This article is written by Shiwangi Singh, a law student from Banasthali University. This article talks about basic human rights as well as how a human right gets converted into a civil right. It deals with various civil rights movements held in India and how legislation was introduced for civil rights violations.

it has been published by Rachit Garg.


To lead a meaningful and dignified life, one needs to get access to certain rights so that they can carry out their basic actions and fulfil their demands and needs which are required for their survival. One is always entitled to use certain rights, and this entitlement is known as human rights. Human rights can be defined as moral entitlements that are applicable and available to every human being by virtue of their human condition, irrespective of their origin, nationality, caste, or gender. Some rights can never be snatched away from anybody, which are naturally given to people, naturally born rights. No matter how superior someone is, they can never cut off someone from using these rights.

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What are civil rights 

Civil rights are the protections and privileges of personal power and rights given to all citizens by law. Civil rights are the rights that are bestowed by the nation on its citizens who are within its territorial boundaries. When the government or the state gives their will to bring certain human rights into action and provides them with a legal authorization, then that right is said to be a civil right. These rights ensure equal opportunities for everyone, irrespective of their race, religion, or gender. Civil rights vary from time to time and they also differ from place to place because different places have different forms of administration, and therefore, rights are suitably provided to them.

Philosopher John Locke argued that natural rights to life, liberty, and property should be converted into civil rights and protected by the sovereign state. Other philosophers have argued that people acquire rights as an inalienable gift from the deity and at a time when nature was formed before the government could start to rule.

Civil rights are a set of laws established by law that protect the freedoms of individuals from being wrongly denied or limited by governments, social organisations, or other private individuals. Examples of civil rights include the rights of people to work, study, eat, and live where they want. Turning a customer away from a restaurant solely because of his or her race is a civil rights violation.

Human rights and civil rights hold some differences, like:

  • Human rights are basic fundamental rights that one has simply because one is a human being, but a civil right arises under citizenship in a particular nation or state by a legal grant to a specific right.
  • Civil rights are born from the constitution or laws of the country, while human rights are universal to all human beings.
  • International organisations which work for the protection of rights across the globe and security are less likely to take any action against civil rights violations in a particular nation but are more likely to take action against human rights violations.
  • Civil rights can be different in different nations as granted by the government but human rights are universal in all countries.

Timeline on the history of civil rights around the world


  • The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the segregation of ‘black people’ in graduate and law schools.


  • Linda Brown, an 8-year-old girl from Topeka Kansas had to travel a long distance for schooling even though a school was present in close vicinity but it was only for whites, due to segregation she had to travel a longer distance. After this, her father sued the school board of Topeka and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
  • The Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954, and stated that school segregation is unconstitutional and “separate but equal” schools are inherently unequal. It mentioned that racial segregation in public schools violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the states from denying equal protection of the laws to any person within their jurisdictions.


  • An African American civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. After that, she was arrested, and this led to a sustained bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. This protest was led by Martin Luther King Jr. and began on December 5. This protest went on for a year, known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and during this period, the protestors faced threats, arrests, and termination from their jobs. Finally the Supreme Court heard the case and stated that segregational seating was unconstitutional.


  • Nine African-American students attended their first day at Little Rock Central High School, which was a white school until this point. These students were called the Little Rock Nine and faced violence at the entrance of the school from a large white mob and soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard. They were continuously harassed. Eight of the nine completed their academic year. This entire confrontation drew international attention to the civil rights movement in the United States.
  • It led to the formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.


  • A group of four freshmen from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina sat at a “whites only” lunch counter and were refused service and asked to leave. They were called the ‘Greensboro Four’. Later, many protestors joined them and occupied lunch counters in different cities and protested in the same pattern. Later, the facilities began to desegregate throughout the country.


  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was introduced, which eliminated legalised segregation in the U.S. The legislation made it illegal to discriminate against blacks or other minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education, or transportation.

Apartheid in South Africa

This was a massive civil rights movement in South Africa that fought against racial segregation known as apartheid. This movement started in the 1940s and intensified in the 1950s and 60s. At that time, black people were deprived of many social needs based on their colour. They didn’t even have the right to vote. The Major Black party in South Africa- African National Congress came into power and Nelson Mandela became the first Black president of South Africa, in 1994.

