General Studies IIConstitution

Article 23


Details of the conviction of cases involving human trafficking were recently shared in Parliament.

About Article 23

Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour

Article 23(1): Traffic in human beings and the beggar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law.

Article 23(2): Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them.

  • Exploitation implies the misuse of others’ services by force and/or labour without payment.
  • There were many marginalized communities in India who were forced to engage in manual and agricultural labour without any payment.
  • Labour without payment is known as begar.
  • Article 23 forbids any form of exploitation.
  • Also, one cannot be forced to engage in labour against his/her will even if remuneration is given.
  • Forced labour is forbidden by the Constitution. It is considered forced labour if the less-than-minimum wage is paid.
  • This article also makes ‘bonded labour’ unconstitutional.
  • Bonded labour is when a person is forced to offer services out of a loan/debt that cannot be repaid.
  • The Constitution makes coercion of any kind unconstitutional. Thus, forcing landless persons into labour and forcing helpless women into prostitution is unconstitutional.
  • The Article also makes trafficking unconstitutional.
  • Trafficking involves the buying and selling of men and women for illegal and immoral activities.
  • Even though the Constitution does not explicitly ban ‘slavery’, Article 23 has a wide scope because of the inclusion of the terms ‘forced labour’ and ‘traffic’.
  • Article 23 protects citizens not only against the State but also from private citizens.
  • The State is obliged to protect citizens from these evils by taking punitive action against perpetrators of these acts (which are considered crimes), and also take positive actions to abolish these evils from society.
  • Under Article 35 of the Constitution, the Parliament is authorized to enact laws to punish acts prohibited by Article 23.
  • Clause 2 implies that compulsory services for public purposes (such as conscription to the armed forces) are not unconstitutional. 

Laws passed by the Parliament in pursuance of Article 23:

  • Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956
  • Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

Constituent Assembly Debates

  • Prof. KT Shah argued that even ‘devadasi’ must be added to the specific mention of ‘begar’, however other members felt that the practice of devadasi is declining and ordinary legislation is sufficient to ban the practice.
  • Sardar Bhopinder Singh had an opinion that the state must compensate adequately in case of compulsory service which was rejected.

Practices prohibited by Article 23

Article 23 explicitly prohibits the following discussed practices:

  • Begar: This is a form of forced labour which means involuntary work without any remuneration. In other words, it can be said that a person is compelled to work against his will without being paid for it.  
  • Bonded Labour/ Debt Bondage: Article 23 prohibits bonded labour as it is a form of forced labour as per this article. This is a practice under which a person is forced to work to pay off his debt. The money they get is very little and the work they do gets doubled. Often these debts get passed over to the next generations. Hence, it is known as  a form of forced labour.
  • Human trafficking: It means selling and buying of a human being like goods and includes immoral trafficking of women and children. Although, slavery is not expressly mentioned under Article 23 but it is included within the meaning of ‘traffic in human beings’.  In pursuance of Article 23, Parliament has passed the Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956, for punishing human trafficking.
  • Other forms of forced labour: Any other practice which comes under Article 23 is also prohibited by this Article.

An Exception to Article 23

Under clause (2) of Article 23, the State is allowed to impose compulsory services for public purposes like national defence, removal of illiteracy and other public utility services (electricity, water, air and rail services, postal services, etc.) provided that in making any such service compulsory for public purposes, the State, however, cannot make discrimination on the basis of  religion, race, caste or class or any of them.

Landmark Judgments

Some of the important cases pertaining to Article 23 are briefly discussed as follows –

  • In the case of People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, the Supreme Court interpreted the ambit of Article 23. Bhagwati J. held as follows-

“The scope of Article 23 is vast and unlimited. It is not merely ‘begar’ which is prohibited under this Article. This Article strikes at forced labour in whichever form it may exist as it violates human dignity and opposes the basic human values. Hence, every form of forced labour is prohibited by Article 23 without considering whether forced labour is being paid or not. Also, no person shall be forced to provide labour or services against his will even if it is mentioned under a contract of service. The word ‘force’ has a very wide meaning under Article 23. It not only includes physical or legal force but also recognizes economic circumstances which compel a person to work against his will on less than minimum wage. It was directed by the court to Government to take necessary steps punishing the violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens guaranteed under Article 23 by private individuals.”

  • In Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan, the State employed  people for certain work under the Famine Relief Act. The people were badly hit by famine, thus the State employed them. However, these people were paid even below the minimum wages on the ground that the money is given to help them in meeting the famine situation. Bhagwati J. held that-

“The payment of wages lower than the minimum wage to a person employed in Famine Relief Work is violative under Article 23. The State is not allowed to take undue advantage of the helplessness of such people with an excuse of helping them to meet the situation of famine or drought.”

  • In Deena v. Union of India, it was held by Chandarchud C. J. that-

“The labours taken from the prisoners without paying remuneration was ‘forced labour’ and violative of Article 23 of the Constitution. The prisoners are entitled to payment of reasonable wages for the work taken from them and the Court is under a duty to enforce their claim.”

Where does Right against exploitation stand in India?

India faces the abundance of human rights violations. The way our political structure is built up, it makes the people of the country appear subjective.

This is largely because every time someone in the country makes an effort to challenge the authority, political backlashes take place as a result of which many violators are led off the hook despite evidence pointing towards it. 


According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), crimes against Dalits which include rape, murder and other forms of violence have only increased over the past years.

While still being considered as ‘untouchables’ in most parts of the country, they are deprived of any kinds of civility which are otherwise enjoyed by other parts of the society.


The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) which regulates the grants given by foreign donors was revived last year. This was done on purpose of harassing those NGOs which stood against the government policies.

An NGO named Greenpeace India was actively involved in speaking against the government policies starting from poor infrastructure to the mishandling of the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The upshot of this was the government labelled its activists as ‘anti-national’, whilst cutting off it’s funding.

Child Rights

The number of children dropping from school increases each day, especially in the marginalized communities who go through innumerable disparities like income inequalities, large debts, discrimination amongst others.

While the government did prohibit the employment of children in hazardous occupations, the cases of child rights violation always find a way back in. 

Related Articles:

  1. Anti trafficking bill draft
  2. National Anti-Trafficking Bureau
  3. Operation AAHT

Source: Indian Express  

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