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Article 21 states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.” This Article mentions two basic terms ‘life’ and ‘personal liberty’. The term ‘life’ used here is something more than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs by which life is enjoyed. ‘Personal liberty’ means the liberty of an individual to behave as one pleases except for those restraints imposed by laws and codes of conduct of the society in which one lives to safeguard the physical, moral, political, and economic welfare of others. Is the right available to dead person also? In the case of Ramji Singh alias Mujeeb Bhai vs. State of U.P and Ors[1], the Allahabad High Court held that the expression ‘person’ includes a dead person in a limited sense. Court held that the right to life under Article 21 extends to treat the dead body of the person with respect with which he would have deserved, had he been alive, subject to his tradition, culture and religion which he possessed. The State was ordered to respect the dead person by allowing the body of the person to be cremated with dignity.

Case: 1. A.K. Gopalan vs. State of Madras[2]- Post Gopalan case the scenario in respect of scope of Article 21 has been expanded or modified gradually through different decisions of the Apex Court and it was held that interference with the freedom of a person at home or restriction imposed on a person while in jail would require authority of law.

2. In Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India[3], the Apex Court opened up a new dimension and laid down that the procedure cannot be arbitrary, unfair or unreasonable one. Article 21 imposed a restriction upon the state where it prescribed a procedure for depriving a person of his life or personal liberty. Justice Bhagwati used three terms ‘just, fair and reasonable’ while giving his judgement so that there is no scope of injustice.   

Various Facets of Article 21 are:

  1. Right to Live with Human Dignity- Article 21 of this country provides to live with human dignity, free from exploitation and practice any profession to support his livelihood. The magnitude and contents of the components of this right would depend upon the extent of the economic development of the country. In the case of Francis Coralie Mullin vs. The Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi and Ors[4], the Court observed that right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings. Another case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India and Ors[5], the court held that right to live with human dignity enshrined in Article 21 drive its breath from DPSPs and particularly clause e and f of Article 39, 41 and 42.
  2. Right to Reputation- Man is a social animal thrives on a fact that one's reputation and dignity goes hand in hand with making life worth living. In the case of Om Prakash Chautala vs. Kanwar Bhan[6], Supreme Court held that reputation is an important part of one’s life. When the reputation is hurt, a man is half dead. It is fundamentally a glorious amalgam and unification of virtue which makes a man fell proud of his ancestry and satisfies into bequeathing. It is a part of inheritance on the posterity.
  3. Right to livelihood- In the case of Oliga Tellis and Ors vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation and Ors[7], the court held that the right to life included right to livelihood. However, the court said that no person could claim the right to livelihood by the pursuit of an opprobrious occupation or nefarious trade or business like gambling or living on the gain of prostitution. In another case of Mx of Bombay Indian Inhabitant vs. M/S. Zy[8], the court held that a person tested HIV positive could not be rendered medically unfit solely on the ground so as to deny him the employment.
  4. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces- Supreme Court, after series of cases has held that ‘right to life’ under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution along with other fundamental rights are guaranteed to us by constitutional amplitude to cover gender equality including the right against Sexual Harassment. The scope of Article 21 has been widened by the Supreme Court to a great extent. Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan[9] was the first case filed in respect to sexual harassment.  
  5. Right to Shelter- As good as this right guaranteed under Article 21 sounds, as citizens we must provide at least basic shelters to those who are ignored by government because no human being must be deprived of food, shelter or water. Chameli Singh vs. State of UP[10] was the first case in which right to shelter was recognised.
  6. Right to Live in Unpolluted Environment- This right under Article 21 of Indian constitution covers a wide variety of rights not just for humans but also for wildlife, forests, lakes, ancient monuments, fauna-flora, unpolluted air and water and maintenance of ecological balance. In the case of MC Mehta vs. Union of India[11], the Court ordered the relocation of 292 industries.

7. Right to Education- Every citizen has a right to free education under Article 21 until the minimum age of 14 years. Though we don’t get to see such rights being practised as stated but then we must encourage those who are deprived of education due to their economic capabilities to study via government-aided schools and to entitle them of their right as provided under Article 21 and Article 21a of Indian constitution. One of the famous cases under this is of Mohini Jain vs. State of Karnataka[12]. This case occurred when the Government of Karnataka issued a notification that permitted the private medical colleges in the State of Karnataka to charge exorbitant tuition fees from the students admitted other than the ‘Government seat quota’. Another important case is of Unni Krishnan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and Ors[13]. The court, in this case, held that there is no fundamental right to education for a professional degree that flows from Article 21.

Thus, these are a few basic rights which are recognised and guaranteed to every citizen of this country by the constitution of India. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is a broad right and includes various rights as its part and parcel.  






[1] A.I.R. 2009

[2] 1950 AIR 27

[3] 1978 AIR 597

[4] 1981 AIR 746

[5] (1997) 10 SCC 549

[7] 1985 SCC (3) 545

[8] AIR 1997 Bom 406

[9] (1997) 6 SCC 241

[10] 1995 Supp(6) SCR 827

[11] 1987 A.I.R 1086

[12] 1992 A.I.R 1858

[13] 1993 A.I.R 217