History of civil rights movements in India

The British ruled India for around 200 years and exploited us economically for the betterment of their nation. The Britishers had liberal traditions in Britain but believed that backward nations like India needed to depend on a much stronger nation for their survivability, and hence the principles of liberty were not applicable in India. They had full control of the people and took over every business in India. They not only drained India economically but also deprived the people of their basic rights to equality, justice, and dignity. Nationalists and social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Mahatma Gandhi were concerned with the denial of civil liberties. They led many movements to take up the issue of civil liberties. Various incidents from history show how masses of people came together either to eradicate a senseless practice or to enforce their basic rights. Some of them are:

The Civil Disobedience Movement

Civil disobedience simply means not standing by the sayings of the government because one does not find it for the well-being of the people. One requires passive resistance, refusing to obey the commands of the government. It has been a major tactic and philosophy of nationalist movements in Africa and India.

In India, the Civil Disobedience Movement was started by Mahatma Gandhi by breaking the salt law by producing salt from seawater. It was a peaceful and non-violent procession, but it didn’t stand with the unjust policies of the British Government. The movement marked its beginning by Salt Satyagraha on 12th March 1930 led by Mahatma Gandhi accompanied by 78 other trusted volunteers, in which he started a march called ‘the Dandi march’ starting from Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad to Dandi, a village on the western sea-coast of India, at a distance of about 385 km from Ahmedabad. They reached Dandi on 6th April, 1930. After reaching there, Gandhi made salt from the seawater and broke the salt law because it was only under British authority that salt was manufactured. They had an absolute monopoly over it.

This movement impacted the whole nation, and similar marches were led by different leaders in other parts of the country. It united the nation as one against British rule.

The Mahad Satyagraha, 1927

One of the less talked about civil rights movements in India was led by B.R. Ambedkar. It was held against the practice of the Brahmin’s so-called upper caste, who suppressed the lower castes. It was a fight within the different classes of the country, it wasn’t about any external influence but an Indian harming another Indian.

Thousands of Dalits rallied behind Dr. Ambedkar, using water from public tanks, which was prohibited for them, at Mahad in Maharashtra. The Dalits struggled for their right to  have access to the very basic need of mankind, i.e. water, which shows that it was indeed an uncivilised society at that time. It was India’s first civil rights movement. It wasn’t just a movement for a class of people, but a civil rights movement.

Fundamental rights in India

Fundamental rights are divided into six categories namely- Right to Freedom, Right to Equality, Right against Exploitation, Right to Freedom of Religion, Cultural, and Educational Rights, and the Right to Constitutional Remedies. These fundamental rights are present in Part III, from Article 12 to Article 35 of the Indian Constitution.

Fundamental Rights are the basic human rights in the Constitution of India guaranteed to all citizens. Fundamental rights are enforceable by the courts. These rights are available to every citizen without any discrimination based on race, religion, gender, etc.

Article 12 – It defines the composition of ‘State’ which includes the Government of India, the Parliament of India, the government and legislature of each state, and all other local authorities within the territory of India that are under the control of the Government of India.

Article 13 – It states that:

  • The state shall not make any law against any right which is mentioned in this Part of the Constitution. Any law made in contravention of this Part shall be considered void.
  • Nothing in this Article shall apply to any amendment of the Constitution made under Article 368.
  • Article 14 – It represents the idea of equality and states that the state shall not deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. All people can seek justice before the law irrespective of their race, colour, or religion.

Article 15 – It has the following provisions:

  • Discrimination on the grounds of caste, color, religion, place of birth, or sex shall be strictly stopped.

The state shall not discriminate against anyone based on these grounds.

  • No citizen shall be restrained from going to any place like shops, restaurants, hotels, and other public places of entertainment or use of wells, tanks, or roads because of their religion, caste, sex, or place of birth.
  • This Article shall not prevent the state from making any special provision for women and children.
  • Nothing in this Article, or clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

Article 16 – There shall be equal opportunities for every citizen in matters of public employment.

