Equality expresses the symmetry of equal opportunities between various people, objects, processes and situations. Since the concept of equality has a close connection with morality and justice it bounds every individual equivalent fortuity irrespective of their background.
The dynamics of equality have evolved throughout history, society is no longer allied with powerful upperclassmen men but instead, it admits those who are from different positions and aspects. However, there is an ongoing struggle to attain equality by several groups and categories of society. One such category is gender equality; Kofi Annan has rightly voiced out his opinion on gender equality by stating that “gender equality is more than a goal itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance”.
Indian Constitution from the time of its independence has ensured equal justice to all citizens of the country be it by providing voting rights irrespective of their gender or be it providing equality to everyone irrespective of their race, caste or gender
Understanding Article 14 of Indian Constitution
Article 14 specifically states that:
“The State shall not deny to any person equality before law or equal protection of laws within the territory of India”
The concept of equality has been taken from the “equal protection clause” of the American Constitution. Article 14 precludes discrimination on a basic level. According to Article 14, the State cannot refuse equality to any person and it can neither decline the protection of individual laws within the territorial boundary of India.
Article 14 can be divided into two parts:
Equality before Law:
This concept of equality before law is a negative concept as it certifies that every individual is equal in front of the Constitution of the land and nobody is above the law despite their rank or position, this validates the influence of Rule of Law given by Sir A.V Dicey.
However, Article 14 is not an absolute right and pertains to certain exceptions under Article 105, 194, Article 361 and Article 364.
Equal protection of Law:
Unlike the former concept, equal protection of the law is a positive concept, it appoints the mandatory advances on behalf of the State to guarantee equal treatment of all citizens without any distinction and that the law of the land should be fairly regulated irrespective of a person’s race, caste, gender, place of birth etc.
In the case of Stephen’s College vs. The University of Delhi, the main issue of giving preference to Christian students during admissions was raised. The Supreme Court held that the different treatment of candidates in the admission process does not violate Article 14 as the institution entertains financial aid from the State to allot reserved seats for students of a specific community or background.
Thus the purpose of Article 14 is to provide equality to all citizens irrespective of their matrix and to subdue any arbitration that may exist.
Decoding Gender Equality and Justice
Gender equality can be simplified by explaining it as equality is not only social, economical and political aspects of life but also in rights, opportunities and lifestyle choices. Gender equality and justice does not necessarily mean equal treatment of all genders but it means to value the needs and goals of all genders equally.
Gender inequality affects everyone– men, women, transgender and non-binary people as it ignores the requirements of every other gender and prioritizes only one (or few). It has been witnessed throughout history how the male population has been given the advantage and authority of power which lead to their domination over other genders. Gender equality and justice strive to overcome these barriers and furnish justice to every individual.
Equality between all genders can be achieved through education and through a neutral population in the workplace, it is also important to increase the awareness of people on the importance of gender equality and promote gender equality.
Gender Equality and Justice in India
The basic proposition of gender equality has been embodied in the Preamble, Fundamental Rights, as well as the Fundamental Duties. The right to equality has been mentioned in the Indian Constitution from Article 14 to 18, these articles brief on how every individual is equal in front of the law and nobody can be discriminated against on the basis of their race, caste, gender or place of birth.
It is important to understand that women in India have been oppressed and neglected by the male dominant society for a long time. The sense of morality and jurisdiction in India has evolved from one end to the other, practices like Sati and child marriage have been abolished, women have the right to vote and express their opinions, there are laws that ensure that women get reservations in education and employment sectors and laws related to gender basic needs of women such as maternity leave is also implied. Yet, women are still facing trouble in achieving the social, political and economic equalities the Constitution claims to provide them.
In the landmark case of Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan , Bhanwari Devi was raped by five men after she attempted to stop child marriage in rural Rajasthan. This lead to the filing of a petition by an organization called ‘Vishaka’ asking for guidelines on sexual abuse at the workplace. The esteemed court interpreted Article 14, 19 and 21 and then laid down Vishaka guidelines for a safer workplace environment. Irrespective of the various laws and acts pulled into the action, a survey done by Research Department in 2018 revealed that India is there are over 338 thousand cases reported in India against harassment.
Another historic decision made by the court was when it announced that all Hindu women have the right to inherit property even after their marriage. This ruling was another green flag towards gender equality since it gave a hold of power and stability to Indian women. When a Christian Syrian woman was not allowed to inherit a property in Kerala due to the age-old patriarchal rules, Mary Roy filed a case against her elder brother after the death of her father. Despite the rejection of the plea in the lower court, the Supreme Court delivered the judgment in favour of the plaintiff and got an equal share in her father’s property. The case Mary Roy vs State of Kerala channeled that every individual has equal protection of law and it pertains that women have the right to hold a share in the property.
The case of Air India vs Nargesh Meerza  phrased Article 14 and laid down that a person’s gender cannot hinge their employment, the Air India service only permitted women to work up till the age of 35 years and if they got married or conceived a child, they were fired. This condition was disparaging and authoritative for a woman and therefore they were struck down by the court for being arbitrary.
Observing these are some acclaimed examples in the Indian Judicial history that demarcate the importance of Article 14 for the female population; it is to be noted that India still fights with female inequality and injustice. The condition of women in the country is far from ideal and although Article 14 is a powerful part of the Constitution, it will add more potential to itself when it will reduce the gap between the inequality and injustices done on women.
Apart from females, the “third gender” that is the transgender population has also faced discrimination. Transgenders were not recognized in Indian society; they were deprived of basic rights such as medication and health care facilities. Despite the stereotypical image of transgenders that abided in the Indian society, denying them of their basic rights was unconstitutional. The Constitution clearly states to provide equality and justice to every individual, similarly, the court has given Constitutional rights to transgenders too.
In 2019 the Government passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act,2019 after the revision of its earlier versions as launched in 2016 and 2018 bill. Under article 14, 15,16 and 21 the court has granted them equal rights, the Supreme Court has underlined the importance of dignity and recognition that the third gender deserves in India. In the case of National Legal Service Authority vs Union of India the court interpreted Article 14 and declared that the respective Article ensures equality and equal protection of law to ‘any persons’, with the following words the leverage of including transgenders was taken. Furthermore, Article 15, 16, 19 (1) (A) and Article 21 were also interpreted and the transgender community got recognized under the “third gender” and the apex court ordered to initiate normalize the trans community.
Regardless of the new bill and various actions are taken in favour of the trans community, there is still a need for a plan of action where transgenders are endured not only because of the legal implementation but because of social acceptance as well.
As a growing nation, the Indian Constitution has always exhibited its stand and belief inequality. The law of the country delivers justice and protection to all citizens of the country, despite its continuous attempt to administer equality to all individuals, India actively demands a strong policy to manage equality to not only men and women who come from different background but also to the non-binary genders as they are an equal part of the country.
This Article is written by Amna Ali, B.A. L.L.B Student at Amity Law School / Amity University, Noida.