Article 21 of Indian Constitution Right to Life & Personal Liberty with Case Laws

“Article 21 is the perfect demonstration of the transformative character of  our constitution.”1  

~ Justice Iyyer    


Article 21 enshrined in the constitution of India is by far the most progressive, organic and  construed article to be existing in the Indian constitution. It is the nucleus of the constitution  as it renders meaning to other corresponding articles and fundamental rights in the  constitution.

It is a proviso that covers almost entire facets of how to run a peaceful life Article 21 is defined as prevention of deprivation of life and personal liberty unless the  person is subject to any procedure established by law. Borrowed from the American  constitution, the ambit of article 21 as per the Indian constitution is: life and personal liberty.  The article is validated to all the citizens and non-citizens. 

What is RIGHT TO LIFE under Article 21 of Indian Constitution

The right to life ambit under Article 21 talks about the need of freedom and life. As per  natural law, every natural person has the right to live a life with dignity, security and liberty. Right to life is every citizen and non-citizen’s fundamental right. The word “life” has been extensively described in numerous Indian cases. It is the most valuable part of the Indian  constitution as it broadly defines and dignifies other necessary rights, like: right to shelter, growth, nourishment and many more for survival. But the catch is that “right to life” doesn’t restrict itself to survival. It broadens itself to the glasses of a meaningful and a dignified life.

According to Kharak Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh. It highlights the significance of  animals’ existence that surpasses other aspects. The prohibition against deprivation of all the  limbs and abilities through which life is experienced. The law also forbids the removal of a  protected leg or the extraction of an eye, as well as the destruction of any other body organ  that connects our body’s essence with the external environment. In response to this the apex responded that right to privacy is not a fundamental right embedded in our constitution.  

For one to enjoy the quality of life, dignity helps define their sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence. Humans appreciate dignity, which is protected by the right to life because it promotes a peaceful way of life. Any behaviour that diminishes or impairs someone’s dignity must be regarded as an infringement on the basic right to life.

A landmark case that defines a dignified life is the Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration case, the supreme court reiterated that with the support of the aforementioned observations, the right to life also encompassed the right to live a healthy life and make the most of all the physical faculties of the human body. It would even cover the right to the preservation of one’s tradition, culture, heritage, and everything else that gives one’s life significance. It involves the freedom to breathe freely,  to rest peacefully, and to enjoy good health. 

Personal liberty is a golden element to a person’s life in the sociological sphere. It empowers an individual to behave in the society, it enables them to practice and profess a religion, take up a profession of their choice and enables them to settle anywhere in the country. Personal liberty has evolved by time.

The Classic Menaka Gandhi case

Till the 1950s there has been a narrower interpretation of personal liberty but post the judgement of Menaka Gandhi case, personal liberty has been given a wider meaning. In this particular case, the individual who brought forth the case was directed by the Regional Passport Office in Delhi to surrender her newly issued passport within a week. This action was taken based on the Central Government’s decision to impound the passport in the name of “public interest,” in accordance with the Passport Act of 1967.  When the petitioner requested an explanation for the impounding, the Government responded by stating that they could not provide a copy of the reasons “for the greater good of the general public.” Subsequently, the petitioner filed a writ petition challenging both the Government’s decision to impound the passport and their refusal to disclose the reasons, as well as their denial of the petitioner’s opportunity to defend herself. 

The supreme court pronounced the inclusion of the right to travel and the freedom to go abroad within the Right to Personal Liberty is essential. The interpretation of “personal liberty” as stated in Article 21 is broad and encompasses a wide range of rights associated with an individual’s personal freedom.

Consequently, the scope of personal liberty has been significantly expanded, encompassing all the rights granted under Article 21 and other rights pertaining to personal freedom. However, any restrictions on this right must be imposed through a legally established procedure that is fair, just, and reasonable, avoiding any fanciful, oppressive, or arbitrary measures.

The Court post the Menaka Gandhi case rendered a list of rights that Article 21 covers based numerous Indian cases. Some of them are: Right to privacy, right to go abroad, right to  shelter, right against solitary confinement, right to social justice and economic empowerment, right against handcuffing, right against custodial death, right against delayed execution,  Doctors’ assistance, right against public hanging, Protection of cultural heritage, right to  pollution-free water and air, right of every child to a full development, right to health and  medical aid, right to education, Protection of under-trials, right to die. 2 

The scope of the right to life and personal liberty is broad and continues to expand in the contemporary era. There is a growing understanding of the numerous parts of a person’s life that they are entitled to control and that would enable them to improve the quality of their lives. The Supreme Court has referred to this Right as the “heart and soul” of the Indian Constitution, and it definitely demonstrates why it is so because it protects the most  fundamental needs of human life. 

The Supreme Court ruled in Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan that sexual harassment of a working woman at her workplace violated her rights to gender equality and to life and liberty, which is a clear violation of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.

In Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, a Bench of three Supreme Court Judges considered and held that the right to shelter is a fundamental right available to all citizens, and it was read into Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as encompassing the right to shelter to make the right to life more meaningful.

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