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Insights into Editorial: Rights, duties and the Constitution

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Introduction:

Indian Constitution provides its citizens with the Fundamental Rights and lists the Fundamental Duties to be followed by them. The Constitution covers a broad spectrum of domains to protect the rights of the common man by introducing six rights as Fundamental Rights (Part III of the constitution). Similarly, the Fundamental Duties are also emphasised upon by the Constitution (Part IVA of the constitution). Gandhi equated freedom with self-rule because he wished to build into the concept of freedom the notion of obligation to others as well as to oneself, while retaining the element of voluntariness that is the very basis of freedom. The notion of self-rule implies the voluntary internalization of our obligation to others which will be obstructed by our placing ourselves at the mercy of our selfish desires.

42nd Amendment Act, 1976:

  1. At the height of the Emergency, Indira Gandhi’s government enacted sweeping changes to the Constitution, through the 42nd Amendment.
  2. These changes were intended to entrench the supremacy of the government, permanently muzzle the courts, and weaken the constitutional system of checks and balances which was designed to avoid concentration and abuse of power.
  3. Due to the large number of amendments this act has brought to the Indian Constitution, it is also known as ‘Mini-Constitution.’
  4. Through the 42nd Amendment, Preamble: Words ‘Socialist’, ‘Secular’ and ‘Integrity’ added.
  5. Article 51A: 10 Fundamental Duties added for the citizens. (The Fundamental Duties of citizens were added upon the recommendations of the Swaran Singh Committee that was constituted by the government in 1976).
  6. DPSPs: Four new DPSPs were added to the existing list of DPSPs:
  7. To secure opportunities for the healthy development of children (Article 39)
  8. To promote equal justice and to provide free legal aid to the poor (Article 39 A)
  9. To take steps to secure the participation of workers in the management of industries (Article 43 A)
  10. To protect and improve the environment and to safeguard forests and wildlife (Article 48 A)
  11. And in the Amendment’s Statement of Objects and Reasons, one line stands out: “It is also proposed to specify the fundamental duties of the citizens and make special provisions for dealing with anti-national activities.

Webs of duties:

  1. The first thing to note is that as citizens, there exists a wide range of duties that bind us in everyday life. These duties are owed both to the state, and to other individuals.
  2. We have a legal duty to pay our taxes, to refrain from committing violence against our fellow-citizens, and to follow other laws that Parliament has enacted.
  3. Breach of these legal duties triggers financial consequences (fines), or even time in jail.
  4. At any given time, therefore, we are already following a host of duties, which guide and constrain how we may behave.
  5. This is the price that must be paid for living in society, and it is a price that nobody, at least, in principle, objects to paying.
  6. Our duties and the consequences we bear for failing to keep them therefore exist as a self-contained whole.
  7. They follow a simple logic: that peaceful co-existence requires a degree of self-sacrifice, and that if necessary, this must be enforced through the set of sanctions.

Constitution will lose importance if fundamental rights not protected, says SC:

Fundamentals rights such as right to life and equality and freedom of speech enshrined under the Constitution are enforceable against the State and its instrumentalities and the private parties, performing state actions, have been taking the plea that they cannot be held accountable for breach of such rights of the citizens. The Constitution will lose its importance, if there are no redressal for the violation of fundamental rights (of citizens) by private parties performing government functions. With the progress in the society, the role of the state has shrunk and the government authorities have lesser roles in our lives and our jurisprudence has to change accordingly.

Rights and Duties Go Hand in Hand:

  1. Mahatma Gandhi in Hind Swaraj observed that “Real rights are a result of the performance of duty”.
  2. The CJI also referred to “incredible technological advancement” and said now the entire world was interconnected and a small change in one corner of the world can result in changes in different parts of the world.
  3. Rights and duties are closely related and cannot be separated from one another. For every right, there is a corresponding duty.
  4. The State protects and enforces rights and it is the duty of all citizens to be loyal to the state. Thus, a citizen has both Rights and Duties.
  5. Terming India as “a melting pot of myriad cultures and traditions”, the CJI said, “We have assimilated legal cultures of all the civilisations that have come to our shores – the Mughals, the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and finally the English.

Conclusion:

Democracy is very fragile and it depends on the “faith of public on the system” and “the law of contempt is used not for protection of an individual but for protecting the public faith in an institution”. Government investment will have to recognize and address the changing needs of citizens over their entire lifetimes, provide platforms to help them get the resources and make the connections they need, and see a whole set of public goods created by the sum of their deliberately many parts. Without the moral compass of rights and their place in the transformative Constitutional scheme the language of duties can lead to unpleasant consequences. It can end up entrenching existing power structures by placing the burden of “duties” upon those that are already vulnerable and marginalised. It is for this reason that, at the end of the day, the Constitution, a charter of liberation, is fundamentally about rights. It is only after guarantee to all the full sum of humanity, dignity, equality, and freedom promised by the Constitution, that we can ask of them to do their duty.