Equality: Definition and Meaning

Equality among individuals is one of the most integral features of a democratic country. It serves as the foundation for all other rights and benefits granted by the Constitution. The Supreme Court's Constitutional Bench has stated that the right to equality is a fundamental aspect of our Constitution.

What is the Right to Equality?

The term "right to equality" refers to the need that all citizens be treated equally in the eyes of the law and that any discriminatory treatment based on gender, caste, race, religion, or place of birth be abolished. The right to equality is a crucial component required for the implementation of Indian citizens' rights.

Equality and Indian Constitution

The right to equality has been guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, and it is the manifestation of the core idea of equality mentioned in the Preamble. Another important point about this article is that it not only imposes a duty on the state to abstain from discriminating against people, but it also puts a positive duty on the state to take such action that the inequalities can be bridged between the people. This article covers various facets of Article 14 and encapsulates certain principles that are fundamental to the interpretation of the right to equality under the Constitution.

Likewise, this feature has found a sacred place under Part 3 of the Constitution. Part 3 enumerates fundamental rights, and Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech and expression), and 21 (right to life and personal liberty), due to their innate importance, are popularly known as the "Golden Triangle." Article 14, dealing with equality, acquires a special significance due to the prevalent socio-economic inequalities, gender disparities, etc. in Indian society.

Types of Equality

In society, various types of equality exist. These are their names −

  • Legal Equality − Every person is equal in the eyes of the law.

  • Social Equality − entails treating all people equally, regardless of caste, color, religion, or other factors.

  • Economic Equality − Every individual should have equal access to riches.

  • Political Equality − Everyone should have an equal chance to vote, run for, and occupy public office.

  • National Equality − It entails treating all countries of the world equally.

According to Prof. Harold Joseph Laski, an English political theorist and economist, the term "equality" means the absence of special privilege and the availability of adequate opportunity for all individuals to develop their inner potential. He also insisted that the urgent and minimum demands of all should be met before meeting the particular demands of some people.

Constitutional Provisions of Equality

Equality before the law (Article 14)

According to Article 14, everyone is treated equally by the law.

  • All citizens will be treated equally in front of the law, according to this clause.

  • Everyone is equally protected by the law in this nation.

  • People will be treated equally by the law in the same situations.

Prohibition of discrimination (Article 15)

This article prohibits all types of discrimination.

  • No citizen shall be subject to any obligation, handicap, limitation, or condition with respect to:

  • Public space access Use of state-maintained tanks, wells, and ghats and other public-access tanks, wells, and ghats

  • Despite this article, it states that special provisions can be made for women, children, and the poor.

What is the Creamy Layer?

The phrase "creamy layer" refers to the more forward-thinking and better-educated members of the OBCs who are not eligible for government-sponsored educational and professional benefit programs. The creamy layer contains the offspring of persons in particular categories, such as constitutional office holders, Group A and B officials, army officers over the rank of colonel, and so on.

Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment (Article 16)

Article 16 guarantees equal employment opportunities in the public sector to all individuals.

  • No citizen should be discriminated against in issues of public employment or appointment on the basis of race, religion, caste, sex, place of birth, descent, or residency.

  • Exceptions might be established for providing specific provisions for the underprivileged classes.

Abolition of untouchability (Article 17)

Article 17 makes the practice of untouchability illegal.

  • All sorts of untouchability are removed.

  • Any disability caused by untouchability is an offence.

Abolition of titles (Article 18)

Titles are prohibited under Article 18.

  • Except for academic or military titles, the state shall not bestow any titles.

  • The law also prevents Indian citizens from taking titles from foreign countries.

  • The article abolishes titles bestowed by the British Empire, such as Rai Bahadur and Khan Bahadur.

  • This category does not include awards such as the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, and Bharat Ratna, as well as military honors such as the Ashok Chakra and Param Vir Chakra.

Rule of Law

The idea on which this article is founded is the rule of law (as developed by A.V. Dicey). It is also a "basic characteristic" of the Indian Constitution. It implies −

  • Absence of arbitrary power, i.e., no one can be punished unless he breaks the law.

  • Equality before the law, or the equal submission of all people to the common law of the state

  • The primacy of individual rights, i.e., the Constitution, is the consequence of individual rights as established and enforced by courts of law rather than the Constitution being the source of individual rights (this aspect does not apply to the Indian Constitution).

Landmark Judgments Related to the Right to Equality

The following are some landmark judgments regarding the right to equality −

  • Maneka Gandhi versus Union of India, 1978 − In this case, a seven-judge panel concluded that there is a tripartite relationship between Articles 14, 19, and 21, and that these articles must be read together.

  • Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India, 1993 − In this case, the Supreme Court issued major decisions concerning reservation in India. Article 14's aspect was determined to be Article 16(1) of the Constitution.

  • Indian Young Lawyers Association vs. State of Kerala − In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the practice of preventing women from attending the Sabarimala shrine during their menstrual periods was unconstitutional.

  • National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs. Union of India, 2014 − In this decision, the Supreme Court established a third gender category for transgender people, who previously had to put male or female next to their gender.

The right to equality is properly regarded as one of the most wonderful pillars of Indian democracy. It serves as the framework for the execution of the rest of the Constitution's provisions.


Every person residing in any democratic system needs the right to equality. Due to enormous economic, social, and political discrepancies in nations such as India, equality is critical. While some people have benefited from the system of reservations, it is still not accepted by all of society today. Without exception, equality seeks to equalize the playing field for all, which is a man's inalienable right. Nobody is born equal, physically or mentally, and some are better than others. If there is equality in society, issues can be overcome. To establish equality in practice, discrimination must be eliminated.


Q1. Is equality a basic human right?

Ans. The right to equality and non-discrimination is a cornerstone of international human rights legislation.

Q2. What does the Constitution of India say about equality?

Ans. The Indian Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to equality. Before the law, everyone is equal, and there can be no discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, caste, gender, place of birth, or anything else.

Q3. What are the features of equality?

Ans. Thus, equality stands for three basic features −

  • The absence of specific societal advantages

  • The availability of appropriate and equitable development opportunities for all.

  • Equitable fulfilment of all fundamental necessities

Q4. Who did establish the concept of equality?

Ans. The notion of natural equality was not acknowledged until the 17th century, in the tradition of natural law as articulated by Hobbes and Locke and in social contract theory, originally proposed by Rousseau.

Updated on: 15-Feb-2023


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