Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties

Rights are rules of interaction between people. They place constraints and obligations upon the actions of the state and individuals or groups. For example, if one has a right to life, this means that others do not have the liberty to kill him or her. Rights are defined as claims of an individual that are essential for the development of his or her own self and that are recognised by society or State.

These are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement and are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed to people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are often considered fundamental to civilisation, being regarded as established pillars of society and culture.

But the rights have real meaning only if individuals perform duties. A duty is something that someone is expected or required to do. Parents, for example, have a duty to take care of their child. You have duties towards your parents. A teacher has a duty to educate students. In fact, rights and duties are two wheels on which the chariot of life moves forward smoothly.

Life can become smoother if rights and duties go hand in hand and become complementary to each other. Rights are what we want others to do for us whereas the duties are those acts which we should perform for others. Thus, a right comes with an obligation to show respect for the rights of others. The obligations that accompany rights are in the form of duties. If we have the right to enjoy public facilities like transport or health services, it becomes our duty to allow others to avail the same. If we have the right to freedom, it becomes our duty not to misuse this and harm others.

Fundamental Rights

Rights are claims that are essential for the existence and development of individuals. Some of the most important rights are recognised by the State and enshrined in the Constitution. Such rights are called fundamental rights. 

These rights are fundamental because of two reasons. First, these are mentioned in the Constitution which guarantees them and the second, these are justiciable, i.e. enforceable through courts. Being justiciable means that in case of their violation, the individual can approach courts for their protection. If a government enacts a law that restricts any of these rights, it will be declared invalid by courts.

Such rights are provided in Part III of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution guarantees six fundamental rights to Indian citizens as follows:

  1. Right to equality
  2. Right to freedom
  3. Right against exploitation
  4. Right to freedom of religion
  5. Cultural and educational rights
  6. Right to constitutional remedies

While these fundamental rights are universal, the Constitution provides for some exceptions and restrictions.

Originally, there were seven Fundamental Rights in the Constitution. Besides the six rights, there was the Right to Property also. Since this Right created a lot of problems in the way of attaining the goal of socialism and equitable distribution of wealth, it was removed from the list of Fundamental Rights in 1978 by 44th constitutional amendment. However, its deletion does not mean that we do not have the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property. Citizens are still free to enjoy this right. But now it is just a legal right and not a Fundamental Right.

Right to Education (RTE)

The Right to Education is added by introducing a new Article 21A in the Chapter on Fundamental Rights in 2002 by the 86th Constitutional Amendment. It was a long standing demand so that all children in the age group of 6-14 years (and their parents) can claim compulsory and free education as a Fundamental Right. It is a major step forward in making the country free of illiteracy.

But this addition remained meaningless, as it could not be enforced until 2009 when the Parliament passed the Right to Education Act, 2009. It is this Act which aims at ensuring that every child who is between 6-14 years of age and is out of the school in India, goes to school and receives quality education, that is his or her right.

Fundamental Duties

In return for every right, the society expects the citizens to do certain things which are collectively known as duties. Some such important duties have been incorporated in the Indian Constitution also. The original Constitution enforced on 26th January, 1950 did not mention anything about the duties of the citizen. It was expected that the citizens of free India would perform their duties willingly. But things did not go as expected. Therefore, ten Fundamental Duties were added in Part-IV of the Constitution under Article 51-A in the year 1976 through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment.

However, whereas Fundamental Rights are justiciable, the Fundamental Duties are non-justiciable. It means that the violation of fundamental duties, i.e. the non-performance of these duties by citizens is not punishable. The following ten duties have been listed in the Constitution of India:

  1. To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag, National Anthem.
  2. To cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom.
  3. To uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.
  4. To defend the country and render national service when called upon to do.
  5. To promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.
  6. To value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.
  7. To protect and improve the natural environments including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife.
  8. To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.
  9. To safeguard public property and not to use violence.
  10. To serve towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity.

Besides, a new duty has been added after the passage of Right to Education Act, 2009. A parent or guardian has to provide opportunities for the education of his child or ward between the age of six and fourteen years.

Nature of Fundamental Duties

These duties are in the nature of a code of conduct. Since they are unjusticiable, there is no legal sanction behind them. A few of these duties are vague. For example, a common citizen may not understand what is meant by ‘composite culture’, ‘rich heritage’ ‘humanism’, or ‘excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activities’. They will realise the importance of these duties only when these terms are simplified.

A demand has been made from time to time to revise the present list, simplify their language and make them more realistic and meaningful and add some urgently required more realistic duties. As far as possible, they should be made justiciable.