THE CONSTITUTIONAL ETHOS OF INDIA
Dr Vanapalli Venkat Rao,
Associate Professor and Head,
Department of Philosophy,
Maharajah’s College (Autonomous),
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with moral principles – ideas of right and wrong. But essentially being ethical means being honest. Ethics is a moral law of human conduct or behaviour considered from the point of view of good or evil. It is an action, which is morally good or morally evil. and also the If some behaviour is according to moral law, it is ethical. The constitution of India is a document which contains the board frame work of fundamental principals according to which the country will be governed.
The preamble to the Constitution of India is a brief introductory statement that Spell out the guiding principal of the document. The preamble states that India is a Sovereign, Socialist, Democratic Republic. The word “Socialist” were added in 1976by an amendment. The word “Sovereign” emphasizes that India has its own defined territory and is free of any foreign Power. In a democratic, republic the supreme power is vested in the citizens who vote for their representatives in fair and free elections. The power is not vested in a monarch or hereditary head of state. In a socialist state all decisions are made according to the wishes of the majority and according to established laws. In a secular country the government does not interfere in matters pertaining to religion. People of all religions have the right to practice their faith.
The Constitution of India is the world’s lengthiest written constitution and supreme law of India. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions, and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles, and the duties of citizens. It is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, containing 448 articles in 25 parts, with 12 schedules, 5 appendices and 98 amendments. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is widely regarded as the father of the Indian Constitution.
The Constitution follows parliamentary system of government and the executive is directly accountable to legislature. Article 74 provides that there shall be a Prime Minister of India as the head of government. It also states that there shall be a President of India and a Vice- President of India under Articles 52 and 63. Unlike the Prime Minister, the President largely performs ceremonial roles.
The Constitution of India is federal in nature. Each State and each Union territory of India have their own government. Analogues to President and Prime Minister, the Governor in case of States, Lieutenant Governor for Union territories and the Chief Minister. The 73 and 74th Amendment Act also introduced the system of Panchayati Raj in rural areas and Municipality in urban areas. Also, Article 370 of the Constitution gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Constitution was adopted by the India Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, and came into effect on 26 January 1950. The date of 26 January was chosen to commemorate the Puma Swaraj declaration of independence of 1930. With its adoption, the Union of India officially became the modern and contemporary Republic of India and it replaced the Government of India Act 1935 as the country’s fundamental governing document. To ensure constitutional autochthony, the framers of constitution inserted Article 395 in the constitution and by this Article the Indian Independence Act, 1947 was repealed. The Constitution declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavors to promote fraternity among them. The words “socialist” and “secular” were added to the definition in 1976 by constitutional amendment (mini constitution). India celebrates the adoption of the constitution on 26 January each year as Republic Day.
“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, have solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression,, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
In the Constitution of India, the Preamble (as amended in 1976) declares the State to be “Secular”, and this is of special relevance for the Religious Minorities. Equally relevant for them, especially, is the prefatory declaration of the Constitution in its Preamble that all citizens of India are to be secured “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and “equality of status and of opportunity.”
‘Fundamental Rights’ is a charter of rights contained in the Constitution of India. It guarantees civil liberties such that all Indians can lead their lives in peace and harmony as citizens of India. These include individual rights common to most liberal democracies, such as equality before law, freedom of speech and expression, and peaceful assembly, freedom to practice religion, and the right to constitutional remedies for the protection of civil rights by means of writs such as habeas corpus. Violation of these rights result in punishments as prescribed in the Indian Penal Code or other special laws, subject to discretion of the judiciary. The Fundamental Rights are defined as basic human freedoms which every Indian citizen has the right to enjoy for a proper and harmonious development of personality. These rights universally apply to all citizens, irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste or gender. Aliens (persons who are not citizens) are also considered in matters like equality before law. They are enforceable by the courts, subject to certain restrictions. The Rights have their origins in many sources, including England’s Bill of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man.
The seven fundamental rights recognized by the Indian constitution are:
- Right to equality, including equality before law, prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, gender or place of birth, and equality of opportunity in matters of employment, abolition of untouchability and abolition of titles.
- Right to freedom which includes speech and expression, assembly, association or union or cooperatives, movement, residence, and right to practice any profession or occupation (some of these rights are subject to security of the State, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality),right to life and liberty, right to education, protection in respect to conviction in offences and protection against arrest and detention in certain cases.
- Right against exploitation, prohibiting all forms of forced labour, child labour and traffic in human beings;
- Right to freedom of religion, including freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion, freedom to manage religious affairs, freedom from certain taxes and freedom from religious instructions in certain educational institutes.
- Cultural and Educational rights preserving Right of any section of citizens to conserve their culture, language or script, and right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
- Right to constitutional remedies for enforcement of Fundamental Rights.
- Right to elementary education.
Right to property was originally a fundamental right, but under 44th Amendment Act, right to property ceased to be a Fundamental right. Instead the right to property is mentioned under 300A of Indian Constitution, stating that no person can be deprived of his property save by law.
All people, irrespective of race, religion, caste or sex, have been given the right to move the Supreme Court and the High Courts for the enforcement of their fundamental rights. It is not necessary that the aggrieved party has to be the one to do so. Poverty stricken people may not have the means to do so and therefore, in the public interest, anyone can commence litigation in the court on their behalf. This is known as “Public interest litigation”. In some cases, High Court judges have acted on their own on the basis of newspaper reports.
These fundamental rights help not only in protection but also the prevention of gross violations of human rights. They emphasise on the fundamental unity of India by guaranteeing to all citizens the access and use of the same facilities, irrespective of background. Some fundamental rights apply for persons of any nationality whereas others are available only to the citizens of India. The right to life and personal liberty is available to all people and so is the right to freedom of religion. On the other hand, freedoms of speech and expression and freedom to reside and settle in any part of the country are reserved to citizens alone, including non-resident Indian citizens. The right to equality in matters of public employment cannot be conferred to overseas citizens of India.
