"Life and personal liberty are sacrosanct. They are not mere words. They are
the repositories of all our values and liberties." - Supreme Court of India
In the realm of constitutional rights, few provisions hold as much significance
as Article 21. Aptly referred to as the cornerstone of individual liberty.
Article 21 embodies the essence of personal freedom and the right to live with
dignity. With an unwavering focus on protecting lives and upholding justice,
Article 21 serves as a beacon of hope and resilience for every citizen. Let's
delve into the profound impact of Article 21, explore notable cases and examine
its intricate interconnections with other constitutional provisions. The
protection of life and personal liberty is guaranteed under Article 21 of the
One of the Constitution's most important clauses, it
guarantees that everyone has the fundamental right to life and personal freedom.
Through important rulings throughout the years, the court has played a crucial
part in interpreting and broadening the application of Article 21. This article
examines the core of Article 21 and how it has changed as a result of numerous
case laws. The Indian Constitution's Article 21 is the cornerstone of personal
freedoms when it comes to basic rights.
"No one shall be deprived of his life or
personal liberty except by the procedure established by law," it declares. This
relatively brief provision contains a wide range of rights, laws, rules, and
significant court rulings that have influenced how India interprets and defends
basic freedoms. Join us as we go through the rules, laws, and legal decisions
that make Article 21 an unbreakable barrier protecting the essence of life and
individual freedom. One of the Individuals' most significant rights cannot be
restricted, not even in an emergency. The ability to live is only one aspect of
the right to life. The capacity to live a complete life with dignity and purpose
is also included.
Many questions come to mind, such as what Article 21 is, where it came from, and
whether it only pertains to Indian nationals.
Firstly, come to its originality.
The US served as an analogy for the Constitution's framers when considering how
to include Article 21No one shall be deprived of his or her "life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law," as added by the US Constitution's Fifth
and Fourteenth Amendments. Justice Krishna Lyre referred to article 21 as "the
procedural Magna Carta Protection of life and liberty." No one shall be deprived
of life or liberty, nor shall any other criminal penalty be inflicted, unless by
the method provided by law, according to Article XXXI of the Constitution of
In addition, everyone has access to this essential right, both citizens and
Two rights are provided under Article 21:
- Right to life
- Right to personal liberty
- Right to Life: The right to life under Article 21 has been
interpreted expansively by the Indian judiciary to encompass not only the
right to mere existence but also the right to live with dignity and the
right to a meaningful life. It includes the right to be free from any form
of arbitrary deprivation of life. The Supreme Court has held that the right
to life extends to the right to food, water, shelter, healthcare, and a
- Right to Personal Liberty: The right to personal liberty ensures
that individuals have the freedom to move freely throughout the territory of
India, subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law. It protects
against unlawful detention, arbitrary arrest, and wrongful confinement. The
right to personal liberty also includes the right to privacy, which has been
recognized as an integral part of personal liberty by the Supreme Court.
- Procedure Established by Law: Article 21 includes the phrase
"except according to the procedure established by law." This means that
deprivation of life or personal liberty can only occur if it is done through
a lawful and just process. The phrase ensures that the state cannot act
arbitrarily or whimsically to take away an individual's life or personal
liberty. The procedure must be fair, and just, and not violate any other
Article 21 is not a part of the United States Constitution; it is a provision in
the Indian Constitution that guarantees the protection of life and personal
liberty. In the United States, similar protections are provided by the Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. In India, Article 21 of the
Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to life and personal liberty to
This article is one of the most significant and essential
provisions in the Indian Constitution, ensuring the protection of these
fundamental rights for every individual within the country's jurisdiction. The
term "procedure established by law" is more commonly associated with legal
systems in countries like India, whereas the United States primarily relies on
the concept of "due process of law" to ensure the protection of individuals'
Let's lay out the distinction between the two concepts:
- Due Process of Law (United States):
In the United States, the concept of due process of law is enshrined in both
the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment
applies to the federal government, while the Fourteenth Amendment extends
due process protections to actions taken by state governments. No one may be
deprived of their life, liberty, or property without following fair and
legal processes, according to the guarantee of due process. This means that
individuals have the right to notice, a fair hearing, and the opportunity to
present their case before any deprivation of their rights or property takes
place. Due process ensures that the government must act fairly and
impartially when dealing with individuals, providing them with the
safeguards they deserve.
