Right to equality is very important in a society like ours. The purpose of this right is to establish the rule of law where all the citizens should be treated equal before the law. It has five provisions (Articles 14-18) to provide for equality before law or for the protection of law to all the persons in India and also to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
(I) Equality before Law
Equality before the law, also known as equality under the law, equality in the eyes of the law, or legal equality, is the principle under which all people are subject to the same laws of justice (due process). Law also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, and justice. There is an old saying that 'All are equal before the law.’ The author Anatole France said in 1894, "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread."
The belief in equality before the law is called legal egalitarianism.
Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law." According to the United Nations, this principle is particularly important to the minorities and to the poor.
Thus, the law and the judges must treat everyone equally before the law regardless of their race, gender, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other characteristics, without privilege, discrimination, or bias.
Equality before the law is one of the basic principles of liberalism.
(ii) No Discrimination on the basis of Religion, Race, Caste, Sex or Place of Birth
1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them.
2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to-
(a) Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
(b) The use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of general public.
3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.
(iii) Equality of Opportunity to all Citizens in matter of Public Employment
(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.
(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent Parliament from making any law prescribing, in regard to a class or classes of employment or appointment to an office [under the Government of, or any local or other authority within, a State or Union territory, any requirement as to residence within that State or Union territory] prior to such employment or appointment.
(4) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class or citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.
[(4A) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which in the opinion of the States, are not adequately represented in the services under the State].
(5) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any law which provides that the incumbent of an office in connection with the affairs of any religious or denominational institution or any member of the governing body thereof shall be a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a particular denomination.
(iv) Abolition of Untouchability
Practising untouchability in any form has been made a punishable offence under the law. This provision is an effort to uplift the social status of millions of Indians who had been looked down upon and kept at a distance because of either their caste or the nature of their profession. But, it is really very unfortunate that despite constitutional provisions.
(v) Abolition of Titles
All the British titles like Sir (Knighthood) or Rai Bahadur which were given to the British loyalists during the British rule, have been abolished because they created distinctions of artificial nature. However, the President of India can confer civil and military awards to those who have rendered meritorious service to the nation in different fields. The civil awards such as Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri and the military awards like Veer Chakra, Paramveer Chakra, Ashoka Chakra are conferred.
Exceptions to Equality
The rule of equality before law is not absolute and there are constitutional and other exceptions to it.
These are mentioned below
1. The President of India and the Governor of States enjoy the following immunities (Article 361):
(i) The President or the Governor is not answerable to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of his office.
(ii) No criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President or the Governor in any court during his term of office.
(iii) No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the President or the Governor shall be issued from any court during his term of office.
(iv) No civil proceedings against the President or the Governor shall be instituted during his term of office in any court in respect of any act done by him in his personal capacity, whether before or after he entered upon his office, until the expiration of two months next after notice has been delivered to him.
2. No person shall be liable to any civil or criminal proceedings in any court in respect of the publication in a newspaper (or by radio or television) of a substantially true report of any proceedings of either House of Parliament or either House of the Legislature of a State (Article 361-A).
3. No Member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof (Article 105).
4. No member of the Legislature of a state shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof (Article 194).
5. Article 31-C is an exception to Article 14. It provides that the laws made by the state for implementing the Directive Principles contained in clause (b) or clause (c) of Article 39 cannot be challenged on the ground that they are violative of Article 14. The Supreme Court held that "where Article 31-C comes in, Article 14 goes out".
6. The foreign sovereigns (rulers), ambassadors and diplomats enjoy immunity from criminal and civil proceedings.
7. The UNO and its agencies enjoy the diplomatic immunity.