ARTICLE 21

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Introduction

One of the fundamental tenets of human existence is the right to a free, abundant, and dignified life. Everyone has the right to live their life as they see fit, free from unjustifiable interference from others. A strong democracy must grant its people the freedom to safeguard their own lives and liberties.

In India, Part III of the Constitution of India, 1950 grants citizens the Fundamental Right to the Protection of Life and Personal Liberty. These Fundamental Rights are granted against state activities, which means that no act by any state authority can infringe any such right of a person unless in accordance with the procedure set forth by law. These Fundamental Rights symbolize the fundamental principles valued by the people.

What does Article 21 states ?

No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Scope of Right to Life and Personal Liberty

(1) Right to live with human dignity

The mere guarantee of a person’s right to life is insufficient. Each person has been granted the right to live with dignity, which includes having access to the needs of human existence and having sovereignty over one’s own decisions. Dignity and respect are vital components of life.

  • Landmark judgement under right to live with human dignity

Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018)- Homosexuality

In this instance, the petitioner NGO filed a Writ Petition challenging Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 on the grounds that it criminalized homosexual behavior and hence violated fundamental human rights.

Using the principle of human dignity as a guide, the court determined that Section 377 violated Articles14, Article15, Article19, and Article21 of the Constitution to the extent that it made private, consensual sexual acts between adults (i.e., people over the age of 18) illegal. As a result, it was deemed legal for LGBT individuals to engage in sexual activity with one another with their informed consent.

(2) Right to livelihood

A individual needs access to financial and material resources to meet his numerous demands in order to survive. The law acknowledges that every person, whether a man or a woman, has an equal right to a means of subsistence so that they can obtain the things they need, such as food, water, housing, clothing, and other necessities. No one should have to live in squalor and poverty because they are denied the opportunity to support themselves.

  • Landmark judgement regarding right to livelihood

Olga Tellis and Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1986)- Right to Livelihood

In this case, the petitioners were people who lived on the streets and in slums in Bombay. In response to an earlier decision made by the State of Maharashtra and the Bombay Municipal Corporation to forcefully evict residents and deport them, which resulted in the demolition of several homes, they filed a writ suit. They argued that these measures violated a person’s right to livelihood, which should be regarded as a component of his fundamental right to life, by evicting him from his slum or pavement abode.

Despite being robbed of their right to a livelihood, the court found that the government had a legitimate reason for evicting pavement and slum dwellers since they were abusing public property. They shouldn’t be regarded as trespassers, though, given they were forced to occupy the unclean spaces. The people who were counted before 1976 would be eligible for resettlement, and any evictions would take place until after the upcoming monsoon season.

(3) Right to privacy

The right to privacy may seem like a very fundamental and apparent right to have, but for a very long time, the government did not recognize it as a separate right because it was not specifically recognized by the Indian Constitution’s drafters. A person’s autonomy over their own body, mind, and knowledge has been recognized more and more throughout time, and the courts have placed appropriate emphasis on this concept in several rulings.

  • Landmark case regarding Right to privacy

R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu (1994)

In this instance, a murderer who had been convicted of the crime penned his memoirs, in which he also discussed his friendship with the prison guards, some of whom had been his criminal associates. His wife sent it to the Tamil journal ‘Nakkheeran’ for publication, but the publication was thwarted by the jail authorities. The magazine’s editors petitioned the court to prevent the government or the jail administration from preventing the publishing of the autobiography.

According to the court, the criminal Auto Shankar was free to do anything he wanted with his personal data. therefore, the publication of what the magazine referred to as the “autobiography” of the criminal could not be halted.

This decision laid the way for subsequent rulings on the Right to Privacy and established it as one of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.

(4) Right to get pollution free water and air

Every person’s right to life and a healthy environment must include the ability to obtain clean water and air. This right underlines the relevance of clean and sustainable natural resources for the wellbeing and survival of all individuals as an essential component of the larger framework of fundamental rights. It guarantees that everyone has the natural right to breathe clean air and drink safe water that is free of dangerous pollutants and poisons. The right to pollution-free water and air underscores the obligation of the state and society to safeguard and conserve these priceless resources for current and future generations by recognizing the significance of maintaining ecological balance and public health.