- Procedure Established by Law (India):
In contrast, the term "procedure established by law" is part of the Indian
legal system and is mentioned in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The
Indian Constitution does not explicitly use the term "due process of law" as
the U.S. Constitution does. Instead, Article 21 provides that no one may be
deprived of their life or personal freedom until doing so by the legal
process. Instead, Article 21 states that no person shall be deprived of
their life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established
by law. The Indian legal system emphasizes whether the law itself provides a
procedure for taking away life or personal liberty, rather than focusing on
the fairness or reasonableness of that procedure.
The key difference between the two concepts lies in the level of protection
provided to individuals. Due process, as employed in the United States, ensures
a higher level of protection by requiring fairness, impartiality, and adherence
to established legal procedures. On the other hand, the procedure established by
law, as used in India, does not explicitly require the same level of scrutiny
regarding the fairness of the law itself or the procedures it prescribes.
In conclusion, while the United States relies on due process of law to safeguard
individuals' rights, India employs the concept of the procedure established by
law to achieve similar objectives, though with different legal nuances.
Positive Obligations: The interpretation of Article 21 has evolved to include
positive obligations on the state to ensure the fulfilment of necessities for
the well-being and dignity of its citizens. This includes access to healthcare,
education, food, and other social and economic rights.
Environmental Protection: The right to a clean and healthy environment is seen
as an essential component of the right to life and personal liberty under
Article 21. The Supreme Court has held that a polluted and degraded environment
can adversely affect an individual's health and, therefore, infringe upon their
right to life.
One of the most crucial rights that the Constitution protects is the basic right
outlined in Article 21. The Supreme Court of India has referred to this right as
the "heart of fundamental rights".
The Essence of Life and Personal Liberty: Article 21 guarantees that life and
personal liberty are abstract concepts and underlying tenets supporting and
sustaining all other rights and freedoms. It ensures the freedom to make
decisions that shape one's existence as well as the right to live in dignity.
- Right to Privacy:
While not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, the right to privacy has
been recognized as an inherent part of personal liberty protected by Article
21. The right to privacy shields individuals from unwarranted intrusion into
their private lives.
- Right to a Fair Trial:
Article 21 guarantees the right to a fair and just procedure established by
law. This ensures that every individual accused of a crime is provided with
a fair opportunity to defend themselves and receive a fair trial.
- Right to Environment
Every individual has a right to a sanitary and safe environment in which to
live. According to the Indian Constitution, every individual in the world is
responsible for maintaining a healthy environment. To do this, they must
take the necessary precautions to stop any environmental harm from
occurring. In addition, they strive to protect the environment the natural
world and its resources. The UN Environmental Programme for the Preservation
of the Environment has several treaties registered.
The Stockholm Declaration, which was adopted in 1972 at the first worldwide
conference on the environment, highlights the need for a healthy
environment. The Stockholm Declaration's guiding principles state that
everyone has a fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate living
conditions in a setting that supports a life of dignity and well-being. The
Stockholm Declaration was created as the cornerstone for the protection of
human rights and the environment.
- Right to live with dignity
The mere assurance that someone has the right to live is insufficient.
Honour and respect are essential elements of existence. As a result,
everyone is guaranteed the right to live in dignity, which includes having
access to the necessities of human existence and having control over their
In the 2014 case Occupational Health and Safety Association v. Union of
India, the protection of workers' health and well-being as well as their
access to fair and supportive working conditions were seen as the ideal
conditions for living with human dignity.
Furthermore, as is evident, respecting human dignity does not require
adopting a rigid mindset. Instead, it comprises those freedoms and rights
that allow a person to live his or her life without interference with their
self-respect, dignity, or safety. According to Article 21, everyone has the
right to live with dignity, regardless of gender or membership in the LGBTQ
community. Because Section 377 of the IPC prohibits adult consensual
physical acts in private, the court ruled in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of
India, 2018, based on the notion of personal satisfaction, that it violates
Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, it was
deemed legal for LGBT individuals to engage in sexual activity with their
- Right to die
The Right to Life guarantees each individual the freedom to lead a complete
life and forbids the State from interfering with this Right other than by
legal channels. But what if someone wants to kill themselves? Is he able to
exercise his Right to Life?
