This article is written by Manasvee Malviya, from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun. This article talks about weaker sections of society and the role of the constitution in uplifting the weaker sections.
In a democratic world, political freedom is meaningless without socio-economic freedom. Socio-economic freedom means providing economic justice, active participation with the reserved share for the upliftment of socially and economically backward classes including religious minorities through the schemes by the governmental and non-governmental organizations. The Constitution of India provides that no person should be discriminated against, based on race, sex, caste, and religion. The Indian Constitution guarantees equal status and opportunity to all citizens.
At the time of drafting the constitution, the makers faced many challenges; first, India is a caste-ridden society, thus entire population divided into sections/ communities; second, the makers have to safeguard and protect different religions, cultures, and languages of different sections of society and third, removing discrimination (it is the major reason for social suffering by weaker sections). The framers of the Constitution envisaged the principle of equality. Also, focused upon the development and welfare of the citizens in general. So that, every individual is at the same pace, resulting in the development of the nation. Thus, many amendments have been passed since the constitution came into effect to uplift the weaker section of the society. This article will discuss the weaker sections of the society and how the constitutional provisions help in the upliftment of the weaker sections.
The Indian society and weaker sections of the society
India is a caste-ridden society, where the majority of the population faces social inequality at some of the other points. From the beginning, social and educational inequalities can be found in society. For example, brahmins are considered to be the higher caste because they are advanced economically, educationally, and socially. Also, the zamindars were socially, economically, and educationally strong, the rest of the people working in the field or working for them were considered to be the weaker section/ backward class.
As of now, India is working to fill the gaps between the powerful and the weaker sections of society. Through implementing different government and non-government schemes.
What are weaker sections of society?
The term weaker section refers to a section of the population that is socially, economically, and politically behind the other sections of the population and has been experiencing various forms of inabilities as a result of their backwardness. The Government of India Act, 1935 defines “weaker sections” as class or classes of people who are suffering from educational and economic backwardness, as well as some aspects of social life, due to traditional customs of untouchability, tribal background, tribal way of life or other backwardness. Different resolutions of the Indian government have divided the weaker groups into three main categories:
- Scheduled castes
- Scheduled tribes
- Other backward classes
But this list is not exhaustive. Women, aged persons, disabled, sexual minorities are also deprived of the benefits and they are ill-treated. Thus, weaker sections that face discrimination include- women, scheduled castes(SC), scheduled tribes (ST), children, disabled, aged, poor migrants, sexual minorities, people suffering from HIV/AIDS, and other backward classes. The Constitution has provided provisions not only for SC/STs, backward classes but also for the other weaker sections of society.
Empowerment of weaker sections
Empowerment of the weaker sections can be more effective and efficient by empowering the neighbourhood individuals to take active participation in uplifting the weaker sections at the grass-root level. Empowerment of weaker sections includes general strengthening that is the instructive, monetary, political, and social strengthening of the weaker sections. For empowerment of the weaker sections, there are constitutional and statutory provisions available.
Constitutional provisions for the protection of weaker sections
Constitutional makers have provided different safeguards in the Constitution of India for the upliftment and protection of the weaker section of the society. They are as follows:
- Article 14 of the constitution provides for the equal protection of law and equality before the law. Therefore, irrespective of class every citizen has the right to be treated equally before the law.
- Article 15 prohibits discrimination based on disability, restriction, or the grounds of castes, religion, sex, or place of birth. Whereas nothing in this article will prevent the state to make special provisions and arrangements for the betterment of :
- The children and women [Article 15(3)].
- Socially and economically backward classes/ scheduled castes / scheduled tribe [Article 15(4) & Article 15(5)].
- Article 16 provides equal opportunities to all citizens in matters of employment or appointment of any office under the state. States can make special provisions related to the reservation, appointment for the backward classes, and the state has the authority to decide whether the person falls in the definition of backward classes. This provision helps to strengthen the weaker section in monetary terms.
- Article 17 abolishes untouchability and it is a punishable offence under the Protection of the Civil Rights Act, 1955.
- Article 19(5) provides that the state is allowed to restrict freedom of movement for the benefits of the Scheduled tribe.
- Article 21 provides that every person is entitled to the right to life and personal liberty except the procedure established by law. Irrespective of the castes, sex, religion, or place of birth everyone is entitled and they can’t be deprived of his life.
- Article 21A provides that all children between the age of 6 to 14 years are entitled to free and compulsory education.
- Article 24 prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in factories, mines, or any other hazardous employment. This article prohibits:
- Child labour
- Working in the construction industry
- Hazardous employment
- Article 25 provides that every person has freedom of conscience and they are entitled equally to profess, propagate and practise any religion. This freedom is subjected to public order, health and morality. Article 25(2)(b) provides that nothing in this article will prevent the state from making or it won’t affect any pre-existing law for providing social welfare and reform or tossing Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes.
- Article 29 protects the interest of minorities, any citizen residing in India having a distinct language or a culture. They have the right to conserve the culture/language/script of their own. Further, any citizen based on religion, race, or castes cannot be denied admission to any educational institution funded by the state.
- Article 30 minorities either based on religion or language have the right to establish and administer educational institutions.
- Article 38 states must ensure and promote the welfare of the people by promoting and securing as effectively as may be a social order and must act to minimize inequalities in terms of income, status, facilities, and opportunities available.
- Article 39 provides the policy which is to be considered by the states. Like, men and women are equally entitled to adequate means of livelihood, equal pay for equal work for men and women, the health of the worker, no abuse against youth, children are provided with the opportunity to develop healthily to secure, and no citizen must be forced out of economic necessity to pursue something which unsuited for their age or quality.
