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Q. Article 15 (1) says that "The state shall not discriminate against any citizen only on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth". How far is this statement true?

The goal before the framers of the constitution was to provide equality in all respects to the citizens. To that end, they kept the "Right to Equality"  as the first among all fundamental rights. While art 14 gives a general principle of equality to be followed, art 15 and art 16 give specific examples that illustrate the concept of equality that the framers had in their mind, which was that "Like should be treated alike".

Art 15 (1) gives a concrete shape to the abstract concept of equality. In the background of Indian social structure, where people were discriminated on the basis of religion, caste, and sex quite openly, this article prohibits such discrimination altogether. It ends such discrimination by state. Further, art 15(2) says that no citizen, on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth, shall be subjected to any liability, disability, condition, or restrictions with regards to access to places such as hotels, restaurants, shop or other public use places such as a well, tank, or a temple.

Because of art 15(1) the state is prohibited from making laws that discriminate only on the said grounds. Any laws made in contravention to this, will be quashed by the courts. For example, in the case of Nayasukh Das vs State of UP AIR 1953 SC, it was held that the rule of having separate electorates on the basis of religion was invalid. In the case of State of Rajasthan vs Pratap Singh AIR 1960, SC held that the law to tax all residents of a locality except Muslims and Harijans is unconstitutional.

However, it should be noted that the state may discriminate on any other grounds if the grounds of discrimination satisfy the test of reasonable classification under art 14. Thus, in the case of D P Joshi vs State of Madhya Bharat AIR 1960, it was held that discrimination based of place of residence is constitutional.

Thus, it can be said that art 15(1) is quite wide and goes a long way towards realizing the goal of equality in the society.

Exceptions to 15(1)
The exception to art 15(1) arise from Art 14 itself. As mentioned earlier, equality means like should be treated alike. Thus, it would be gross injustice if unlike were treated alike. Since there are several sections in the Indian society that have been discriminated against in the past on the basis of sex and caste, they are not capable of taking advantage of the environment of equality, equally. Thus, to ensure that justice is done to such sections, the exceptions to art 15(1) were created.

Art 15(3)
It allows the state to make special provisions for women and children. In the case of Muller vs Oregon 1908, even US SC acknowledged the fact that due to their physical structure and maternal functions, women are at a disadvantage compared to men. But for a society to grow and prosper, its women must be protected and uplifted. Therefore, the makers of the constitution kept this provision. Under this article, several acts and ameliorative measures for women have been passed. Women have been given favorable treatment in several laws as well.
For example, in the case of Yusuf Abdul Aziz vs State of Bombay AIR 1954, SC held that section 497 of IPC that punishes only a man for adultery and not the woman is valid.

In the case of State of AP vs P B Vijayakumar AIR 1995, SC held that making special provisions for women in employment is an integral aspect of art 15(3). So the rule 22A made by AP Govt. that reserved posts for women was valid even if art 16 does not explicitly allow it. The power in art 15(3) is not whittled down by art 16.

Art 15(4)
Due to caste system prevalent in India, several section of people were systematically exploited and were denied education and opportunities to grow for thousands of years. Due to such oppression, they were left socially and educationally backward and they were not capable of taking advantage of the new found equality. Thus, it was felt necessary to given them special treatment in education and public service.  State of Madras was the first to reserve seats for such socially and educationally backward classes. But this was challanged in the case of Champakam Dorairajan vs State of Madras AIR 1951. In this case, SC held that reservation of seats in educational institutions based on caste is unconstitutional.  To counter this issue, art 15(4) was added by the first amendment to the constitution.
It allows the state to make special provisions for socially and economically backward classes and SCs and STs. However, these provisions have to be made with art 335 in mind, which says that such provisions should not adversely affect the quality of administration.

Due to caste based politics, art 15(4) was getting abused and reservation in some places reached as high as 90%.  There have been several cases on this issue and the SC has tried to find the right balance between social justice, the aspirations of common man, and the quality of administration. The most recent judgment by SC on this issue was given in the case of Indra Sawhey vs Union of India  AIR 1993, in which it held that reservation cannot exceed 50%, and creamy layer should be excluded.

Upon examining the philosophy behind art 14, in can said that art 15 does not go against the principle of equality. Art 15 gives specific examples on which discrimination is prohibited and it also list specific cases where a positive discriminate may be done to achieve social equality and social justice.