Fundamental rights primarily protect individuals from any arbitrary state actions, but some rights are enforceable against individuals. For instance, the Constitution abolishes untouchability and also prohibits begar. These provisions act as a check both on state action as well as the action of private individuals. However, these rights are not absolute or uncontrolled and are subject to reasonable restrictions as necessary for the protection of general welfare. They can also be selectively curtailed.
The Supreme Court has ruled that all provisions of the Constitution, including fundamental rights can be amended. However, the Parliament cannot alter the basic structure of the constitution. Since the fundamental rights can only be altered by a constitutional amendment, their inclusion is a check not only on the executive branch, but also on the Parliament and state legislatures.
Fundamental rights for Indians have also been aimed at overturning the inequalities of pre-independence social practices. Specifically, they have also been used to abolish untouchability and thus prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. They also forbid trafficking of human beings and forced labour. They also protect cultural and educational rights of ethnic and religious minorities by allowing them to preserve their languages and also establish and administer their own education institutions.
- DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATEPOLICY
The Directive Principles of State Policy are guidelines to the central and state governments of India, to be kept in mind while framing laws and policies. These provisions, contained in Part IV of the Constitution of India, are not enforceable by any court, but the principles laid down therein are considered fundamental in the governance of the country, making it the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws to establish a just society in the country.
The principles have been inspired by the Directive Principles given in the Constitution of Ireland and also by the principles of Gandhism; and relate to social justice, economic welfare, foreign policy, and legal and administrative matters. The idea of such policies “can be traced to the Declaration of the Rights of Man proclaimed by Revolutionary France and the Declaration of Independence by the American Colonies.”
The Indian constitution was 1 also influenced by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, the directive principles of state policy in the Irish Constitution were looked upon by the people of India as an inspiration for the independent India’s government to comprehensively tackle complex social and economic challenges across a vast, diverse nation and population.
In 1928, the Nehru Commission composing of representatives of Indian political parties proposed constitutional reforms for India that apart from calling for dominion status for India and elections under universal suffrage, would guarantee rights deemed fundamental, representation for religious and ethnic minorities, and limit the powers of the government.
In 1931, the Indian National Congress adopted resolutions committing itself to the defense of fundamental civil rights, as well as socio-economic rights such as the minimum wage
and the abolition of untouchability and serfdom. Committing themselves to socialism in 1936, the Congress leaders took examples from the constitution of the erstwhile USSR, which inspired the fundamental duties of citizens as a means of collective patriotic responsibility for national interests and challenges.
When India obtained independence on 15 August 1947, the task of developing a constitution for the nation was undertaken by the Constituent Assembly of India, composing of elected representatives under the presidency of Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
While members of Congress composed of a large majority, Congress leaders appointed persons from diverse political backgrounds to responsibilities of developing the constitution and national laws. Notably, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar became the chairperson of the drafting committee, while Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel became chairpersons of committees and sub-committees responsible for different subjects.
The directive principles ensure that the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by promoting a social order in which social, economic and political justice is informed in all institutions of life.
Also, the State shall work towards reducing economic inequality as well as inequalities in status and opportunities, not only among individuals, but also among groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.
The State shall aim for securing right to an adequate means of livelihood for all citizens, both men and women as well as equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
The State should work to prevent concentration of wealth and means of production in a few hands, and try to ensure that ownership and control of the material resources is distributed to best serve the common good. Child abuse and exploitation of workers should be prevented. Children should be allowed to develop in a healthy manner and should be protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.
The State shall provide free legal aid to ensure that equal opportunities for securing justice is ensured to all, and is not denied by reason of economic or other disabilities.
The State shall also work for organization of village panchayats and help enable them to function as units of self-government. The State shall endeavour to provide the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, within the limits of economic capacity, as well as provide for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
The State should also ensure living wage and proper working conditions for workers, with full enjoymentofleisureandsocialandculturalactivities.Also,thepromotionof
cottage industries in rural areas is one of the obligations of the State. The State shall take steps to promote their participation in management of industrial undertakings.
Also, the State shall endeavour to secure a uniform civil code for all citizens, and provide free and compulsory education to all children till they attain the age of 14 years. This directive regarding education of children was added by the 86th Amendment Act, 2002. It should and work for the economic and educational upliftment of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other weaker sections of the society.
The directive principles commit the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health, particularly by prohibiting intoxicating drinks and drugs injurious to health except for medicinal purposes.
It should also organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines by improving breeds and prohibiting slaughter of cows, calves, other much and draught cattle. It should protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wild life of the country. This directive, regarding protection of forests and wildlife was added by the 42nd Amendment Act,1976.
Protection of monuments, places and objects of historic and artistic interest and national importance against destruction and damage, and separation of judiciary from executive in public services 301 are also the obligations of the State as laid down in the directive principles. Finally, the directive principles, in Article 51 ensure that the State shall strive for the promotion and maintenance of international peace and security, just and honorable relations between nations; respect for international law and treaty obligations, as well as settlement of international disputes by arbitration.
- Harold H. Titus and others, Ethics for Today, Eurasia Publishing House, Pvt. Ltd, 1966.
- Harold H. Titus and others, The Range of Ethics, Affiliated East-West Press Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi,1972.
- C. Sharma, Ethical Philosophies of India, George Allen & Wnwin Ltd,1965.
- Venkatarao .V and others, Ethics and Human Values, Telugu Akademi, Hyderabad, 2014.