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Indian Constitutional History of Fundamental Rights.

There was no fundamental duties chapter in the Constitution that came into effect on 26 January 1950. That being said, there was a sliver of India’s constitutional tradition, mainly Gandhian, that talked about fundamental duties. Gandhi had said:  ‘the true source of rights is the duty, if we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek’. Narayana Agarwal gave this line of thinking a constitutional avatar in the Gandhian Constitution of Free India 1946.

The Gandhian Constitution conjoined fundamental rights and fundamental duties. After laying down fundamental rights, it goes on to say that ‘all these rights shall be contingent on the performance of the following fundamental duties’. This approach of conditioning of rights on the performance of duties is quite rare in Indian constitutional thinking including the formal constitution-making process.

Apart from one or two instances where members of the Constituent Assembly echoed Gandhian’s idea on rights and duties, we find no evidence that suggests that the framers of our Constitution seriously considered adopting something that resembled fundamental duties in the Constitution even if had moral and political convictions about the importance of duties.

In contrast, we find that fundamental rights are given immense constitutional importance in both the historical constitutions and the constituent assembly debates.

So how did fundamental duties become part of the Constitution?

They were added through the 42nd amendment in 1976 in the middle of Emergency as Part – 4A by Gandhi. She set up a committee chaired by then-External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh ‘to study the question of amendment of the Constitution in the light of experience…’ The All India Congress Committee (AICC) suggested to the Swaran Singh Committee to ‘formulate some proposals for inclusion in the Constitution certain fundamental duties and obligations which every citizen owes to the nation…’.

The committee then drew up a list of fundamental duties, which included the duty to adhere to the Constitution, uphold India’s sovereignty, and contribute with national service among other things, which the Congress party tweaked. Interestingly, the Congress rejected the committee’s proposal to give Parliament the power, by law, to impose punishment and penalties on citizens who didn’t adhere to the fundamental duties.

By November 1976, both Houses of Parliament passed the 42nd amendment, which included a new fundamental duties chapter to the Constitution containing 10 duties. In 2002, one more duty was added to the list. It said that every citizen ‘who is a parent or guardian, to provide opportunities for education to his child or, as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen year’.

Article 51-A states that it is the duty of every citizen of India:

  1. To respect the Constitution, it’s ideals and institutions, the National Flag and National Anthem–Ideals like liberty, justice, equality, fraternity, and institution like executive, the legislature, and the judiciary must be respected by all the citizens of the country. No person should undergo any such practice which violates the spirit of the Constitution and should maintain its dignity. If any person shows disrespect to the National Anthem or to the National Flag then it will be a failure as a citizen of a sovereign nation.

  2. The noble ideas that inspire the national struggle to gain independence, one should cherish them– Every citizen must admire and appreciate the noble ideas that inspired the struggle of independence. These ideas focus on making a just society, a united nation with freedom, equality, non-violence, brotherhood, and world peace. A citizen must remain committed to these ideas.

  3. One should protect and uphold the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India– This is one of the basic duties that every citizen of India should perform. A united nation is not possible if the unity of the country is jeopardized. Sovereignty lies with the people. Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution put reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression in order to safeguard the interest and integrity of India. 

  4. One should respect the country and render national service when called upon–Every citizen should defend the country against the enemies. All the citizens apart from those who belong to the army, navy, etc should be ready to take up arms in order to protect themselves and the nation whenever the need arises.

  5. One should promote harmony as well as the spirit of common brotherhood amongst the citizens of India, transcending religious, linguistic, regional or sectional diversities and to renounce practices that are derogatory to the dignity of the women– Presence of one flag and single citizenship not only reflects the spirit of brotherhood but also directs the citizen to leave behind all the differences and focus on collective activity in all spheres.  

  6. One should value and preserve the heritage of our composite culture– India’s culture is one of the richest heritages of the earth. So, it is compulsory for every citizen to protect the heritage and pass it on to future generations. 

  7. One should protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and a citizen should have compassion for living creatures–  Under Article 48A this duty is provided as a constitutional provision also. The natural environment is very important and valuable for each and every country. So each and every citizen should make efforts in order to protect it.

  8. One should not only develop the scientific temperament and humanism but also the spirit of inquiry and reform– For his/her own development it is necessary for a person to learn from the experiences of others and develop in this fast-changing environment. So one should always try to have a scientific temperament in order to adjust to these changes.

  9. One should always safeguard public property and abjure– Due to unnecessary cases of violence that occur in a country that preaches for non-violence, a lot of harm has already been done to the public property. So, it is the duty of every citizen to protect public property.

  10. One should always strive towards excellence in all spheres of life and also for the collective activity so that the nation continues with its endeavour and achievements– In order to ensure that our country rises to a higher level of achievement, it is the basic duty of every citizen to do the work that is given to him/her with excellence. This will definitely lead the country towards the highest possible level of excellence.

  11. One should always provide the opportunity of education to his child or ward between the age of six to fourteen years– Free and compulsory education must be provided to the children who belong to 6 to 14 years of age and this has to be ensured by the parents or guardian of such child. (86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002)

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