  • Equality of opportunity in terms of employment or appointment at any office under the State.
  • No citizen shall be restrained from getting employment in any office under the State based on caste, color, sex, place of birth, or religion.
  • Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making provisions for backward classes if the State feels they are not well represented.

Article 17 – This Article talks about the abolition of untouchability.

  • The practice of untouchability is forbidden in any form. If it is found that untouchability is being practised and hampering people’s lives, then it shall be considered a punishable offence in accordance with the law.

Article 18 – This Article deals with the abolition of titles.

  • No title, except military titles or academic titles shall be conferred by the state.
  • No citizen of India shall accept any title from a foreign state.
  • Any person who is not a citizen of India, holding any office under the state shall not acknowledge any title from a foreign state without the consent of the President.
  • No citizen of India shall acknowledge any kind of offer or office by another foreign state without the consent of the President.

ARTICLE 19 – This Article talks about the protection of rights like freedom of speech, expression, etc.

  • All citizens have the right:
  1. To freedom of speech and expression.
  2. To assemble peacefully without arms.
  3. To form associations and unions in their interests.
  4. To move freely throughout the territory of India.
  5. To reside and settle in any part of India.
  6. To carry out any trade, occupation, profession, or business of their interest.

Article 20 – This Article talks about protection from offences.

  • No person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.
  • No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.
  • A person can be convicted of only the offences that have occurred due to the violation of the law in force at the time of the commission, and shall not be charged with a penalty greater than that mentioned in the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence.

Article 21 – This Article talks about the protection of life and personal liberty.

  • No person shall be deprived of life and personal liberty except according to the procedure laid down by the law.

Article 22 – This Article states about the protection against arrest and detention.

  • No person shall be detained in custody without being informed.
  • Any person who is detained shall be allowed to defend himself by choosing his legal practitioner.
  • Every person arrested and detained in custody shall be presented before the nearest magistrate within twenty-four hours.
  • No person shall be detained for a period greater than that ordered by the magistrate.
  • Nothing in the points mentioned above would apply to a person who is an enemy alien or a person who is arrested on the grounds of preventive detention.
  • No person who is arrested on the grounds of preventive detention can be kept for a period longer than three months unless an advisory board consisting of present judges or retired judges reports before the expiration of the period that there are sufficient reasons to keep the person under arrest.
  • The person arrested under preventive detention shall be informed as soon as possible about the grounds on which he has been arrested and should be allowed to make representation against the order.

Article 23 – This Article talks about the prohibition of human trafficking and forced labor.

  • Trafficking of men, women, children, beggars and such types of forced labour shall be prohibited, and the practice of such things will be considered a punishable offence.

Article 24 – This Article mentions that children below the age of fourteen shall not be forced to work in hazardous environments like mining or railways.

Article 25 – This Article mentions freedom of conscience and freedom to profess and propagate the religion of one’s choice.

Article 26 – This Article mentions freedom to manage religious affairs.

  • To establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.
  • To manage their religious matters.
  • To own and acquire immovable and movable property.

Article 27 – This Article states that no person shall be forced to pay taxes for the promotion and maintenance of any particular religion.

Article 28 – This Article states the prohibition of religious instruction in educational institutions wholly maintained by the state.

Article 29 – This Article deals with the protection of interests of minorities

  • A group of people residing in any part of Indian territory having a distinct culture, language or script have the right to preserve their identity.
  • No educational institution running on state funds or doesn’t receive funds from the state has the right to deny admission on the grounds of religion, caste, race, language, or any other.

Article 30 – This Article deals with the rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.

  • All minorities based on religion or language have the right to establish and maintain educational institutions of their choice.
  • The state shall not deny granting funds to such institutions just because they are managed by a minority group.

Article 31 – This Article deals with the fundamental right to property, which has been abolished after the 44th amendment, 1978.

Article 32

  • One can move to the Supreme Court for the enforcement of their rights by proper proceedings.
  • The Supreme Court can issue writs for the enforcement of rights, which are:
  1. Habeas Corpus – To get a person released who was arrested unlawfully.
  2. Mandamus – To direct a public authority to do its duty.
  3. Quo Warranto – To direct a person to vacate an office who acquired it unlawfully.
  4. Prohibition – To prohibit a lower court from proceeding on a case.
  5. Certiorari – This is the power of the high court to remove a proceeding from a lower court and bring it before itself.

