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Article 17- Abolition of Untouchability

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Article 17 of the Indian Constitution declares that untouchability is prohibited in all forms and is illegal. The Untouchability Offences Act of 1955 (later renamed the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976) also makes it clear that those who practice untouchability will face legal consequences. Untouchability is defined as one of the social practices of discrimination against people based on their castes, creed, place of living, and occupation, and restricting such people to take benefits of public services and places.

To reduce this practice of untouchability the government of India has taken various measures by establishing this Article 17 and taking major steps and actions, by setting up rules for an individual to protect their rights. On 26 November 1949, along with Article 17, the various rights of the Indian Constitution were adopted. Untouchability was then declared an illegal activity. Any individual imposing such limitations on a particular person will be punishable according to the rules and regulations stated by Article 17. 

Objectives of Article 17

  1. Abolishment of untouchability: Untouchability is not tolerated in India after Article 17 of the Indian Constitution. This also included the prohibition of any type of discrimination against people in terms of religion, caste, or race.
  2. Ensures respect and equality: Regardless of caste or community, the article seeks to guarantee that each person is treated with respect and equality.
  3. Affirmative action policies: The  Indian government has started several initiatives, including affirmative action policies. 
  4. Directive principles:  It declares that the state must work to improve the welfare of the people by securing and defending a social order in which social, economic, and political justice is informed by liberty, equality, and fraternity, which are also related to the article.

Features of Article 17

  1. Preservation of Human Rights: Article 17  describes that no citizen must be discriminated against based on caste, region, or religion. It ensures that every individual’s rights must be preserved and followed properly.
  2. Equal Rights: Article 17 that’s that all citizens have equal rights and no discrimination should be made. Any individual or region must follow no practice of untouchability.
  3. Legal Remedies: This states that citizens do have legal action to perform if their rights are violated by any means or targeted by any individual or group of people.
  4. Affirmative Action: The government has the right to take action against the citizens that are at taking disadvantage and following or forcing practices of untouchability. 

Legal and Constitutional Framework to Address Untouchability 

The constitutional frameworks to address untouchability are as follows: 

  1.  Untouchability Offences Act of 1955:  According to this act practicing untouchability is a criminal offense that is punishable by imprisonment, fine or both, and no clemency can be granted. Additionally, a candidate for a state or parliamentary election who is found guilty of this offense must be disqualified.
  2. The Protection of Civil Liberties Act of 1976: It amended and expanded the Untouchability Offenses Statute of 1955. It redefined civil rights as those rights granted to individuals by Article 17 of the Constitution, which abolished untouchability. The punishment for violating this act includes up to two years in prison, a fine of Rs. 2000, or both, upon conviction.
  3. Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989: The Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 that is also known as the Scheduled Castes and Tribes Act, states the prevention of Atrocities against people from scheduled castes and Tribes. It describes acts of violence, discrimination, and exploitation.  
  4. Reservation Policy: The reserved policies and services are made for the people from scheduled castes and tribes by the government in various fields such as education, employment, business political issues.
  5. National Human Rights Commission: The National Human Rights Commission is an independent body that protects Human rights. They protect human rights by solving the complaints that are related to untouchability based on discrimination made by the people. 

Advantages of Article 17 of the Indian Constitution

  1. It eradicates the practice of untouchability against lower castes in Indian society.
  2. Anyone following or practicing untouchability is considered an offense and punishable by law.
  3. It establishes the principle of equality among all sections of Indian society.
  4. It guarantees the implementation of social justice provisions in society, aiming toward the annihilation of the practice of untouchability.
  5. It upholds the basic dignity of a person to live with honor and respect.
  6. It mirrors the existing democratic structure of the country.
  7. It presents the notion that democracy aims at the equality of all sections of society.
  8. It provides underprivileged sections of society with remedies to seek if subjected to the practice of untouchability.
  9. It ensures the safety of these communities and lays the premise for a better society.
  10. It prohibits discriminatory and undemocratic practices.

Challenges of Article 17 of the Indian Constitution 

  1. Limited scope: The practice of untouchability is firmly established in some sectors of Indian culture, making it difficult to enforce Article 17. It could not be politically feasible or financially feasible to implement this rule, and it might be challenging to locate and bring discriminatory instances to justice.
  2. Enforcement issues: The people of India facing such discrimination may find it challenging to know their legal rights and correct assistance so that they can speak up for their rights. 
  3. Opposition to change: Certain communities or groups who have historically profited from the caste system may be resistant to change. Such opposition may reduce Article 17’s ability to advance social justice and equality. 
  4. Lack of awareness: All the citizens in India may not be aware of this Article 17 which can as a result limit the effectiveness of this provision.  


It is worth noting that although Article 17 of the Constitution abolishes untouchability, the term itself is not explicitly defined within the Constitution. However, the Mysore High Court provided an interpretation of the article, stating that its subject matter is not the literal or grammatical definition of untouchability, but rather the historical practice that has developed in the country.

This practice involves societal restrictions imposed on individuals based on their caste at birth, which results in exclusion from participating in social events or attending religious services, among other limitations.

It is also important to highlight that Article 17 is unique among all other rights provided in the Constitution because it is absolute in nature. This means that there are no exceptions to the rule, making it illegal to practice untouchability in any form, under any circumstances. It cannot be violated or bypassed in any way.

FAQ on Article 17

Q1. Is the practice of untouchability limited to rural areas or does it also exist in urban areas? 

Ans: Untouchability does not exist only in rural areas, it also exists in urban areas too. 

Q2. Definition of “Untouchability” in Article 17.

Ans: Untouchability refers to the practice of discriminating against certain groups of people based on their caste and denying such people to access various public services and places. 

Q3. What is the Punishment for Violating Article 17? 

Ans: The punishment for violating the rules of Article 17 can be imprisonment or a specific amount of fine to a particular person. 

Q4. Has the practice of untouchability been eradicated in India?

Ans: The practice of untouchability still exists in many parts of India. Discrimination based on caste, creed, and status exists in various parts of the country. 

Q5. How has the Government of India Tried to Promote Equality and Eradicate Untouchability?

Ans: The various programs such as reservations in education and employment for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and regulations to protect their rights are implemented by the Government of India to promote equality and eradicate untouchability. 

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Last Updated : 21 Mar, 2023
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