Protection of Civil Rights, 1955 | Understanding Caste-Based Discrimination

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Protection of Civil Rights, 1955 | Understanding Caste-Based Discrimination
06 Aug 2020


In the Ancient India, people used to discriminate with other people on the basis of their cast, color, race and religion. One of these forms of discrimination was “Untouchability”. People used to deny touching other people just because of their caste or profession. This act was nothing but the insult of very dignity of being a human.

The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 was enacted as a piece of legislation to provide punishment for those who practice untouchability and discriminate against the people on this basis.

Article 17 of the Indian Constitution also says that, “Untouchability is prohibited and its practice in any form is forbidden”. And if any person does any act to contravene this provision, he shall be liable for punishment as per the law.

Historical Discrimination

India is constantly trying to develop itself in the field of economy and infrastructure but the reality of social system in India comes in the way everytime. Even in today’s time, it is seen in some areas that people still discriminate against other people on the basis of their caste. This discrimination has a history of thousands of years.

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Varna System

Basically, the Rig Veda, which was written somewhere between 1500-800 BC, says that there shall be 4 groups or ‘Varnas’ of people-

  1. The Brahmins,
  2. The Kshatriyas,
  3. The Vaishyas and
  4. The Shudras.

Though, the varna system was designed on the basis of the profession but with the gradual progression of the human society, it was based upon the birth of a person. As seen in one of the hymns of Rig Veda,

I am a singer; my father is a physician and my mother is a grinder of corn.

Thus, the caste-based discrimination was absent in the Vedic Society. However, gradually, when Brahamins and other caste amassed power, the discrimination also kicked in the society.

In these categories, the Shudras, who were laborers and service providers, were considered as impure or untouchable. These people were always the target of anger and atrocities by all the three remaining groups.

These people were not allowed to touch the so claimed upper- classes, and they were not even allowed to use the wells and temples of other castes. The discrimination reached its peak, when some of the people from other groups started practice untouchability against the Shudras.

When we look into the history, we find that Shudras used to clean human wastage, kill animals to make leather and many more things which were considered to be impure. This was the reason fro considering them untouchable as well. But in today’s era, people still consider some people untouchables just because of their cast. Even if the Shudras today do not do those activities, they are still considered as inferior.

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Need for legal Protection

The practice of untouchability destroys the very spirit of humanity and shows that the human beings are being treated worse than an animal. This system was very much needed to be ended in the modern India.

Also, the people who face such discrimination go through a lot. These people are denied right to live with dignity and respect. There have been incidences where this practice became the reason of death of many such persons, who could not take up such insult or who were denied the access to basic amenities.

Apart from that, the discrimination causes social and economical and mental harassment that prevents the individuals from making progress in their lives. As a result, the generations are trapped in the vicious cycle of discrimination.

All of these incidences demanded legal provisions for the eradication of this gruesome practice from India.

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Important Points of the Act

The Parliament by using its power conferred by Article 35 enacted The Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955. This act was further Amended in 1976 in order to make it stricter in terms of Untouchability.

However, it has now been renamed as The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. The term “Civil Rights” has been defined as ‘any right accruing to a person by reason of the abolition of Untouchability by Article 17 of the Constitution”. The major and significant provisions of this act are as follows:

  • This act has no exceptions in terms of jurisdiction; it applies to the whole India.
  • The act provides for the punishment for those who preach or practice Untouchability in any form.
  • This act prescribes the following acts as offences-
    1. Enforcing social or religious disability on the ground of Untouchability. Such as – preventing a person from entering in a temple which is open fro other persons of that religion.
    2. Refusing any person, the admission in hospital, hostel or educational institutions or any other public places on the basis of caste, religion, sex or any other reason.
    3. Refusing to sell or provide services to someone.
    4. Insulting a member from a community in the name of Untouchability.
    5. To make someone sweep or scavenge or to remove any carcass or to do any such activity.
All of these acts are punishable offences.
  • This act gives the power to State government to impose fine upon the people of an area, if they practice any act forbidden by this act.
  • The law will presume that the offence took place against the member of Scheduled Class in absence of any proof.
  • This act allows the Union Government to specify some rules and regulations for the better implementation of this act.
  • The offences which are committed under this act are cognizable in nature.
  • Under this act, the state government is required to form special courts or police stations or special committees or to conduct periodic survey for any such purpose.


As mentioned above, we have provisions in the Constitution and we have specific legislations to prohibit the caste-based discrimination in any form. Still, it is seen that the practices which discriminate on the basis of caste or which promote casteism are still going on in the rural and remote areas of the country. Stricter actions are required to be taken against them who go up against the very spirit of humanity and practice such abhorrent things like Untouchability.

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