Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21

Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21


Article 21 peruses as: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”[1]

This right has been held to be the core of the Constitution, the most natural and reformist provision in our living constitution, the foundation of our laws. Article 21 can only be claimed when a person is deprived of his life or personal liberty by the State as defined in Article 12. Infringement of the right by private people is not within the preview of Article 21. Article 21 applies to natural persons. The right is accessible to each individual, citizen, or alien. Thus, even a foreigner can claim this right.

Article 21 secures two rights:

  1. Right to life
  2. Right to personal liberty.

Meaning & Concept of “Right to Life”

The right to life is, without any doubt, the most fundamental of all rights. All other rights add quality to the life being referred to and rely upon the pre-presence of life itself for their activity. As human rights can only join to living beings, one may anticipate that the right to life itself to be in some sense essential, since none of the other rights would have any value or utility without it. There would have been no Fundamental Rights worth referencing if Article 21 had been deciphered in its unique sense. ‘Life’ in Article 21 of the Constitution is not only the physical act of breathing. It does not mean mere animal existence or continued drudgery through life.

Right to life is fundamental to our very presence without which we can’t live as a person and incorporates all those aspects of life, which go to make a man’s life meaningful, complete, and worth living. In this manner, the minimum necessities, least and fundamental necessities that are essential and unavoidable for a person is the central idea of the right to life.

Case Law: Kharak Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh [1963 AIR 1295][2]

The Supreme Court cited and held that by the expression “life” as here utilized something more is implied than simple animal existence. The restraint against its hardship reaches out to all those appendages and resources by which life is appreciated. The provision equally disallows the mutilation of the body by removal of an armored leg or the pulling out of an eye, or the devastation of any other organ of the body through which the spirit speaks with the external world.

Case Law: Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration [(1978) 4 SCC 409][3]

The Supreme Court emphasized with the endorsement the above perceptions and held that the “Right to Life” incorporated the right to lead a healthy life so as to enjoy all resources of the human body in their prime conditions. It would even incorporate the right to protection of a person’s tradition, culture, heritage, and all that offers significance to a man’s life. It incorporates the right to live in harmony, to sleep in peace, and the right to repose and wellbeing.

Inclusion to “Right to Life”

The Right to Life and Personal Liberty” includes:

1. Right to Live with Human Dignity

  • Case Law: Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India [1978 AIR 597][4]
  • The Supreme Court gave a new dimension to Article 21 and held that the right to live is not merely a physical right but includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity.

2. Right against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

  • Article 21 guarantees the right to life right to life with dignity. The court in this context has seen that the importance and content of fundamental rights ensured in the constitution of India are of adequate abundance to incorporate all facets of gender equality including avoidance of sexual harassment or abuse.
  • Sexual Harassment of women has been held by the Supreme Court to be violative of the Right to Life contained in Article 21.
  • Case Law: Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan [AIR 1997 SC 3011][5]
  • The Supreme Court has pronounced sexual harassment of a working woman at her work as adding up to the infringement of rights of gender equality and rights to life and liberty which is a clear violation of Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution. In the landmark judgment, the Supreme Court in the absence of enacted law to accommodate successful enforcement of basic human rights of gender equality and guarantee against sexual harassment laid down some guidelines also.

3. Right against Rape

  • Rape has been held to a violation of a person’s fundamental life guaranteed under Article 21. Right to life, would, therefore, incorporates all those aspects of life that proceed to make life meaningful, complete, and worth living.
  • Case Law: Bodhisattwa Gautam vs. Subhra Chakraborty [1996 AIR 922]

4. Right to Reputation

  • Reputation is an important part of one’s life. It is one of the finer graces of human civilization that makes life worth living.
  • Case Law: Smt. Kiran Bedi vs. Committee of Inquiry [1989 AIR 714][6]
  • The Supreme Court held that good reputation was an element of personal security and was protected by the Constitution, equally with the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. The court avowed that the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. The court asserted that the right to enjoyment regarding private reputation was of antiquated origin and was important to human society.

5. Right to Social Security & Protection of Family

  •  Right to life covers within its ambit the right to social security and protection of the family.
  • Case Law: Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation (India) Ltd. vs. Subhash Chandra Bose [AIR (1992) 573][7]
  • Justice K. Ramaswamy held that the right to social and economic justice is a fundamental right under Article 21. The right to life and dignity of an individual and status without means were cosmetic rights. Socio-economic rights were, subsequently, fundamental yearnings for meaning the right to life and that Right to Social Security and Protection of Family were an indispensable part of the right to life.

6. Right against Honor Killing

  • Case Law: Surjit Kumar vs. State of U.P. [AIR 2002 NOC 265][8]
  • A division bench of Allahabad high court took genuine note on harassment, in ill-treatment and killing of a person who was a major, for wanting to get married to a person of another caste or community, for carrying dishonor to the family since inter-caste or inter-community marriage was not disallowed in law, the court said that such practice of “honor killing” was a smudge on society. The court, accordingly, guided the police to take solid measures, against those who committed such ‘honor killing’.