A person attempting suicide is prohibited by Section 309 of the IPC and may
face up to a year in jail, a fine, or both. Abatement to suicide, which is
defined as a person's aid in another person's suicide attempt, is a crime
under Section 306.
But a two-judge panel ruled in P. Rathinam v. Union of India (1994), keeping
Article 21 and the ideas of natural justice in mind, that the right to life
also included the right not to lead a limited existence. Section 309 of the
Indian Penal Code was declared invalid as a result.
However, the Court then changed its mind in the subsequent case of Smt. Gian
Kaur v. the State of Punjab (1996), holding that Section 309 of the IPC and
Section 306, which makes aiding suicide a crime, are both constitutional.
The court ruled that because suicide is an unconventional way to end a life,
it violates the idea of the right to life.
- Right to free legal aid
According to Article 39A of the Constitution, the State must establish a
functioning legal system based on equal opportunity by offering individuals
free legal help to ensure that no one is denied justice due to his or her
inability to pay. It is by Article 14, which guarantees equal protection
under the law, and Article 22(1), which states that every individual who has
been arrested must have the chance to be represented by a lawyer of his
choosing. Thus, this Right works to guarantee that one of justice's most
essential components that it is accessible to all is upheld.
"Jeevan ka Avsar, Vyaktigat Azaadi ka Uddeshya"
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978):
This important case expanded the interpretation of Article 21 by arguing
that the right to life includes the right to live with dignity in addition
to the right to exist. It emphasized the need for just, fair, and reasonable
laws before they may take away someone's life or personal freedom.
- Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985):
In this instance, the Supreme Court determined that Article 21's right to
subsistence is fundamental. It acknowledged that the state owes it to
individuals�particularly to the socially and economically disadvantaged�to
defend their right to a living.
- Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997):
The Supreme Court established rules to prevent and address sexual harassment
at the workplace in this case, guaranteeing women's right to a safe and
respectable workplace. The court did this while acknowledging the
significance of gender equality and protection against sexual harassment.
- A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras
According to the court, personal liberty refers to the freedom of the
physical body and excludes the rights granted by Article 19(1). Therefore,
it was believed that one's "personal" liberty comprised some rights, such as
the freedom to eat and sleep, but less significant rights, such as the
freedom to move around, were not seen to be part of one's "personal"
The Indian Constitution's Articles 14 (Right to Equality)19 (Right to Freedom)
and 21 (Right to Life and Liberty) are collectively referred to as the "golden
triangle" They are of utmost significance and give the idea of the rule of law
These rights are viewed as the fundamental guidelines for a citizen's daily
functioning. Individuals are fully shielded by the golden triangle from any
violations of their rights.
In the case of Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, the Supreme Court ruled that
legislation restricting someone's "personal liberty must also pass the tests of
Articles 14 and 19.
According to recent rulings by the High Courts of Allahabad and Delhi, the
ability to alter one's name or last name is a component of the right to life
under Article 21.
The Delhi High Court highlighted that the right to identification is an
"intrinsic part" of the right to life under Article 21 in the case "Sadanand &
Anr. vs CBSE & Ors."
According to Articles 19(1)(a), 21, and 14 of the Constitution, every person has
the basic right to retain or alter their name which also clarifies that this is
not an absolute right and is subject to various Reasonable Restrictions, this
was stated by the Allahabad High Court in Md. Sameer Rao vs. State of U.P.
In conclusion, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the fundamental
right to life and personal liberty and encompasses a broad range of protections
aimed at ensuring human dignity and the full development of an individual. The
Supreme Court's interpretations have expanded the scope of this right to include
various facets of a dignified life, making it a cornerstone of India's
constitutional framework. The judiciary has been essential in broadening the
application and interpretation of Article 21 throughout time, recognizing
additional rights and offering protections against arbitrary governmental