Article 33 – This Article empowers the Parliament to restrict the fundamental rights of the members of the armed forces, parliamentary forces, police forces, and intelligence agencies.

Article 34 – It provides restrictions on fundamental rights while martial law (military law) is in force.

Article 35 – It empowers the Parliament to make laws on fundamental rights.

Fundamental rights play a very pivotal role because they are important for the attainment of the full intellectual, moral, and spiritual status of an individual. Civil rights are the primary requirement in a democratic world, and it works against systems like dictatorship. The freedom struggle of India was for the implementation of civil rights.

Civil rights available to every citizen

Right to life

Everyone has this right to live peacefully in a dignified manner, and the government has formed many laws to protect this right.

Right to have a family life

One can marry the person of their choice and start a family. This right is significant for the continuation of the human race.

Right to education

Every government allows its citizens the opportunity to get an education because educated people can actively participate in the workings of society and government.

Right to profess the religion of your choice

The government does not force anyone to follow any particular religion; they are free to choose their religion and abide by it.

Right to freedom of thought and expression

Everyone has the right to express their thoughts without being restrained by any means.

Freedom of press

Citizens have the right to get their thoughts and expressions printed in newspapers and periodicals to reach a greater number of people.

Right to justice

Every citizen has the right to seek justice from the court if they feel any right of theirs is being restrained or obstructed by anyone.

Right to freedom of movement

Every citizen has the right to move freely throughout the country and abroad.

Civil rights are the primary requirement in a democratic world, and it works against systems like dictatorship. The Indian struggle for freedom was for the implementation of civil rights.

How are civil rights different from civil liberties 

Civil rights and civil liberties are quite similar, but the difference lies in the action of the government and how they implement it.

Civil liberties are the freedoms guaranteed to the citizens or residents of a country by an overriding legal covenant, such as the U.S. Bill of Rights. It tends to restrict the government in specific areas like freedom of speech, and expression. For example – if a person is stopped from expressing his or her views on a matter, then he can file a complaint against the official who restrained him and can caution the government that no one can restrain him from exercising his rights while a civil right ensures equal opportunities for everyone, it does not discriminate against anyone on grounds like employment, housing, education, etc.

For example – In the U.S, everyone has the right to marry. This is a civil liberty that cautions the government that they can’t stop anyone from marrying. But if the government disagrees with issuing a marriage certificate to a couple then it restrains the civil right of the person and he can now take action because he has the full right to get a certificate.

Examples of civil rights include the right to vote, equal access to public education and affordable housing, the right to a fair trial, and the right to use public facilities.

Violation of civil rights

Any offence that causes a threat to people belonging to the ‘protected category’ is known as a civil rights violation. Civil rights violations occur when the rights or freedoms of a person are taken away or discriminated against based on race, color, gender, age, nationality, disability, or sexual orientation.

Some examples of civil rights violations are:

  • Sex and gender discrimination

It talks about negative employment outcomes because of sex or gender, which means someone being passed over for a promotion, being passed over for a raise, being paid less than other co-workers, not being given responsibilities, being assigned extra work or tasks or transfers, or changes in job duties.

Sex discrimination means treating someone unfavorably because of their sex or sexual orientation, like transgenders. It is unlawful to mock a person for their sexual identity.

  • The selling of men, women, or children for illegal purposes is known as human trafficking. The three most common types of human trafficking are sex trafficking, forced labor, and debt bondage. Human trafficking often involves women being forced into prostitution. Men and children are also exploited in several ways, like being forced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or construction.
  • Sexual assault towards minors and women without their consent includes rape, forcible object penetration, marital rape, unwanted sexual touching, sexual intercourse with family members, possession of child pornography, or any unwanted sexual contact.
  • Unemployment of people because of their ethnic origin, lower caste.
  • Discrimination of students at any educational institution based on religion or caste.
  • Bad behaviour towards people based on their colour.
  • Denying voting rights.