7. Right to Health 

  • Case Law: Consumer Education and Research Centre vs. Union of India [(1995) SCC (3) 42][9]
  • The Supreme Court laid down that Social justice which is a device to ensure life to be meaningful and livable with human dignity requires the State to provide to workmen facilities and opportunities to reach at least a minimum standard of health, economic security, and civilized living. The health and strength of the worker, the court stated, was a significant feature of the right to life. Disavowal thereof bares the workmen the better aspects of life violating Article 21.

8. Right to Medical Care

  • Article 21 casts the obligation on the state to preserve life. It is the obligation of those who are accountable for the health of the community to save a life with the goal that the innocent may be protected and the guilty may be rebuffed. No law or state action can mediate to postpone and release this principal obligation of the members of the medical profession.
  • Case Law: Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India [AIR (1989) 2039]

9. Right to get Pollution Free Water & Air –

  • Case Law: Subhash Kumar vs. State of Bihar [1991 AIR 420][10]
  • It has held that a PIL is maintainable for ensuring enjoyment of pollution-free water and air which is included in ‘right to live’ under Article 21 of the constitution. The court saw that the Right to live is a key right under Article 21 of the Constitution and it incorporates the right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or disables that quality of life in derogation of laws, a citizen has the right to have responded to Article 32 of the Constitution for eliminating the contamination of water or air which may be impeding to the quality of life.

10. Right to Clean Environment

  • The “Right to Life” under Article 21 means a life of dignity to live in a proper environment free from the dangers of diseases and infection. Maintenance of health, safeguarding the sanitation and environment have been held to fall within the domain of Article 21 as it antagonistically influences the life of the citizens and it adds up to slow harming and lessening the life of the citizens because of the hazards created if not checked.
  • Case Law: Milk Men Colony Vikas Samiti vs. the State Of Rajasthan [(2007) 2 SCC 413][11]
  • The Supreme Court held that the “right to life” signifies a clean surrounding that prompts a healthy body and mind. It includes the right to freedom from stray cattle and animals in urban areas.

Meaning & Concept of “Personal Liberty”

The right to personal liberty in the Indian Constitution is the right of an individual to be liberated from limitations or infringements on his person, regardless of whether they are straightforwardly forced or indirectly brought about by calculated measures.

The Supreme Court has held that even legal detainment doesn’t spell farewell to all fundamental rights. A detainee holds all the rights enjoyed by a free citizen aside just from those ‘essentially’ lost as an occurrence of detainment.

In India, ‘Liberty’ has received a far more expansive interpretation. The Supreme Court of India has dismissed the view that liberty signifies only freedom from bodily restraint, and has held that it incorporates those rights and advantages that have long been perceived as being essential to the organized quest of happiness by free men.

Inclusion to “Right to Personal Liberty”

1. Right to Privacy

  • As per Black’s Law Dictionary, Privacy means the right to be let alone; the right of a person to be free from unwarranted publicity; and the right to live without unjustifiable impedance by the public in issues with which the public is not really concerned.
  • Albeit not explicitly referred to in the Constitution, the right to privacy is determined a ‘penumbral right’ under the Constitution, i.e. a right that has been pronounced by the Supreme Court as necessary to the fundamental right to life and liberty. The Supreme Court has been winnowed Right to privacy from Article 21 and a few different other provisions of the constitution read with the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP). Albeit no single statute presents a crosscutting ‘horizontal’ right to privacy; various statutes contain that either verifiably or unequivocally save this right.[12]
  • Case Law: Kharak Singh vs. State of U.P. [AIR 1963 SC 1295]

2. Right to go Abroad

  • Case Law: Satwant Singh Sawhney vs. Assistant Passport Officer, New Delhi [1967 SCR (2) 525][13]
  • The Supreme Court has included the Right to travel abroad contained in the articulation “Personal Liberty” within the meaning of Article 21.

3. Right against Illegal Detention

  • Case Law: Joginder Kumar vs. State of Uttar Pradesh [AIR 1994 SC 1349][14]
  • The police officers detained the petitioner and his whereabouts were not advised to his family members for five days. Taking serious note of the police high headedness and illegal detention of a free citizen, the Supreme Court laid down the guidelines governing the arrest of a person during the investigation:
  • An arrested person being held in custody is entitled if he so demands to have a friend, relative or other person told as far as is practicable that he has been arrested and where he is being detained.
  • The police officer shall advise the arrested person when he is brought to the police station of this right. An entry shall be needed to be made in the diary concerning who was informed regarding the arrest.

