Fundamental Rights: Article 21 and its Important Judgments


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This article will discuss the most essential Article in Part III of the Indian Constitution. It is none other than Article 21. We will discuss minuscule examination-worthy information and judgments.

Let’s begin!

Interesting Facts about Fundamental Rights: Article 21

  1. The framers of the Indian Constitution took inspiration for Fundamental Rights from the Bill of Rights (United States of America).
  2. Part III of the Constitution’s other name is the ‘Magna Carta of India.’
  3. Right to Property was a fundamental Right. However, it was later deleted from the list by 44th Amendment Act, 1978. It is still a legal right under Article 300-A in Part XII of the Constitution. 
  4. Fundamental Rights can get suspended during the operation of a National Emergency except for the rights guaranteed by Articles 20 & 21.
  5. Fundamental Rights are not absolute but qualified, and the State can impose reasonable restrictions.
Fundamental Rights: Article 21

Important Judgments under Article 21

Article 21 says that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has interpreted Article 21 in the most inclusive way possible. From A.K Gopalan (1950) to Justice K. S. Puttaswamy, we have come a long way.

Let’s see how Article 21 has evolved throughout the years.

Arbitrary Laws and Personal Liberty

It started with the famous A.K Gopalan Case (A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras AIR 1950 SC 27) in which the Supreme Court’s narrow interpretation of Article 21 led to some serious implications. The Court said that Article 21 is available only against arbitrary executive action and not legislative arbitrariness. It is because of the expression ‘procedure established by the law’ in Article 21, which is different from the expression American ‘due process of law’.

Hence, the validity of a law that has prescribed a procedure cannot be questioned because the law is unreasonable, or unjust.

However, the ruling was reversed in the Menaka Gandhi Case when the Court said that the right to life can only be deprived with law that is reasonable, just, and fair. With this judgment, the following rights are now a part of Article 21. These are the right to live with human dignity, right to livelihood, right to privacy, right to shelter, and right to health.

Life with Dignity

In the landmark judgment of Francis Corali v. Union of Territory of Delhi, the Supreme Court held that the right to life is not merely animal existence. It means something more than just physical survival. It includes the “RIGHT TO LIFE WITH DIGNITY.”

Right to Safeguard Family Members

In R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu (1994 SCC (6) 632), the Supreme Court held that the right to privacy under Article 21 includes a citizen’s right to safeguard the privacy of his own family, marriage, motherhood, and education. And no one can publish any material without consent.

Right To Life of Undertrial Prisoners

Kerala Union of Working Journalists v. Union of India, a recent case decided by the Supreme Court of India decided a petition seeking the release of Kerala journalist Sidique Kappan in which the Court held that the fundamental right to life is available to undertrials as well.

Right to Make Reproductive Choices

In Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration, Supreme Court clearly said (and even gave the reference of this judgment in Puttuswamy as well) that women’s right to make a reproductive choice is also a dimension of “personal liberty” as understood under Article 21.

Right to Life of Sex-Worker

Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal case highlighted the need for more supporting laws and recognized the right to life with dignity of sex workers. The Supreme Court gave a broader interpretation to Article 21 and acknowledged that the right to live with dignity is accessible to sex workers and their off-springs. 

Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right

K.S. Puttaswamy v. UOI (AIR 2017 SC 4161), also known as ‘Aadhar Judgment’ is the most recent landmark judgment of Article 21. Decided by nine bench judges, they unanimously recognized the right to privacy as a fundamental of every individual guaranteed by the Constitution, within Article 21. 

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