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Fundamental Rights in Indian Polity | A Comprehensive Guide for UPSC CSE


Fundamental Rights form the bedrock of the Indian Constitution. They serve as essential safeguards for individuals against abuse by the state, guaranteeing liberties and shaping India as a truly democratic nation. If you're an IAS aspirant, grasp these basic liberties, along with their complexities, nuances, and current judicial interpretations to excel in the UPSC Civil Services Examination.

Constitutional Provisions

  • Fundamental Rights are enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution (Articles 12-35).

  • They act as powerful judicial tools allowing individuals to challenge actions of the state that infringe these rights.

Characteristics of Fundamental Rights

  • Mostly Negative: Primarily act as restrictions on the powers of the state.

  • Not Absolute: Can be balanced against the larger interests of the public, through reasonable restrictions imposed by the state.

  • Justiciable: The Supreme Court (under Article 32) and High Courts (under Article 226) act as powerful guardians of these rights.

  • Amendable: Parliament, through amending the Constitution (but subject to judicial review), can amend these rights (though not the basic structure of the Constitution).

Distinguishing Fundamental Rights from Ordinary Legal Rights


Fundamental Rights

Ordinary Legal Rights


Constitution of India

Laws enacted by Parliament or legislature


Supreme, considered inalienable

Statutory, given by the law of the land


Justiciable, enforceable in courts

Enforceable in courts according to legal procedures

Historical Evolution of Fundamental Rights

  • Inspiration: Magna Carta, US Bill of Rights, Irish Constitution, Government of India Act 1935

  • Constituent Assembly Debates: Intense discussions surrounding the nature and scope of rights to be included. Result: the current system with reasonable restrictions.

Declaration of Human Rights in the General Assembly of the United Nations

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): Monumental document defining basic human rights and freedoms.

  • Influence: Serves as inspiration for many constitutions including India's Fundamental Rights.

Nature of Fundamental Rights

  • Limitations: Rights aren't absolute, with the state able to impose reasonable restrictions in the interest of:

  • Public order, decency, and morality

  • Security of the State

  • Friendly relations with foreign states, etc.

Key Articles & Doctrines

  • Definition of State (Article 12): A broad definition, ensuring accountability of a wide range of state authorities.

  • Definition of Laws (Article 13): Wide scope, extending to custom and usage having the force of law.

  • Judicial Review and Fundamental Rights

  • Judiciary empowered to declare laws unconstitutional if they violate Fundamental Rights.

Doctrines to Balance Fundamental Rights and State Power

  • Doctrine of Prediction: Courts examine laws as a whole, rather than in isolation.

  • Doctrine of Separation: Judiciary declares unconstitutional acts severable from the rest of the law.

  • Doctrine of Severability: Invalid portions of law struck down, with valid portions remaining in force.

  • Doctrine of Eclipse: Law violating Fundamental Rights becomes dormant upon amendment of the Constitution; can be revived as the Constitutional position changes.

Classification of Fundamental Rights

Fundamental Rights in India are broadly divided into six categories:

Right to Equality (Articles 14-18):

  • Equality before the Law and Equal Protection of Law (Article 14): A foundational guarantee against arbitrary state action.

  • Prohibition of Discrimination on Certain Grounds (Article 15): Bars discrimination by the state on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Allows special provisions for women, children, and socially or educationally backward classes.

  • Equality of Opportunity in Matters of Public Employment (Article 16): Prohibits discrimination on the grounds listed in Article 15 and upholds state power to make special provisions for the advancement of any socially or educationally backward group.

  • Abolition of Untouchability (Article 17): This is an absolute right in the strictest sense as 'untouchability' is abolished altogether.

  • Abolition of Titles (Article 18): Only military and educational titles are permitted by the state.

Right to Freedom (Articles 19 to 22): This cluster of rights provides vital guarantees of individual liberties:

  • Six Freedoms (Article 19):

    • Freedom of Speech and Expression

    • Freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms

    • Freedom to form associations or unions

    • Freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India

    • Freedom to reside and settle in any part of India

    • Freedom to practice any profession, carry on any occupation, trade, or business (subject to reasonable restrictions by the state)

  • Protection in Respect of Conviction for Offenses (Article 20): Safeguards against ex-post facto laws, double jeopardy, and self-incrimination.

  • Protection of Life and Personal Liberty (Article 21): A broad umbrella encompassing personal liberty. Courts have significantly expanded its scope and meaning through judgments over time.

  • Protection Against Arrest and Detention in Certain Cases (Article 22): Provides procedural safeguards against unlawful detention, including right to be informed of grounds of arrest and the right to consult a legal practitioner.

Right Against Exploitation (Articles 23 and 24):   Prohibits human trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of exploitation, particularly:

  • Prohibition of Traffic in Human Beings and Forced Labor (Article 23): Explicitly outlaws exploitation that violates human dignity.