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  • Shubhi Srivastava

"Examining the Impact of the Indian Judiciary on Human Rights Protection and Promotion"



Indian Judiciary on Human Rights Protection and Promotion


While all three branches of government play a role in human rights protection, the Indian judiciary has emerged as the central force in safeguarding and expanding individual rights. This primarily stems from its crucial responsibility of interpreting and applying the human rights provisions enshrined in the Constitution. In the landmark case of Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib[i],Supreme Court of India affirmed its crucial role in not only protecting existing fundamental rights but also actively expanding their scope and advancing the field of human rights law. The Indian Constitution grants broad authority to protect fundamental rights, and the courts have embraced this role by expansively interpreting them, particularly Article 21. This, alongside their modernized approach to public interest litigation, has significantly bolstered human rights jurisprudence.


The Indian judiciary is credited with significantly broadening the definition of human rights through judicial interpretation. The Indian judiciary, with the Supreme Court in particular, has taken the initiative to defend and advance human rights. In interpreting constitutional provisions, the Court has frequently looked to international human rights agreements, concepts, and norms. The Indian citizens are guaranteed certain rights under the Constitution's chapter on fundamental rights. The freedom of speech and expression, the right to equality, the right to life and personal liberty, and the right to constitutional remedies are some of these rights. In interpreting constitutional provisions, the Supreme Court has frequently cited international human rights principles, agreements, and jurisprudence. The judicial rulings that have resulted from India's acceptance of international human rights treaties have influenced the alignment of local laws to protect human rights with international covenants.

The right to life and personal liberty are guaranteed by Article 21[ii] of the Indian Constitution. This clause has been interpreted widely by the Supreme Court to cover a wide range of human rights, including the rights to privacy, dignity, health, education, a clean environment, and access to the legal system.

Justice P. Bhagwati stated in the case of Francis Coralie Mullin v. The Administrator[iii] that Article 21 is a core principle that is extremely significant in a democratic society. According to Justice Iyer, Article 21 is the Magna Carta of procedural rights that protects life and liberty.

In the case of A.K Gopalan v. the State of Madras, the Supreme Court has adopted a restrictive reading of Article 21. It concluded that protection under Article 21 is not available from arbitrary legislative activity, but only from arbitrary executive action. This indicates that, according to a law, the state may deny someone their rights under Article 21. 

In the Maneka Gandhi v. UOI[iv] case by reading Article 21 more broadly, the Supreme Court reversed its decision in the Gopalan Case. It was determined that a person's right to life and right to privacy might be violated by law, but only if the procedure prescribed by the law was reasonable, just, and equitable. It also demonstrated that the right to life does not end with the presence of animals. It was said that this would address every aspect of life that goes into making a man's life significant, fulfilling, and deserving of being lived.

Indian Judiciary on Human Rights Protection and Promotion

The judiciary has broadened the definition of Article 21 to cover a wide range of rights in order to defend and advance people's human rights. According to Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India[v], the state’s established guidelines—such as maternity mitigation, enlightening workplaces, restorative administrations, and other aware conditions of work—give life to the right to live with human dignity free from abuse.

In the case of Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan[vi], our esteemed Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a violation of our most prized Article 21 of the Constitution. Every member of society is guaranteed a safe environment to live in and enjoy under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The right to livelihood is the essential element of the right to life, the Supreme Court's fivejudge panel declared in the landmark Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation case.

The bench stated this because an individual cannot live without their primary source of support. Everyone's right to subsistence is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The right to privacy is fundamental to the life and personal liberty protected by Article 21 of the Constitution, according to a landmark ruling in the case of K.S. Puttuswami v. Union of

India[vii]. In Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka[viii], the supreme court made the broad ruling that Article 21 guarantees everyone the right to an education.

The Supreme Court ruled in the Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary[ix], Bihar case that, despite not being expressly listed as a fundamental right, speedy trial is implied by the general provisions of Article 21.

In the case of Prem Shanker v. Delhi Administration, Rights against Hand Cuffing was discussed as handcuffs violate one’s human right.

In the case of D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal[x], Rights against Inhuman Treatment of Prisoners was elaborated and 11 guidelines were issued for police officers to arrest a person.

The right of the impoverished and needy to receive free legal aid services at the state's expense is a necessary component of a reasonable, fair, and just process, as protected by article 21, the court noted in its ruling in M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra.

The right to know is a fundamental component of article 21 and was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Rudal v. State of Bihar[xi]. The court acknowledged that participation in democracy requires this right.

The Supreme Court held in Paramanand Katara v. Union of India[xii] that an employee's right to health and medical assistance is a part of their article 21 right to life and liberty, due in part to the health issues that asbestos sector workers faced.

The Supreme Court invalidated the concept of sovereign immunity in the context of public law in Nilabeti Behara v. State of Orissa and Others. In this instance, a person died while in custody. According to the ruling in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration[xiii], a person's right to life encompasses the ability to live a healthy life in which they can take advantage of all of their body's natural capabilities. The right to preserve one's customs, culture, and heritage would also fall under this category. It would even cover the right to health and rest, as well as the freedom to live and sleep in peace.

Indian Judiciary on Human Rights Protection and Promotion

The Supreme Court ruled in Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India[xiv][xv] that failure to pay minimum wages to workers in various Asiad projects would constitute a rejection of their constitutionally guaranteed right to a dignified life.

The right to shelter was acknowledged as a fundamental right in the case of UP Avas Vikas Parishad v. Friends Coop. Housing Society Limited20. This right stems from the rights to dwelling protected by Article 19(1)(e) and the right to life ensured by Article 21. In order to make this an affordable option for the impoverished, the state must offer resources and chances for home construction.

As a result, judicial activism is crucial to the expansion of article 21 of the Indian Constitution.


In order to ensure that every citizen’s fundamental rights are not only upheld but actively promoted as the country develops, and to create a society that is really just and equitable, the judiciary will surely continue to play a crucial role. As an essential safety net for everyone's rights and dignity, the Indian judiciary is integral to the country’s efforts to uphold and advance human rights. Securing the rights of all citizens has been made possible in large part by its proactive role in interpreting the Constitution, offering remedies for infractions, and establishing precedents. It is an essential protector, laying the groundwork for a day when each person’s rights and dignity would be zealously upheld and defended due to its steadfast determination and ongoing progress.


[i] (1981) 1 SCC 722.

[ii] INDIA CONST. art. 21. 

[iii] (1981) 1 SCC 608. 4 AIR 1950 SC 27.

[iv] (1978) 1 SCC 248.

[v] (1997) 10 SCC 549.

[vi] AIR 1997 SC 3011. 8 (1985) 3 SCC 545. 

[vii] (2017) 10 SCC 1.

[viii] AIR 1992 SC 1858.

[ix] AIR 1979 SC 1369. 12 (1980) 3 SCC 526

[x] (1997) 1 SCC 416. 14 AIR 1978 SC 155.

[xi] (1983) 4 SCC 141.

[xii] AIR 1989 SC 2039 17 AIR 1993 SC 1960. 

[xiii] (1978) 4 SCC 409.

[xiv] AIR 1982 SC 1473.

[xv] Supp (3) SCC 456. 

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