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Author: Mr. Debarghya Bhattacharya, Assistant Professor from Kristu Jayanti College of Law, Bengaluru.

Co-Author: Ms. Astha Sen, 1st year, BBA., LL.B. from Kristu Jayanti College of Law, Bengaluru.


Fundamental Rights are the basic rights of the human beings. Everyone has the authority to utilize these rights. India is a country of freedom, secularism, and sovereignty where each and every individual gets equal rights. These rights are written in the Indian Constitution under Part III. Fundamental Rights cover right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, liberty of thoughts etc.

The outline of Fundamental Rights:

Since the 17th century, the idea that man has certain fundamental, natural, and inalienable rights or freedoms, has permeated into human thought. According to this theory, the state's role is to recognise these rights and freedoms and grant them freedom of expression in order to preserve human liberty, foster the development of the human personality, and advance an effective social and democratic life.

Human rights have their roots in the natural law thinkers like Locke and Rousseau. Philosophers who studied natural law pondered these inalienable human rights and proposed the social compact idea in an effort to uphold them.

"Man is born with the title to absolute freedom and the unrestricted enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature," said Locke, "and he has by nature a power to safeguard his property, namely his life, liberty, and estate, against the insults and attempts of other men”. The French Revolutionary Declaration of 1789, which was influenced by Lockeian theory and can be seen as a specific political statement on human rights, said that "the purpose of all political union is the conservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man".

The European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Organization's charter of human rights have given the idea of people's fundamental rights, a more tangible and universal texture in modern times. The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among other things, stated that, "Whereas acknowledgment of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace of the world".

Thus, the idea of fundamental rights denotes a trend in contemporary democratic thought. Modern constitutional law places a lot of emphasis on the protection of human rights. The idea of natural law and natural rights is the source of the inclusion of fundamental rights as unforeseen rights in contemporary constitutional papers and the widely accepted Charter of Human Rights.

The idea of connecting India's fundamental rights to global human rights has been increasingly popular in recent years. The Supreme Court of India has referenced the International Declaration on Human Rights when interpreting the Articles of the Indian Constitution pertaining to fundamental rights. For instance, the Supreme Court frequently cites the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, noting that "the applicability of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and principles thereof may have to be read, if necessary, into the domestic law".

Fundamental Rights vis-a-vis Human Rights

As the name implies, fundamental rights are the fundamental freedoms that all people of a nation are entitled to and that have been upheld by the Supreme Court and accepted by the general public. These are characterised as basic rights because they are protected by the constitution and are upholdable in a court of law. As a result, they are referred to as such because an individual may go to court to have his or her rights upheld in the event that they are violated. No one is exempt from the application of fundamental rights, regardless of caste, religion, gender, race, or place of origin. It protects civil liberties so that each and every citizen of the nation can live their life as they like.

Human rights are universal, absolute, and fundamental moral demands in that they belong to all people, are inalienable, and are required for a real life. These are essential for everyone, regardless of caste, creed, nation, place of birth, citizenship, or any other status. The same human rights apply to everyone, without exception. These rights are basic rights held by those who support justice, equality, freedom, and respect for all. These are crucial for the advancement of society since they do away with wrongdoing, exploitation, prejudice, and inequality, among other behaviours. The freedom from discrimination, the right to life, equality before the law, liberty and personal security, the right to education, the freedom of thought, the right to free movement, etc. are some examples of common human rights.

Article 21 of Indian Constitution, 1950: An umbrella provision

Human rights were grossly violated by the ruling class in India under British rule. As a result, the framers of Indian Constitution, many of whom had spent a lengthy time behind bars under the British system, had a highly positive view of these rights.

Everyone agreed on the necessity of having fundamental rights, and as a result, the Constituent Assembly did not even discuss whether or not to include such rights in the constitution. The fight has actually always been against the limitations placed on them, and the goal has always been to get the fundamental rights applied to as many people as possible.

Part III of the Constitution protects substantive as well as procedural rights. The chapter's inclusion in the Constitution follows the currents of contemporary democratic philosophy. The goal is to protect some fundamental rights from the vicissitudes of politics. Fundamental rights have two functions: first, they restrain the complete power of the legislature, and second, they create the framework for the greater development of our people, including the preservation of their inherent dignity.