- Article 39A states must provide free legal aid to the people who can’t afford it because of economically weaker sections or due to some disabilities.
- Article 41 provides that the state has the power/capacity to make provisions within the economic limits to secure the right to education, the right to work, and the right to public assistance in certain cases. For this Article, certain cases include old age, disablement, sickness, or any other condition. The Supreme Court while interpreting this article in many cases held that the state must make effective provisions for securing the rights of the disabled and for the people suffering from other infirmities within the economic capacity of the state.
- Article 42 provides that the state must make provisions to secure any other hazardous employment in the just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. Protecting the employment of women during the maternity period.
- Article 46 under the Directive Principles of State Policy provides that the State must promote the educational and economic interests of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and the weaker sections of the society with due care. Also, the state must protect the SC, ST & weaker sections from exploitation and social injustice.
- Part XVI of the Constitution deals with special provisions relating to certain classes. This part provides political empowerment to the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other classes. Article 330 and Article 332 reserve seats for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the house of people and legislative assemblies of the state respectively. National Commission for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have been established under Article 338 and Article 338A respectively.
- Article 340 provides that the president has the authority to investigate the condition of socially and economically backward classes through appointing a commission to investigate.
Statutory provisions for the upliftment and development of the weaker section
Statutory provisions for the upliftment and betterment of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribe, and the backward classes are:
Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955
Because many untouchables began to feel deprived and lonely due to the practice of untouchability, the concept of equality in terms of untouchability was adopted under the Protection of Civil Rights. This Act exclusively covers the penalties that protect untouchables from discrimination. These provisions have contributed to reducing the gap between the upper and lower castes. It gives lower-caste persons the ability to exercise their rights and live a normal life alongside everyone else.
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
The Act was established to protect the marginalized communities against discrimination and atrocities. The Act prevented SC/ST from social disabilities and aimed to give a life of dignity, self-esteem, and life without fear, violence, and suppression from dominant communities.
National Commission of Scheduled Castes
The commission was established with the goal to protect Scheduled Castes and Anglo Indian communities from exploitation and promoting and protecting their social, educational, economic, and cultural interests. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes is governed by Article 338 of the Indian Constitution. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes is dealt with in Article 338A.
Scheduled castes suffer extreme social and economic backwardness due to the practice of untouchability. The government has implemented schemes for social, educational, and economical empowerment of the scheduled tribes. For example, the Scheme of Upgradation of Merit of SC Students was established to upgrade the merit of SC students in class 9th to 12th by providing educational facilities.
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
The Act protects the marginalized section of society against discrimination and atrocities. The act mentions various patterns of behaviour inflicting offences that break the self-esteem of the SC/ST. It includes denial of economic, social, and democratic rights, discrimination, and exploitation. Also, the Act establishes special courts and special public prosecutors to deal with offences against SC/ST.
The National Commission of Scheduled Tribes
The commission was established to safeguard the interest of scheduled tribes, promote socio-economic development and oversee various implementation of provisions in the interest of scheduled tribes under the constitution or any other law for time being in force. It is a constitutional body inserted by the 89th Constitutional Amendment Act under Article 338A.
The government is committed to the welfare and ensuring equal opportunities in education and employment for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Various schemes have been implemented particularly for the upliftment of scheduled tribes. For example, the National Overseas Scholarship for Scheduled Tribe Students, this scheme provides financial assistance on merit to ST students for pursuing higher studies in foreign universities.
Other Backward Classes
The National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993
The act lays down the remedy for protection and upliftment for the socially and educationally backward classes. The National Commission for Backward Classes was set up under the act. The commission is an outcome of Indra Sawhney & Ors v. Union of India (1992). The purpose of the commission is to bring social equality to society.
The National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation
NBCFDC is a non-profit organization regulated by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. NBCFDC works for the welfare of backward classes and promotes economic and developmental activities for the benefits of backward classes. Also, provides financial assistance to eligible backward classes for self-employment ventures and skill development training.
The possible future of the weaker sections of the society
It is the constitutional duty to protect the socially and economically weaker sections of society. The central and the state government are working endlessly for the development and upliftment of the weaker sections. In 2018, the 102nd Amendment Act gave constitutional status to the national commission for the backward classes; in 2019, the 103rd Amendment Act provided 10 % reservation for the economically to weaker sections of the society; and in 2020, the 104th Amendment Act extended the reservation of seat for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in Lok Sabha and state assemblies. Regardless of the preferential treatment given to the socially, educationally, and economically backward classes, a large part of India continues to remain backward.
Preferential treatment must be continued to raise the weaker sections from the backwardness. The constitution has provided many provisions regarding the upliftment of the weaker sections, and they have been utilizing the opportunities provided to the fullest. The weaker sections are combating all the educational and economic barriers faced by them but few are still suffering and the Covid pandemic has worsened the situation. Not only for the economically weaker section but also the general public. The nationwide lockdown imposed by the government has impacted the right to livelihood- to earn the basic necessity of life enshrined under Article 21. These restrictions have especially impacted the weaker sections to earn necessities of life. Therefore, it is the constitutional duty of the state to protect the weaker sections of society.
Over the past years, the government has effectively worked to protect, promote and uplift the weaker sections of the society and measures have been taken to fill the gap between the weaker populations and the remaining population. The empowerment of weaker sections of society has become an important point of discussion for politicians, policymakers, socialists, etc. Strengthening of the weaker sections involves social, educational, economic, and political strengthening. The state must be exceptionally careful while implementing the provisions related to instructive and monetary upliftment of the weaker population.
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