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This article is written by Ilashri Gaur, a law student pursuing B.A LLB (Hons.) from Teerthanker Mahaveer University (CLLS). This is an exhaustive article dealing with the concept of civil rights and related provisions.

                  ‘’If untouchability lives, humanity must die’’ – Mahatma Gandhi

Introduction

Indian society has suffered social injustice for centuries due to the caste system. Although the system was initially set up for the purpose of division of labour, it soon turned into one that promoted discrimination by the higher castes against the lower caste. If we talk about the traditional social laws of Hindu society the untouchables could not use public places, ponds, pools, parks, wells, etc. They were not allowed to go to Hindu temples, places of worship, and use roads, vehicles, schools, and public convenience. Earlier, society consisted of 4 varnas:

  • Brahmins;
  • Kshatriyas;
  • Vaishya;
  • Shudras.

The social discrimination went to such an extent that their shadows were considered as imminent pollutants and hence they were branded as untouchables. With all the above-said disabilities life had been miserable for scheduled castes. In order to tackle the problem of untouchability, the Constitution of India contains various provisions which provide protection to the untouchables.

Civil Rights in the United States

Civil Rights are the landmark law in the United States. Civil rights are the rights that are proposed to protect the rights of individuals from unfair treatment and provide equal treatment. Discrimination occurs when the rights of the individual are denied or interfered with because of the individual’s membership in a particular group or class. 

Due to such discrimination, the government pass laws aimed at helping people who are suffering from discrimination. The Protection of Civil Rights came into being and many amendments have taken place which are explained as follows.

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution constituted the largest expansion of civil rights in the history of the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment banned involuntary slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment made it illegal for the State to pass any law which curtails the privileges of the citizens of the US. The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits any State of the US to refuse a citizen to vote on the basis of that person’s colour, race, or previous condition of slavery.

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Civil Rights in India

The Civil Rights in India include rights regarding equality before the law, freedom of speech, freedom of expression regarding religious and cultural freedom, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. Section 2 of the Protection of the Civil Rights Act, 1955 lays down the definition of civil rights. This act prescribes punishments for the practice of untouchability for the enforcement of any disability arising from and for matters connected therewith and vice-versa. After the suffering of many years, the introduction of civil rights took place in India which in the beginning did not change anything but with the passage of time changes took place. 

What is the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA)?

It is a federal law. Indian tribal governments cannot pass such laws that violate certain individual rights. It is similar to that of the US Constitution that guarantees personal freedom against federal government actions.

What rights does ICRA provide to individuals?

The rights provided by IRCA are:

  • Freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.
  • Freedom from unreasonable search and seizures.
  • Freedom from prosecution more than once for the same offense.
  • Equal protection of law and freedom of liberty or property without due process of law.
  • Freedom from excessive bail, excessive fine, and cruel or unusual punishments.

How is ICRA different from the Constitution Bill of Rights?

  • ICRA’s guarantee of free exercise of religion which does not stop a tribe from establishing a religion.
  • ICRA guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a lawyer at the defendant’s own expense.

Civil Rights under Indian Constitution

The Indian Constitution contains provisions for the right to equality in Article 14 to 18. These articles deal with equality on the basis of religion, opportunity in public employment, equal pay for work and abolishment of untouchability. Article 17 of the Indian Constitution has abolished the act of untouchability and its practice in any form is banned. ‘’Untouchability’’ is an offense which is punishable in accordance with the law. The Untouchability Act, 1955 was enacted by the Parliament under Article 35(a)(ii) of the Constitution. This Act was amended by the Untouchability Amendment and Miscellaneous Provision Bill, 1972 which was passed by the parliament and enforced with effect from 1976, which has been renamed as Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.

Let us understand Article 17 in detail.

Article 17- Abolition of Untouchability

Under the Indian Constitution’s Article 17, untouchability has been abolished. This article states that the practice of untouchability in any form is prohibited and the offense of untouchability is punishable under the protection of Civil Rights. This Article applies to all the citizens of India.

Cases regarding the same:

In this case, it was held that Appa Balu and four others were tried for the offense under Section 4 and Section 7 of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. The court sentenced them to simple imprisonment for one month with a fine. Appu was further convicted but no separate sentence was awarded to him. The Additional session judge on the appeal convicted and sentenced Appu, Shankar and Rajaram. However, the learned judge allowed the appeal of the other two convicts and acquitted them. Against the judgement, Appu and the other two went for revision before the High Court. However, after all this, Appu died and the appeal against him had thus abated.

