Life and Personal Liberty in the Context of the Constitution of India

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow


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Life and Personal Liberty: The Indian Constitution, regarded as the supreme law of the land, enshrines certain fundamental rights for its citizens. Among these, the right to life and personal liberty is one of the most significant, and it’s encapsulated within Article 21 which simply states: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”

While the wording may seem straightforward, it’s the myriad Supreme Court judgments that have sculpted and expanded the scope of Article 21, making it a bastion for human rights in the country.

Understanding Article 21

At its core, Article 21 ensures that neither the State nor its citizens can unlawfully end someone’s life or curtail their liberty. It doesn’t just mean the right to existence but extends to the right to live with dignity.

Landmark Judgments

  1. Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India (1978):
    • The Supreme Court declared that the ‘procedure established by law’ must be just, fair, and reasonable and not merely a whimsical procedure determined by any authority. This expanded the scope and made sure the right to life couldn’t be taken away arbitrarily.
  2. Unni Krishnan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993):
    • Right to education up to the age of 14 was considered a fundamental right, ensuring that living with dignity also involved being educated.
  3. Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India (1984):
    • In this judgment, the Supreme Court articulated that no one should be subjected to bondage, ensuring the right against forced labor, which is an essential element of living with dignity.
  4. Rudul Shah vs. State of Bihar (1983):
    • For the first time, the court granted compensation for unlawful detention, signifying that the right to personal liberty couldn’t be taken lightly.
  5. K.S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India (2017):
    • In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court held that the right to privacy is protected under Article 21. This has become increasingly important in an era of digital information and surveillance.
  6. Shabnam vs. Union of India (2015):
    • The judgment emphasized that even death-row convicts have certain rights and their execution cannot be carried out in an arbitrary, inhumane, or unfair manner.

Concluding Thoughts

The intricate dance between the Constitution of India and the Supreme Court judgments has resulted in a broad and profound understanding of life and personal liberty in the country. What started as a simple phrase has now encompassed areas like privacy, health, environment, and even the digital realm.

In a nation with as much diversity and complexity as India, ensuring the right to life and personal liberty is not just about surviving but about thriving, evolving, and living with dignity. The various judgments show the adaptability and resilience of India’s judicial system in protecting these sacred rights.