The term “fraternity” has a significant place in the history of constitutional law. It has, in fact, come into prominence after French Revolution. The motto of Republican France echoes: – ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’, or ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’. The term “fraternity” has an animating effect in the constitutional spectrum. The Preamble states that it is a constitutional duty to promote fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual. Be it stated that fraternity is a perambulatory promise.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly spoke: –

“The principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate entities but in a trinity. They form the union and trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy … Without fraternity, liberty and equality would not become natural course of things. Courts, as sentinel on the qui vive, therefore must strike a balance between the changing needs of the society for peaceful transformation with orders and protection of the rights of the citizens.”

In the Preamble to the Constitution of India, fraternity has been laid down as one of the objectives. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar inserted the same in the Draft Constitution stating “the need for fraternal concord and goodwill in India was never greater than now, and that this particular aim of the new Constitution should be emphasized by special mention in the Preamble.” Fraternity, as a constitutional concept, is umbilically connected with justice, equality and liberty.

American scholarship tends to be in agreement with this precept. Morris Abram expresses this in even more emphatic terms when he treats it as essential to achieving liberty and equality, and vice versa. According to him: –

“In America, we have learned that the elements of the plea are interdependent: that liberty of itself may not bring about fraternity and equality . . . Permit me to observe that the converse is also true: merely by possessing fraternity and equality man will not thereby automatically achieve liberty.’[1]

Fraternity as a concept

Fraternity as a concept is characteristically different from the other constitutional goals. It, as a constitutional concept, has a keen bond of sorority with other concepts. And hence, it must be understood in the breed of homogeneity in a positive sense and not to trample dissent and diversity. It is neither isolated nor lonely. The idea of fraternity is recognised as a constitutional norm and a precept. It is a constitutional virtue that is required to be sustained and nourished.

It is a constitutional value which is to be cultivated by the people themselves as a part of their social behavior. There are two schools of thought; one canvassing individual liberalization and the other advocating for protection of an individual as a member of the collective. The individual should have all the rights under the Constitution but simultaneously he has the responsibility to live upto the constitutional values like essential brotherhood – the fraternity – that strengthens the societal interest.

Fraternity means brotherhood and common interest. Right to censure and criticize does not conflict with the constitutional objective to promote fraternity. Brotherliness does not abrogate and rescind the concept of criticism. In fact, brothers can and should be critical. Fault finding and disagreement is required even when it leads to an individual disquiet or group disquietude. Enemies Enigmas Oneginese on the part of some does not create a dent in the idea of fraternity but, a significant one, liberty to have a discordant note does not confer a right to defame the others. The dignity of an individual is extremely important.

In Indra Sawhney and others v. Union of India and others[2], the Court has deliberated upon as to how reservation connects equality and fraternity with social, economic and political justice as it can hamper fraternity and liberty if perpetuated for too long. Jeevan Reddy, J. has opined that

“Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual has a special relevance in the Indian context. …”

Sawant, J., in a separate but concurring opinion, stated: –

“Inequality ill-favours fraternity, and unity remains a dream without fraternity. The goal enumerated in the preamble of the Constitution, of fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation must, therefore, remain unattainable so long as the equality of opportunity is not ensured to all.’

This principle was reiterated in the case of AIIMS Students’ Union v. AIIMS and others[3] where reservation for post graduate students was held unconstitutional as it went against the objective of attaining fraternity.

In Indian Medical Association v. Union of India, (2011) exemptions granted to a private non-aided educational institution to only admit wards of army personnel was challenged. Among the various tests to determine the constitutionality the Court focused on fraternity by stating,

“in the absence of substantive equality or equality of means to access resources, various social groups could never achieve the requisite dignity necessary for the promotion of fraternity.”

In Raghunathrao Ganpatrao v. Union of India (1993) where the 26th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished the privileges given to former rulers of India was in question, the Court held it to be a positive step towards achieving the objective of fraternity. The Court adverted to the statements of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar during the Constitution Assembly debates and stated that: –

“In a country such as India, with several disruptive forces, such as religion, caste and language, the idea of fraternity is imperative to ensure the unity of the nation through a shared feeling of common brotherhood.”

The concept of fraternity under the Constitution expects every citizen to respect the dignity of the other. Mutual respect is the fulcrum of fraternity that assures dignity. It does not mean that there cannot be dissent or difference or discordance or a different voice. It does not convey that all should join the chorus or sing the same song. Indubitably not. One has a right to freedom of speech and expression. One is also required to maintain the constitutional value which is embedded in the idea of fraternity that assures the dignity of the individual. One is obliged under the Constitution to promote the idea of fraternity. It is a constitutional obligation.

Article 51-A

In the context of constitutional fraternity, fundamental duties engrafted under Article 51-A of the Constitution gain significance. Sub-articles (e) and (j) of Article 51-A of the Constitution read as follows: –

Article 51-A.

(e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;

(j) to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement;”

The prismatic perception of sub-article (e) would reflect that it is the duty of every citizen of India to promote harmony and the concept of common brotherhood amongst all the people despite many diversities. It is also the duty of every citizen to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity.

In this regard, a passage from AIIMS Students’ Union (supra) would be apt to refer. It reads as follows: –

“… Fundamental duties, though not enforceable by a writ of the court, yet provide a valuable guide and aid to interpretation of constitutional and legal issues. In case of doubt or choice, peoples wish as manifested through Article 51A, can serve as a guide not only for resolving the issue but also for constructing or moulding the relief to be given by the courts. Constitutional enactment of fundamental duties, if it has to have any meaning, must be used by courts as a tool to tab, even a taboo, on State action drifting away from constitutional values.”

In P.A. Inamdar and others v. State of Maharashtra and others[4] it has been observed that:-

“Fundamental duties recognized by Article 51A include, amongst others,

(i) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform; and

(ii) to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement. None can be achieved or ensured except by means of education. It is well accepted by the thinkers, philosophers and academicians that if JUSTICE, LIBERTY, EQUALITY and FRATERNITY, including social, economic and political justice, the golden goals set out in the Preamble to the Constitution of India are to be achieved, the Indian polity has to be educated and educated with excellence. Education is a national wealth which must be distributed equally and widely, as far as possible, in the interest of creating an egalitarian society, to enable the country to rise high and face global competition…”

In Subramaniam Swamy v. UOI (2016), the court has said,

“Respect for the dignity of another is a constitutional norm. It would not amount to an overstatement if it is said that constitutional fraternity and the intrinsic value inhered in fundamental duty proclaim the constitutional assurance of mutual respect and concern for each other’s dignity. The individual interest of each individual serves the collective interest and correspondingly the collective interest enhances the individual excellence. Action against the State is different than an action taken by one citizen against the other.

The constitutional value helps in structuring the individual as well as the community interest. Individual interest is strongly established when constitutional values are respected. The Preamble balances different and divergent rights.”

[1] Morris B Abram, ‘Liberty, Fraternity and Equality – One or Two Alone are not

Enough’ (1967) 16 Journal of Public Law 3, 8.

[2] AIR 1993 SC 477

[3] (2002) 1 SCC 428

[4] (2005) 6 SCC 537