According to Article 21, no one may be deprived of their life or personal freedom unless doing so in accordance with a legal process. The words "process established by law" are crucial in this clause.

Immediately after the constitution became effective the question of interpretation of these words arose in the famous Gopalan Case and where the validity of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 was challenged. The main question was whether Article 21 envisaged any procedure laid down by a law enacted by the legislature or whether the procedure should be fair and reasonable.

By a majority decision, the Supreme Court held that the word "law" in Article 21 could not be interpreted to mean the principles of natural justice. These regulations were imprecise and ambiguous, and the constitution could not be interpreted as establishing a hazy standard. The term "law" was never employed in the Constitution in the sense of natural justice or the abstract.

Lex, not jus, was meant when the word "law" was employed. Therefore, the phrase "procedure established by law" would refer to the process outlined in an enacted statute. On the other side, Fazal Ali, J., disagreed with the majority's position and claimed that Article 21 should be amended to reflect the natural justice principle that "no one shall be condemned unheard."

According to how Article 21 was interpreted by the majority in the Gopalan case, it only placed restrictions on the executive branch, which could not act without a law, and it had no effect on the legislative branch, which could pass any law, no matter how draconian, restricting the rights of individuals without having to follow any reasonable procedures first. Whether or not the law provided for a fair or reasonable procedure was not for the court to decide.

The case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India demonstrates how liberal inclinations have shaped the supreme court's interpretation of fundamental rights, particularly Article 21. Following the tragic events of the emergency from 1975 to 1977, there has been a significant change in the judicial approach towards the protection of individual liberties.

The Maneka Gandhi case has had a significant impact on the evolution of Indian constitutional law. According to Bhagwati, J., Article 21 ‘embodies a constitutional value of Supreme importance in a democratic society’. Iyer, J., has characterized Article 21 as the procedural Magna Carta protective of life and liberty.

The Gopalan viewpoint, which had dominated the field for almost three decades, is entirely overthrown by Maneka case. Since Maneka, the Supreme Court has emphasised numerous times that Articles 14, 19, and 21 do not conflict with one another but rather support, reinforce, and nourish one another.

The Supreme Court has given a relatively liberal and broad interpretation to the term "life" in Article 21. The Court has increasingly given life a broad interpretation throughout time. The scope of the Article 21-guaranteed right to life includes both physical existence and quality of life. Any statutes that conflict with such a right must be declared unconstitutional.

In the Francis Coralie case, Bhagwati, J. stated: "We believe that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the basic necessities of life, such as adequate nutrition, clothing, and shelter over one's head, as well as facilities for reading, writing, and expressing oneself in various forms, freely moving about, and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings”.

In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, the Supreme Court has decided that the term life in Article 21 is not only restricted to the mere animal existence of a person. It means something more and the inhibition against the deprivation of life extends to all those limits and faculties by which life is enjoyed.


Fundamental rights for citizens are upheld by a large number of countries around the world, particularly those with written constitutions. The ultimate law of the land protects these rights, which are more formalistic and technical in nature. For instance, the US Constitution guaranteed its citizens a variety of fundamental human rights through the Bill of Rights. Many nations around the world, especially those with written constitutions, uphold fundamental rights for citizens. These rights, which are primarily formalistic and technical in character, are safeguarded by the supreme law of the land. For instance, the US Constitution's Bill of Rights guaranteed its citizens a number of essential human rights. Thomas Jefferson said, “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.” To ensure that they cannot be eliminated by customary legal processes, some fundamental and inherent human rights are specified and safeguarded under the constitution. Therefore, the idea of fundamental rights upholds human rights and makes sure that nobody is denied these essential rights. The protection of citizens' rights by a recognised authority is crucial because governments cannot be trusted. Therefore, a redressal mechanism is often included in most nations that guarantee fundamental rights, ensuring that these rights are fully enjoyed and not merely on paper.

The most significant right protected by our constitution is Article 21. It is the foundation upon which the entire structure of fundamental rights is built. The supreme court's progressive interpretation has continuously broadened this Article's scope and growth. It is a prime example which showcases the summation of human rights into one oscillating point. The interpretation of the Fundamental Right provided under Article 21 by the Judiciary made it evident that Fundamental Right do mirrors Human Right. And it is safe to expect that this flawless Article will continue to incorporate new elements.


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