4. Right to Free Legal Aid

  • An accused person at lease where the charge is of an offense punishable with imprisonment is entitled to be offered legal aid if he is too poor to afford counsel. Counsel for the accused must be given sufficient time and facility for preparing his defense. Breach of these safeguards of a fair trial would invalidate the trial and conviction.
  • Case Law: Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot vs. State of Maharashtra [AIR 1978 SC 1548]

5. Right to Speedy Trial

  • Case Law: Hussainara Khatoon vs. Home Secretary, State of Bihar [AIR 1979 SC 1360][15]
  • It was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court that an alarming number of men, women, and children were kept in penitentiaries for quite a long time anticipating trial in courts of law. The Court took a genuine note of the circumstances and saw that it was conveying a disgrace on the judicial system that allowed detainment of men and women for such long periods of time without trials.
  • The Court held that confinement of under-trial detainees, in jail for a period longer than what they would have been condemned if sentenced, was unlawful as being in infringement of Article 21. The Court, consequently, ordered the release from jail of all those under-trial detainees, who had been in prison for a more drawn out period than what they might have been sentenced had they been condemned.

6. Right against Hand Cuffing

  • Handcuffing has been held to be prima face inhuman and therefore unreasonable, over-harsh, and at first flush, arbitrary. It has been held to be ridiculous and an infringement of Article 21.
  • Case Law: Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration [AIR 1980 SC 1535][16]

7. Right against Solitary Confinement

  • It has been held that a convict is not wholly denuded of his fundamental rights and his conviction does not reduce him into a non – individual whose rights are exposed to the impulses of the jail administration. In this way, the burden of any significant punishment inside the prison system is contingent upon the recognition of procedural defend.
  • Case Law: Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration [AIR 1978 SC 1675][17]

8. Right against Custodial Violence

The Supreme Court has taken a very positive stand against the atrocities, intimidation, harassment, and use of third-degree methods to extort confessions. The Court has grouped these as being against human dignity. The rights under Article 21 secure life with human dignity and the same are accessible against torment.

9. Right against Public Hanging

  • Case Law: Attorney General of India vs. Lachma Devi [AIR 1986 SC 467][18]
  • The Supreme Court held that the direction for the execution of the death sentence was unconstitutional and infringing of Article 21. It was additionally clarified that death by public hanging would be an uncouth practice. Although the crime for which the accused has been found guilty was barbaric it would be a shame on the civilized society to reciprocate the same. The Court said that a barbaric crime should not have to be visited with a barbaric penalty.

10. Right against Delayed Execution

  • Case Law: Sher Singh vs. State of Punjab [AIR 1983 SC 465][19]
  • The Supreme Court said that delayed sit wait for the execution of a sentence of death is a vile, unfair, and nonsensical procedure and the only way to fix that is through Article 21. But the Court held that this cannot be taken as the rule of law and applied to each case and each case should be settled upon its own countenances. 

11. Right against Bar Fitting

  • Case Law: Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration [AIR 1978 SC 1675][20]
  • The Supreme Court gave the Right against Bar Fetters and held that treatment that irritated human poise and diminished man to a degree of the beast would unquestionably be arbitrary and could be addressed under Article 21, but the right is not outright.

[1]. https://www.lawskills.in/ResourceDetails/11/right-to-life–scope-in-india

[2]. https://www.scobserver.in/court-in-review/right-to-privacy?slug=kharak-singh-v-state-of-uttar-pradesh

[3]. https://main.sci.gov.in/judgment/judis/4638.pdf

[4]. https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/maneka-gandhi-case-1978-sc-judgements/

[5]. http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-374-case-analysis-vishaka-and-others-v-s-state-of-rajasthan.html

[6]. https://www.clawlegal.org/editorial/kiran-bedi-ors-vs-committee-of-inquiry-anr-1989-air-754/

[7]. https://www.legalauthority.in/judgement/c-e-s-c-ltd-etc-vs-subhash-chandra-bose-and-ors-28710

[8]. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1406726/

[9]. https://uniteforreprorights.org/resources/consumer-education-research-centre-v-union-india/

[10]. http://lawtimesjournal.in/subhash-kumar-vs-state-of-bihar-and-ors/

[11]. https://www.lawyerservices.in/Milkmen-Colony-Vikas-Samiti-and-Another-Versus-State-of-Rajasthan-and-Others-2007-01-17

[12]. https://www.privacyinternational.org/reports/india/ii-legal-framework-0

[13]. https://www.legalauthority.in/judgement/satwant-singh-sawhney-vs-d-ramarathnam-assistant-passport-officer-government-35860

[14]. https://www.clawlegal.org/editorial/moses-wilson-and-ors-v-kasturiba-and-ors-air-2008-sc-379-2/

[15].http://lawtimesjournal.in/hussainara-khatoon-ors-vs-home-secretary-state-of bihar/#:~:text=The%20Court%20found%20that%20the,unjustified%20deprivation%20of%20personal%20liberty.

[16]. https://www.clawlegal.org/editorial/prem-shankar-shukla-vs-delhi-administration-1980-air-1535/

[17]. https://indianlegalsolution.com/sunil-batra-v-delhi-administration/

[18]. https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/5767b0fee691cb22da6d03c4

[19]. http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/F2BE6961-2727-4663-864C-4F9161CE7BC3.pdf

[20]. https://indianlegalsolution.com/sunil-batra-v-delhi-administration/

Author: Ayush Patria,
Sangam University, Bhilwara (Rajasthan); 3rd Year; Law Student

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