of laws. Recently the Uttarakhand government's cabinet approved UCC in the assembly.

Conclusion

These constitutional provisions reflect the commitment of the Indian state to address social inequalities and promote the socio-economic advancement of marginalised communities through affirmative action and reservations. They play a crucial role in ensuring the representation, participation, and empowerment of SCs, STs, and OBCs in various spheres of public life, thereby fostering a more inclusive and equitable society.

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