Communal violence and riots keep on manifesting with alarming frequency. It is the State’s obligation to create conditions where rights of individuals or group of persons under Article 21 of the Constitution[1] are not and cannot be violated. It is for the State and its functionaries to evolve methods and strategic to ensure protection of life and liberty of a person or persons which is guaranteed by Article 21. It is obvious that there will be no use of the rights conferred by Article 21 if the State does not exact compliance of the same from its officials and functionaries and private persons. Votaries of violence may strike for different reasons but each time it results in negation of Article 21. Life and liberty is being threatened at the hands of anti-national and anti-social elements, caste champions, criminals and rapists, etc. In some parts of the country terrorists and religious zealots are destroying life in the name of religion. The way a person wants to worship his God should not be a matter for hale or contempt of an individual, jeopardising and threatening his liberty. It is the duty and responsibility of the State to secure and safeguard life and liberty of an individual from mob violence. It is not open to the State to say that the violations are being committed by private persons for which it cannot be held accountable. Riots more often than not take place due to weakness, laxity and indifference of the administration in enforcing law and order. If the authorities act in time and act effectively and efficiently, riots can surely be prevented. Message must go to the mischief mongers that the administration means business and their nefarious designs would be thwarted with an iron hand. Personal liberty is fundamental to the functioning of our democracy. The lofty purpose of Article 21 would he defeated if the State does not lake adequate measures for securing compliance with the same. The State has to control and curb the malefic propensities of those who threaten life and liberty of others. It must shape the society so that the life and liberty of an individual is safe and is given supreme importance and value. It is for the State to ensure that persons live and behave like and are treated as human beings. Article 21 is a great landmark of human liberty and it should serve its purpose of ensuring the human dignity, human survival and human development. The State must strive to give a new vision and peaceful future to its people where they can cooperate, coordinate and co-exist with each other so that full protection of Article 21 is ensured and realised. Article 21 is not a mere platitude or dead letter lying dormant, decomposed, dissipated and inert. It is rather a pulsating reality throbbing with life and spirit of liberty, and it must be made to reach out to every individual within the country. It is the duty and obligation of the State to enforce law and order and to maintain public order so that the fruits of democracy can be enjoyed by all sections of the society irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, colour, region and language. Article 21 is an instrument and a device to attain the goal of freedom of an individual from deprivation and oppression and its violation cannot and must not be tolerated or condoned. Preamble to the Constitution clearly indicates that justice, liberty and equality must be secured to all citizens. Besides, it mandates the State to promote fraternity among the people, ensuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. Article 38 of the Constitution[2] also requires the State to promote welfare of the people by securing and protecting, as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice – social, economic and political, shall inform all institutions of the national life. These are the goals set by the Constitution, and Article 21 and other fundamental rights are the means by which those goals are to be attained. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility and avowed duty of the State to adopt means and methods in order to realise the cherished aims.

The sweep of Article 21 is wide and far reaching. Article 21 is not to be restricted to the violation of right to life and liberty committed by the State alone. That right is also to be protected and safeguarded by the State from being violated or interfered with by private individuals. In National Human Rights Commission v. State of Arunachal Pradesh & another[3], the Supreme Court held that the State is bound to protect the life and liberty of every person and it cannot permit any body or group of persons to threaten it. Article 21 is the Nation’s commitment to bring every individual or group of persons within its protective fold. This Nation belongs to members of all the communities. They are equal members of the Indian society. Equality before law and equal protection of laws is ensured to them by Article 14 of the Constitution[4] to them. None is to be favoured or discredited. The conduct of any person or group of persons has to be controlled by the State for the lofty purpose enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. It is the duty of the State to create a climate where the cleavage between members of the society belonging to different faiths, caste and creed are eradicated. The State must act in time so that the precious lives of the people are not destroyed or threatened. Otherwise, Article 21 will remain a paper guarantee. Time is long overdue for adopting measures that have more than a hortatory effect in enforcing Article 21 of the Constitution. The State cannot adopt a “do nothing altitude”. Like disease prevention, the State must lake every precaution, measure and initiative to prevent terrorem populi of the magnitude and in the event of an outbreak of riots it must act swiftly to curb the same and not allow precious time to slip by, as any inaction or passivity on its part can result in loss of precious life and liberty of individuals amounting to violation and negation of Article 21 of the Constitution. The State has to enforce minimum standards of civilized behavior of its citizens so that the life, liberty, dignity and worth of an individual is protected and preserved and is not jeopardised or endangered. If it is not able to do all that then it cannot escape the liability to pay adequate compensation to the family of the person killed during riots as his or her life has been extinguished in clear violation of Article 21 of the Constitution which mandates that life cannot be taken away except according to the procedure established by law.

In Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India and others[5] , it was held that Article 21 of the Constitution casts an obligation on the State to preserve life. This was a case where the Supreme Court held that doctors were duty bound to extend medical assistance for preserving life, and every doctor whether at a Government hospital or other wise was required to extend his services with due expertise for protecting life. It was further held that an injured person must be first treated even before the police is contacted.
In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and others[6], the Supreme Court observed that it was the fundamental right of every citizen in this country to live with human dignity, free from exploitation.

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[1]Article 21 in The Constitution Of India 1949

21. Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law

[2]Article 38 in The Constitution Of India 1949

38. State to secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people

(1) The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life

(2) The State shall, in particular, strive to minimize the inequalities in income, and endeavor to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations

[3]1996 AIR 1234, 1996 SCC (1) 742

[4]Article 14 in The Constitution Of India 1949

14. Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth

[5]1989 AIR 2039, 1989 SCR (3) 997

[6]1984 AIR 802, 1984 SCR (2) 67

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The above article is written by Kush Karla who is also the author of the above books


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