The charge against the respondents was restrained and the trial court and the appellate court reached the finding that the charge against the respondent was proved beyond the reasonable doubt.

Salient features of the protection of the Civil Rights Act

  • The Amendment Act has tightened the provisions to remove untouchability. All untouchability offenses which were considered within the jurisdiction of the court will now be treated as non-compoundable offences and if the punishment does not exceed three months imprisonment can be tried instantly.
  • The punishment for the untouchability offenses has been enhanced to a fine as well as imprisonment and for further default, the punishment will be extended. For the third and subsequent offenses, the punishment may increase from one-year imprisonment with a fine of Rupees 500 to two years of imprisonment with the fine of Rupees 1000.
  • To any form of punishment, courts have the power to cancel or suspend the licenses of any profession, trade, employment, in terms of which the offense has been committed for as much as the time they seem fit.
  • One of the important characteristics of this Act is that public servants who willfully show negligence in the investigation of any offense will be punishable under this Act. The Act shows surveys and studies for determining the areas where untouchability is practised, setting up committees for implementing the Act.
  • The places of worship along with the lands and apartments which are privately owned are allowed by the owners to be used as places of public worship.
  • The direct and indirect preaching of untouchability and its justification has been made a ground to commit an offense.
  • Forcing any person to do sweeping has also been made punishable.
  • The State Governments have been given the power to impose fines locally of any area who are worried and help the commission to commit untouchability offences.
  • One of the features is also that the Central Government will coordinate with the State Government for the implementation of the provisions of the Act.
  • The Government of India has also asked the State Governments to provide statistical and other information about the number of cases dealt by them under this Act along with the detailed information regarding the steps taken by them for the proper implementation of the provision of the Act.

Provision of Protection of Civil Rights

Due to the practice of untouchability, many untouchables started feeling deprived, isolated due to which the concept of equality in terms of untouchability under the Protection of Civil Rights was introduced. This act only deals with the provisions of punishment which protect untouchables from any kind of discrimination. 

There are certain provisions for the protection of civil rights. The sections which provides punishment are:

  • Section 3: It says that whosoever will prevent any person from entering the public worshipping place or performing any religious services then the punishment for the term not less than one month and not more than six months and also a fine of not less than one hundred rupees and not more than five hundred rupees will be given.
  • Section 4: It says that whosoever on the basis of untouchability force any person with any condition with regard to enter in any shop, public restaurant, hotel or place of entertainment any also restrain with the use of utensils, and other things kept in Dharamshala, public restaurant, or to use of any stream, river, tanks, etc then the punishment will be given of imprisonment for a term not less than one month and not more than six months and a fine of not less than one and rupees and not more than five hundred rupees.
  • Section 5: It says that whosoever will refuse to enter in the hospital, dispensary, educational institution or any hostel which is for public use will be punished with the imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than six months and with a fine of not less than one hundred rupees and not more than five hundred rupees.
  • Section 6: It says that whosoever will refuse to sell goods and to render services to any person on the ground of untouchability will be punished with imprisonment for not less than one month and not more than six months and will also pay fine.
  • Section 7: It says that whosoever will prevent any person from exercising the rights of Article 17 or molest, cause injury, annoy, insult, or attempt to insult any person by the reason of exercising the rights related to the abolition of untouchability will be punishable with imprisonment and fine. It was also said that if any person refused any person to use or occupy any house or land and for work or business, or abstain from social, professional, or business relationship then he would be punished with imprisonment and fine.
  • Section 7A: It says that if any person forces other on the ground of untouchability to be subject to slavery, practice sweeping or to force any person to remove the skin of animals or other jobs similar to that will be punished with the imprisonment of not less than three months and not more than six months and with the fine of not less than one hundred rupees and not more than five hundred rupees.

                   

Importance of these Provisions

As with the increase in the practice of untouchability, it was necessary to bring about some change and these provisions have helped a lot in removing the differences between the castes even though it is still practised in some places. These provisions have helped to reduce the gap between the upper caste and lower caste. 

It provides rights to the people of lower caste to exercise their rights and live a normal life like everyone else. The practice of untouchability makes them feel so isolated, degraded and violated and the people of higher caste treat them with an inhuman manner which was having a bad impact on society. With the introduction of this Act, this has ended.

Conclusion

The Protection of Civil Rights Act is not an easy legislation to accept by the people even though it makes a change in the society at large. Now, most of the people don’t compare themselves with others on the basis of caste but they do compare on the basis of class. But still, there are people who even know do the same but This concept changes the thinking of the people and the implementation by the government makes a real difference as compared to earlier times. It is necessary to be together because united we can make a change for our country.


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