  • Landmark case regarding right to get pollution free water and air

Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991)

Two iron and steel industries were sued in this case using the legal theory that they were polluting the neighboring river Bokaro by discharging rubbish into it. The petitioner promised to personally remove the garbage and sludge and blamed the State Pollution Control Board for not doing so.

Decision: The court affirmed that the fundamental right to life includes the enjoyment of clean water and air, and that any violation of this right can be challenged in court by a citizen.

The State Pollution Control Board has implemented effective pollution control measures, hence this specific PIL was dismissed on the grounds that it had been filed in the petitioner’s personal interest and for personal benefit.

(5) Right to Education: A Fundamental Right under Article 21A

Without education, life is still only an animal existence. Education broadens a person’s intellect, enabling him to achieve not only financial security but also happiness, respect, and the ability to leave his mark on the world.

The Constitution (Eighty-Sixth) Amendment Act of 2002 adds the right to education to Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. All kids between the ages of six and fourteen (6-14) have a fundamental right to free and required education under this article.

  • Landmark cases regarding right to education

Miss Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka and Ors. (1992)

In one instance, a student applying to a government medical college in Karnataka was denied admission because she was unable to pay the Rs. 60,000 capitation fee that was assessed to applicants who did not reside in Karnataka. She complained about it in a petition.

The High Court ruled that it was unlawful to collect a capitation fee from students in any situation. Additionally, it recognized that the right to education, which is mentioned in Article 41 of Part IV of the Constitution, is what guarantees a person a life of dignity and happiness, and that failing to make it a Fundamental Right would defeat that right’s purpose and keep all other Fundamental Rights out of the reach of those who lack literacy. As a result, it said that the right to education is a fundamental right.

(6) Prevention of sexual harassment of working women

When we consider a decent life, it typically involves treating others with respect and without having any unfavorable acts done against you. But in this patriarchal society, women are frequently seen as sexual objects that men should enjoy, which invites unwelcome sexual approaches.

One of the reasons why there are so few women working today, even in metropolitan areas, is the lack of women’s safety outside of the house. For a woman, the Right to Life includes the right to be free from sexual harassment as she pursues her career objectives and works to support herself. This gives her the freedom to exercise her right to engage in any profession, occupation, or trade.

  • Landmark case regarding prevention of sexual harassment of working women

Vishaka and Ors. v. State of Rajasthan and Ors. (1997)- Right against Sexual Harassment

Following an alleged gang rape of a social activist in a Rajasthani hamlet, a writ suit was brought in this case to stop the risks to the safety of working women. It argued that the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15, and 21 were violated by sexual harassment experienced by women at work.

The court defined sexual harassment and established a number of rules for preventing it in the workplace, including (but not limited to) the following:

(a) Employers and responsible individuals have a responsibility to stop sexual harassment.
(b) Employers have a responsibility to give women a secure and suitable work environment.
(c) creation of a complaint process and committee with a female chair to address complaints.
(d) Discipline guidelines for dealing with wrongdoing.
(e) the promotion of knowledge of working women’s rights.

(7) Police atrocities and custodial death 

One of a State’s most essential institutions is the police, which serves as the enforcing arm of the law. Police are granted extensive powers in order to maintain social order and deter illegal activity.

However, occasionally, some police officers get enamored with their position of authority and attempt to abuse it. They stop following the law and start enforcing it themselves. It is distressing to witness how law enforcement officials may undermine the rule of law, resulting in incidents of violence and horrors.

Police personnel occasionally unlawfully detain people, abuse detainees, and engage in a variety of other crimes.

  • Landmark case regarding police atrocities and custodial death

Smt. Nilabati Behera Alias Lalita Behera v. State of Odisha and Ors. (1993)

In this instance, authorities detained the petitioner’s 22-year-old son. His deceased body was discovered on the railroad tracks the next day. The corpse was discovered with several injuries, indicating an unusual death. The petitioner claimed a death in custody.

The court found the claim to be true and granted the petitioner compensation. It instructed the state to determine who was at fault for the killing and punish those authorities appropriately.

It affirmed the right to life of those who are being tried and those who are in detention, as well as the rule that no police officer can take away someone’s life or freedom without following the law.

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