Article 17

Abolition of Untouchability

It states that, “Untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “Untouchability” shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law.

 The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability is to be an offence punishable in accordance with law. “Untouchability” is neither defined in the Constitution nor in any act. ​Article 17 is a very important part of the Right to Equality. It not only provides equality but also social justice. This article in a way is like the 13th Amendment of the American Constitution which banned Slavery in all its forms. 

 The Mysore High Court has, however, held that the term is not to be understood in its literal or grammatical sense but to be understood as it had developed historically in this country. Understood in this sense, it is a product of the Hindu caste system according to which a particular section amongst the Hindus had been looked down as untouchables by the other sections of that society.

 Article 15(2) also helps in the eradication of untouchability under which no person, on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them can be denied access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of entertainment or the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, road and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of general public.

Case law:

In Safai Karamchari Andolan and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors., a writ under Article 32 was filed by the Petitioners praying for the enforcement of Manual Scavengers’ and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 by the Central Government, State Governments and Union Territories. In this case, the Court issued various directions:

  1. Rehabilitation of all the manual scavengers
  2. Giving Scholarships to the children of Manual Scavengers.
  3. Giving one-time cash assistance to manual scavengers.
  4. One member of their family should be given skill training in livelihood.
  5. Other legal assistance as needed for them.
  6. Compensation of 10 Lakh rupees for every sewer death.
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