Protection against civil rights violation in India

Whenever a right is violated, a proper remedy has to be available for the injury caused by it. A proper legal procedure is adopted by our country for the redressal of civil rights violations. The upper-caste Indian society has always been very rigid with its caste system and harmed the people of the lower caste. The practice of untouchability was to a greater extent in early Indian society, where the lower caste people weren’t allowed to use public toilets, tanks, or wells, and were not allowed to enter temples by the so-called high caste people. To eradicate such useless practices, the Indian government came up with ‘The Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955.’

The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955

  • This Act came into force on May 8, 1955, and applies to the whole of India.
  • This Act was enacted for the punishment of preaching and to stop the practice of untouchability. It deals with all kinds of offences caused by the practice of untouchability and matters concerned with it.
  • The Act stated that civil rights mean a person has the right to sue the one who has followed untouchability with him.
  • The Court can also suspend the licence of various occupations for a while by looking over the gravity of the offence committed.
  • Public servants who won’t cooperate in the investigation of such offences will be punished under this Act.
  • Committees will be set up to survey and determine the places where such practices are carried out.
  • Public places of worship, which are privately owned, shall be allowed to be used by everyone along with the land and apartments.
  • Forcing any person to do sweeping is also a punishable offence.
  • The Central government will coordinate with the state government to carry out the provisions of this Act.
  • The Central Government keeps a check and asks for statistical records of the cases dealt with by the state government and also the steps they took to deal with the case.
  • Section 3 of the Act states that any person not allowing someone to enter a religious place will be imprisoned for not less than a month and not more than six months. He will also be fined not less than 100 rupees and not more than 500 rupees.
  • Section 4 of the Act states that whosoever based on untouchability prevents someone from entering into places like shops, public restaurants, hotels, or public places of entertainment or stops someone from using utensils and other articles kept at hotels, dharamshalas, for public usage will be imprisoned for not less than a month and not more than six months and also be fined not less than 100 rupees and not more than 500 rupees.
  • Section 6 of the Act states that any person who refrains from selling goods or rendering any service to a person on grounds of untouchability will be imprisoned for not less than one month and not more than six months with a fine of not less than 100 rupees and not more than 500 rupees.
  • Section 7 of the Act deals with the punishments for other offences arising due to untouchability, whoever – 
  • Prevents any person from exercising the rights mentioned in Article 17.
  • Molesting, causing injury, annoyance, insult or attempt to insult a person on the grounds that he or she is using his or her rights under Article 17 will be imprisoned with a fine.
  • Refuses any person to occupy any house or land for business or work or abstains from social, professional, or business relationships then he would be punished with imprisonment and a fine.
  • Section 7A of the Act states that whoever compels a person on the ground of untouchability to do works like, scavenging, sweeping, to flay any animal, or removing an umbilical cord shall be considered to have enforced a disability arising out of untouchability, and he shall be imprisoned for not less than one month and not more than six months with a fine of not less than 100 rupees and not more than 500 rupees.

The social gaps created by the people of the upper caste by using such beliefs have always affected the people of the lower caste. It made them feel isolated, degraded, and violated. This Act however, helped them to raise their voice for their rights and lead a normal life like any other person in society. This Act not only helped the lower caste but also made people aware of the social injustices happening in society. With the introduction of this Act, these social injustices were curbed and made Indian society a better place to live in.


Civil rights are the backbone on which a democratic country functions. It is an essential component of democracy. These rights confer certain power to the citizens to help themselves from any wrongdoing. History has shown us how people suffered when their rights were suppressed, which eventually led to extreme exploitation. Their rights make them strong and responsible enough to take up action for themselves. The legislation that introduced the punishments imposed by the government for civil rights violations also helped people to use their rights effectively, therefore safeguarding their rights.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

What does Article 18 of the Constitution deal with?

Article 18 abolishes all titles and prohibits the state from giving titles to anybody, whether a citizen or a non-citizen. However, military and academic distinctions are exempted from the prohibition.

Protection of life and personal liberty is mentioned in which Article of fundamental rights?

Article 21 states that no person should be deprived of his or her life and personal liberty except according to a procedure laid down by the law.


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