Rights and Duties Follow Different Logic
Indian Constitution provides its citizens with Fundamental Rights and lists the Fundamental Duties to be followed by them.
Concept of Duties
- The Constitution covers a broad spectrum of domains to protect the common man's rights 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).
Concept of Rights
- As citizens, there is a wide range of duties that bind us to everyday life. These duties are owed both to the state and individuals.
- There is a legal duty to pay taxes, refrain from committing violence against fellow citizens, and follow other laws that Parliament has enacted.
- Breach of these legal duties triggers financial consequences (fines), or punitive measures like imprisonment.
- Duties 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.
Rights are formulated to ascertain twin principles viz. Anti-dehumanisation and Anti-hierarchy. This can be reflected in a chapter on Fundamental Rights in India's Constitution.
- Rights as a bulwark against dehumanisation:
- While deliberating on Fundamental Rights, frames of the Indian Constitution were of the view that every human being should have access to basic dignity and equality that can not be taken away from the State.
- The necessity for Fundamental Rights in India originated from the colonial regime experiences where Indians had been treated as subjects.
- For example, the colonial government declared some group of people as Criminal Tribes, who were treated as less than human.
- Rights as a stand against hierarchy:
- Indian society has been divided on gender, caste and religion.
- At a basic level, fundamental rights ensure the protection of all the citizens, not only from the State but from the social majorities as well.
- For example, through guarantees against forced labour, against "untouchability", against discriminatory access to public spaces, and others, fundamental rights sought to transform Indian society.
Does this suggest that duties are unimportant?
- As indicated above, duties exist in every sphere of society. However, it is the language of duties that can play an essential role in a society like India that continues to be divided and unequal.
- Any duty imposed upon the citizens must comply with due process of law.
- The concept of 'due process of law' holds that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property except following the explicit provisions of law and with due regard to his rights.
- Without the moral compass of rights and their place in the transformative constitutional scheme, duties' language can lead to unpleasant consequences.
- A good example of this is a Supreme Court judgment from the early 1980s, which upheld the differential treatment of male and female flight attendants on the ground that women had a "duty" to ensure the "good upbringing of children" and to ensure the success of the "family planning program" for the country.
In this light, it is always critical to remember Dr B.R. Ambedkar's words in the Constituent Assembly that the Constitution's fundamental unit remains the individual. Interpretation of 'Duties' and the debate around it should include the duties of those with power. Those with power should not use it to exploit those from whom they wield it. It is only after guarantee to all the whole sum of humanity, dignity, equality, and freedom promised by the Constitution, that we can ask of them to do their duty. Only after ensuring humanity, dignity, equality, and freedom for all, as promised by the Constitution, the burden of 'following the duties' should be imposed on the citizens.