RIGHT TO EQUALITY : Abolition of Titles

Article 18 of Indian Constitution abolishes titles and makes four provisions in that regard:

    1. It prohibits the state from conferring any title (except a military or academic distinction) on any body, whether a citizen or a foreigner.
    2. It prohibits a citizen of India from accepting any title from any foreign state.
    3. A foreigner holding any office of profit or trust under the state cannot accept any title from any foreign state without the consent of the president.
    4. No citizen or foreigner holding any office of profit or trust under the State is to accept any present, emolument or office from or under any foreign State without the consent of the president.

From the above, it is clear that the hereditary titles of nobility like Maharaja, Raj Bahadur, Rai Bahadur, Rai Saheb, Dewan Bahadur, etc, which were conferred by colonial States are banned by Article 18 as these are against the principle of equal status of all.

In 1996, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the National Awards–Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Sri. It ruled that these awards do not amount to ‘titles’ within the meaning of Article 18 that prohibits only hereditary titles of nobility. Therefore, they are not violative of Article 18 as the theory of equality does not mandate that merit should not be recognised. However, it also ruled that they should not be used as suffixes or prefixes to the names of awardees. Otherwise, they should forfeit the awards.

These National Awards were instituted in 1954. The Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai discontinued them in 1977. But they were again revived in 1980 by the Indira Gandhi government.

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