Fundamental Duties

- By Aryaki Sethi

Our ancient texts, like the Rig Veda, have prompted the people to understand that the success of a civilization is a result of accepting duties. While our political thinkers admired this though, sadly, there was no mechanism in the democratic structure to implement it. So, what was the solution? The Indian constitution, in many ways, serves as a contract between the government and the people to follow certain guidelines for public welfare. Just like any other agreement, both parties enjoy certain benefits and need to comply with certain obligations. The fundamental rights are created to ensure certain freedoms to the citizens, however, any freedom comes with a responsibility. The desire to stop antisocial activities, lay certain responsibilities on the citizens and promote discipline and commitment led to the introduction of the fundamental duties.

Under the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 fundamental duties were inserted by the Sardar Swaran Singh Committee in part IV(A), article 51A of the Indian constitution. Fundamental duties can be understood as some behavioural and social expectations from citizens. These include:

  • The duty to follow noble ideas that inspired our national struggle for freedom (article 51A[b])

  • The duty to protect sovereignty, integrity and unity(article 51A[c])

  • The duty to defend and serve the nation (article 51A[d])

  • The duty to promote harmony, brotherhood and dignity of women(article 51A[e])

  • The duty to preserve heritage and culture(article 51A[f])

  • The duty to develop science, humanism & inquiry (article 51A[h])

  • The duty to strive towards excellence (article 51A[j]).

Social analysts observed that introduction of these duties led to improvements, while the degree of improvement is still debatable. These duties were established to inspire citizens to rise to the occasion and contribute to national development on social, economic and cultural grounds.

Created with good intentions, the fundamental duties have one major drawback- they are not enforceable. This means that a violator of these fundamental duties can not be held accountable in court. However, many of these duties have been the inspiration for laws that are enforceable and compulsory for all to follow. For instance, the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 has uplifted the status of the fundamental duty mentioned in article 51A[i] that aims to safeguard public property from violence.

Often, this wind of change is triggered by the verdicts of monumental cases. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, which made article 51A[a] legally binding, was a result of the Bijoe Emmanual vs. State of Kerala case. Here, the court held that one must stand to show respect to the national anthem, national flag, or constitution even if their personal beliefs do not allow them to sing along. Similarly, the M.C.Mehta vs. Union of India,1993 case led to the Wildlife Protection Act and Forest Conservation Act that have made article 51A[g], the duty to protect the natural environment, into an enforceable law. Thus, fundamental duties have been transformed into legislation that can make these ideals a living reality.

Further, we find that with changing times citizens require greater freedom and this translates to parallel greater responsibility. Under the 86th Amendment Act, the government provided the right to education to children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. They adopted a dual-channel approach to implement this aspiration. Under Article 21A, they lay responsibility on the state to provide free and compulsory education. On the other hand, by the introduction of fundamental duty in article 51A[k], they have held parents responsible for supporting their children to get a holistic education and learning experience. Hence, even fundamental duties are subject to evolution with changes in the Indian democratic system.

In conclusion, the fundamental duties aimed to create a society where citizens are aware and are held accountable for their actions. It also intended to promote inclusivity of cultural diversity and to ensure the dignity of women. In a democratic sphere, the people must be mindful to realise the consequences of their actions so that the ‘welfare for all’ ideology can be attained. Thus, this provision allows to vest the power in the people and empower them to enact change.

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About the Author

Aryaki Sethi is a content writer and mental health advocate. She is currently pursuing Bachelor of Applied Science , Psychology and Health Sciences from the University of Toronto Scarborough.