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Detailed Analysis Of Equality Before Law

Equality Before Law

  • The notion of equality before the law maintains that laws should apply equally to all citizens: simply put, no one is above the law.
  • This idea which is also one of the meanings of the amorphous term rule of law is a mainstay of many current constitutions and is widely viewed as a central tenet of a fair and just legal system.
  • Friedrich Hayek saw it as the most critical element of liberal society, stating that the great aim of the struggle for liberty has been equality before the Law.
  • Historically lot of elite nations have had inherent inequality in their social hierarchy. I.e. England- King- Lord- Baron-Religious Leaders and the Common Man.
  • Louisiana State Law mandated a Black Passenger to give up his seat to a White Passenger.
  • The object of the [Fourteenth] amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to endorse social, as distinguished from political, equality...If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.- The Judgment in Plessy V. Ferguson- 1896.
  • Justice. Jhon Marshall was the sole dissenter in that case he went on to state that "Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens."

Equality Before Law-Murray v/s Marryland

  • Disappointed that the University of Maryland School of Law was rejecting black applicants solely because of their race, beginning in 1933 Thurgood Marshall (who was himself rejected from this law school because of its racial acceptance policies) decided to challenge this practice in the Maryland court system.
  • Before a Baltimore City Court in 1935, Marshall argued that Donald Gaines Murray was just as qualified as white applicants to attend the University of Maryland's School of Law and that it was solely due to his race that he was rejected.
  • Marshall argued that the disparities between the "white" and "black" law schools were so great that the only remedy would be to allow students like Murray to attend the University's law school. The Baltimore City Court agreed, and the University then appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals.
  • The issue finally resolved in brown V. Education Board in 1954

Equality Before The Law

  • Article. 14 of the Indian Constitution pertains to Right to Equality and the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution have taken inspiration from the 14th amendment to the Indian Constitution.
  • Article. 14 is the embodiment of Rule of law and Natural justice in the Indian Constitution
  • The Article. 14 of the Indian Constitution was criticized by Sir. Ivor Jennings to state that there is nothing present in Article. 14 that is not present in Article. 15 or 16.
  • The Supreme Court in its early judgement went onto state that Article. 16 is a representative of the general provision of Article. 14 with specific reference to the matters relating to employment.
  • State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar, the Supreme Court of India, stated the twin test for reasonable classification. The court held that for the classification to pass the test, two conditions must be fulfilled:
    1. Classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes those that are grouped together from others and
    2. The differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act.
  • The SC's Test in Charanjitlal Choudury V. UOI : "It is plain that every classification is in some degree likely to produce some inequality, but mere production of inequality is not by itself enough. The inequality produced in order to encounter the challenge of the Constitution, must be actually and palpably unreason- able and arbitrary.
  • The Indian Supreme Court does not subscribe to the degree of inequality test.

Prohibition Of Discrimination Doctrine

  • As we had seen about sir. Ivor Jennings's criticism in the previous classes, we realised that our founding fathers had placed Art. 15 specifically to address the issues relating to discrimination on the basis of religion, race, cast, sex and place of birth.
  • It was drafted specifically after taking into account the inherent inequalities that were present in our nation in the basis of the aforementioned grounds.
  • It is evident from the intricate planning undertaken by the drafting comity that the criticisms levied by Sir. Ivor Jennings is far from the truth and the specialised provisions are necessary to address the situation at hand.
  • The essence of the Doctrine can be explained pithly through the pen of Justice VR. Krishna iyer in C.B. Muthamma v. UOI.
 "… sex prejudice against the Indian womanhood pervades the service rules even a third of a century after Freedom. There is some basis for the charge of bias in the rules and this makes the ominous indifference of the executive to bring about the banishment of discrimination in the heritage of service rules. If high officials lose hopes of equal justice under the rules, the legal lot of the little Indian, already priced out of the expensive judicial market, is best left to guess."
The facts of the case are follows:
  • The petitioner was a senior member of the Indian Foreign Service. She brought this petition against the Government on the grounds that she has been overlooked for promotion because she was a woman and because some rules governing the employment of women in the Service are discriminatory in nature and therefore contrary to the Indian Constitution.
  • The petitioner further fortified her arguments by stating that 1. there was a long standing practice of hostile discrimination against women 2. she had to undertake on joining the foreign service that if she got married she would resign from her post 3. she had to face the consequences of being a woman and thus suffered discrimination 4. the members of the appointment committee were basically prejudiced as a group

Air India, a state-owned company, required female flight attendants to retire under three circumstances:
  1. upon reaching 35 years of age,
  2. upon getting married, or
  3. upon first pregnancy.
  • Will these provisions stand the test laid down in the Indian Constitution?
  • The Court struck the rules down, holding that these requirements constituted official arbitrariness and hostile discrimination.
  • There is a temple located in the foothills of Kamanahalli Hills, the temple's deity is a naisticka bhramachari- who has taken a vow of celibacy, owing to the sacred vows taken by the deity the temple authorities have framed a policy of not allowing female devotees between the age of 10-50.
  • Is the rule valid when looked through the lens of Art.15?
  • When you rely on the majority ruling laid down by the Hon'ble SC in Sabarimala verdict does it upheld Art. 15?
  • Is the sole dissenting judgment violative of Art. 15?
Written By: Shashwata Sahu, Advocate, LL.M., KIIT School of Law

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