The Constitution of India prohibits discrimination based on sex but it equally directs and empowers the government to undertake special measures for women. Though the position of women has improved in the last four decades, but still they are struggling to maintain their dignity and freedom. Presently Indian women are facing the toughest time mentally and physically, mainly due to unawareness and lack of knowledge of legal and constitutional rights of a woman. The Constitution provides many protection rights for women such as Protective discrimination in favour of women, Right to freedom of women, Right of women against exploitation, Rights of women under directives and political representations of women. All these rights are explained below.
PROTECTIVE DISCRIMINATION AND WOMEN
The Preamble to the Constitution resolved to secure all its citizens, including equality of status and opportunity while Articles 14 to 18 and 39 provide for Right to equality and non- discrimination among men and women. Article 14 ensures that the state shall not deny to any person equality before law. It prohibits class legislation but permits reasonable classification. This is a very important provision which provides equal legal protection to women against any women based crime. Article 15 (1) prohibits discrimination against any citizen based on religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth while Article 15 (3) permits ‘protective discrimination’ in favour of women according to which state can make special provision for women and the scope of this article is wide enough to cover the entire range of state activity including employment. Article 16 of constitution of India ensures equal employment opportunity to every citizen of India.
RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF WOMEN
Articles 19 to 22 of The Constitution of India provide a detailed scheme of Right to Freedom. Article 19 (1) guarantees 6 freedoms (speech and expression, assembly, association or unions, movements, residence, profession and occupation) for citizens with reasonable restrictions and Article 21 provides for Right to life and personal liberty of each and every person in India which includes Right to live with human dignity, right to livelihood, right to work, right to privacy, right against sexual harassment etc. The Indian Parliament also enacted The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 which prohibits indecent representation of women through advertisements, books, writings, paintings, figures films or any other manner. The Supreme Court also emphasized the need to provide a life of dignity to the sex workers in our country by giving them some technical skills through which they can earn their livelihood instead of by selling their bodies.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN AGAINST EXPLOITATION
Right against exploitation is recognized under Article 23 and 24 of the Constitution of India. Article 23 prohibits “traffic in human beings and beggar and other similar forms of labour”. The expression “traffic in human beings is evidently a very wide expression including the prohibition of traffic in women for immoral or other purposes. Also the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956 has been enacted with the object of inhibiting or abolishing the immoral trafficking of women and girls. Articles 21 & 23 also impose the duty on state to identify, release and rehabilitate freed bonded labourers. In Gaurav Jain vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the children of the prostitutes have the right to equality of opportunity, dignity, care, protection and rehabilitation so as to be part of mainstream social life.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN UNDER DIRECTIVES
Directive principles of State policy under Articles 36 to 51 of the Constitution of India are fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws. Under this various rights of women have been implemented through legislations. The Directive under Article 39(a) provides that the citizens, men and women equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood and Article 39(d) ensures that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women. The Parliament has enacted the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and to implement Article 39 (d). Article 42 of the Constitution provides that the state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions for work and maternity relief and for this purpose the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 was enacted.
POLITICAL REPRESENTATIONS OF WOMEN
Article 40 of the Constitution which lay down that the state shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self government. To realize the Directive the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments had sought to ensure a certain proportion of women as chair persons of panchayats. According to Article 243- D (3) and 243-T (3), not less than one third of the total number of seats to be filled by Directive election in every Panchayat/Municipality shall be reserved for women (including SCs AND STs). This opportunity of being a part of local level arbitration process has improved the social conditions of women in village areas.1