Various judicial pronouncements over the years have changed the interpretation of “Right To Life” to encompass Right to a Healthy Life, Right to Live with Human Dignity, Right against Rape, Right against Sexual Harassment at Work, Right to Shelter, Right to Health, Right to Medical Care, Right to Reputation, Right to Social Security and many others…
The Constitution is the supreme law of India, which comprises amongst others, the Fundamental Rights. Though there are many rights which are basic to advancements of the human race, in this edition, we will analyse the “Right to life and what it encompasses”.
What It Includes
Article 21 of the Constitution of India reads as “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” This means that a person’s life and personal liberty can be disputed only if that person has committed a crime and which applies to the citizen of India as well as non-citizen of India. As per Article 21, the term ‘life’ includes all those aspects of life which go to make a person’s life meaningful, complete and worth living.
Mere interpretation of “Right to Life” can be concluded as the physical act of breathing or mere animal existence, however the interpretation of the “Right to Life” changed over a period of time through various judicial pronouncements. Let us analyse “Right To Life” as interpreted by Supreme Court of India through various judicial pronouncements.
1. It’s not just existence
The term “life” is more than mere animal existence. (Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh) [AIR 1963 SC 1295]
2. Right to lead a Healthy Life
“Right to Life” included the right to lead a healthy life so as to enjoy all faculties of the human body in their prime condition. It would even include the right to protection of a person’s tradition, culture, heritage and all that gives meaning to a person’s life. It includes theright to live in peace, to sleep in peace and the right to repose and health. (Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration [AIR 1978 SC 1675])
3. Right To Live with Human Dignity
The right to live includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it viz., the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading, writing, and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings and must include the right to basic necessities and also the right to carry on functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of human self. (Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi [1981 AIR 746, 1981 SCR (2) 516))
Interpretation of the “Right to Life” changed over a period of time through various judicial pronouncements
Rupali Pritam Lonkar
Assistant Manager – Legal
4. Right Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace
The Supreme Court of India has declared sexual harassment of a working woman at her work as amounting to violation of rights of gender equality and rights to life and liberty. (Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan [AIR 1997 SC 3011 : (1997) 6 SCC 241]
5. Right against Rape
“Rape is thus not only a crime against the person of a woman (victim), it is a crime against the entire society. It is a crime against basic human rights and is also violative of the victim’s most cherished of the fundamental rights, namely, the right to life with human dignity contained in Art 21”. (Bodhisattwa Gautam v. Subhra Chakraborty [1996 AIR 922, 1996 SCC (1) 490]
6. Right to Reputation
Good reputation was an element of personal security and was protective by the Constitution, equally with the right to enjoyment of life, liberty and property. The court affirmed that the right to enjoyment of private reputation was of ancient origin and was necessary to human society.” (Smt. Kiran Bedi v. Committee of Inquiry[1989 AIR 714, 1989 SCR (1) 20])
7. HIV Not a Sound Ground for Termination
A person tested positive for HIV could not be rendered “medically unfit” solely on that ground so as to deny him employment. The right to life includes the right to livelihood. Therefore, right to livelihood cannot hang on to the fancies of the individuals in authority. Even though the petitioner might have been a nuisance to others and conducted themselves either in a disorderly way or unbecoming of their profession but, that in itself, is not sufficient for the executive to take away their source of livelihood by an executive fiat. (MX of Bombay Indian Inhabitants v. M/s. ZY, AIR 1997 Bom. 406)
8. Right to Shelter
Shelter for a human being, therefore, is not a mere protection of his life and limb. It is however where he has opportunities to grow physically, mentally, intellectually and spiritually. Right to shelter, therefore, includes adequate living space, safe and decent structure, clean and decent surroundings, sufficient light, pure air and water, electricity, sanitation and other civic amenities like roads etc. so as to have easy access to his daily avocation. The right to shelter, therefore, does not mean a mere right to a roof over one’s head but right to all the infrastructure necessary to enable them to live and develop as a human being. (Chameli Singh v. State of U.P 1996 AIR 1051, 1995(6) Suppl. SCR 827, 1996(2)SCC 549)
9. Right to Social Security and Protection of Family
Right to life covers within its ambit the right to social security and protection of family. Socio-economic rights were, therefore, basic aspirations for meaning right to life and that Right to Social Security and Protection of Family were integral part of right to life. (Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation (India) Ltd. v. Subhash Chandra Bose, AIR (1992)573:(1991) SCR Supl. (2) 267)
10. Right Against Honour Killing
A division bench of Allahabad High Court, took serious note of harassment, ill treatment and killing of a person who was a major, for wanting to get married to a person of another caste or community, for bringing dishonour to family since inter caste or inter community marriage was not prohibited in law, the court said that such practice of “honour killing” was a blot on society. The court, therefore, directed the police to take strong measures, against those who committed such ‘honour killing’. (Surjit Kumar v. State of U.P., AIR 2002 NOC 265)
11. Right to Health
“Social justice which is a device to ensure that life is meaningful and livable with human dignity requires the State to provide to workmen facilities and opportunities to reach at least minimum standard of health, economic security and civilised living. The health and strength of worker, the court said, was an important facet of right to life. Denial thereof denudes the workmen the finer facets of life violating Art. 21.” (Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India AIR (1995) 922, (1995) SCC (3) 42)
12. Right to Medical Care
It is the professional obligation of all doctors (government or private) to extend medical aid to the injured immediately to preserve life without legal formalities to be complied with the police. It is the obligation of those who are in charge of the health of the community to preserve life so that the innocent may be protected and the guilty may be punished. No law or state action can intervene to delay and discharge this paramount obligation of the members of the medical profession. (Parmananda Katara v. Union of India AIR (1989) 2039, (1989) SCR (3) 997)
Conclusion – Apart from the Rights which encompass the part “Right to Life”, there are many more other rights which also form the “Right to Life” viz. “Right to get pollution-free water and air”, “Right to clean environment,”“Right against the noise pollution”, “Right to know or Right to be informed”, “Right to privacy”, “Right to go abroad”, “Right against illegal detention”. Thus, the interpretations of the “Right to Life” move beyond the perceived limitations imposed by a textual interpretation of the clause and bring in socio-economic rights. It is quite inevitable that “Right to Life” would grow larger and larger.