Human Rights are the most basic and essential rights that are enjoyed by every human being. These rights are inherent rights as they are vested since the time of birth. One cannot thoroughly understand Human Rights without understanding the concept of Human Dignity as many believe them to be interlinked. In Ram Deo Chauhan v. Bani Kant Das[i], Justice Ganguli observed that human rights are broad concepts, therefore straight jacketing them would nullify its scope, reach, vigour and vitality. Therefore, despite being recognised internationally, human rights are not restricted to a single framework of law but can be found enshrined in various laws of India as well as the Indian Constitution. In this article, we will be taking a look at some of the laws and provisions of the Indian Constitution that safeguard the human rights of Women, Children and Prisoners in India.
Protection of Human Rights of Women in India
In India, women not only have legal rights, but also constitutional rights. A simple reading of the Constitution is enough for one to understand that constitution contains certain Articles dedicated to safeguarding the rights of women and promoting gender equality. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and equality before the law is indeed gender-neutral and helps create an equilibrium in the sphere of gender-neutral laws and rights. Similarly, Article 15 of the Indian Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender. In fact, clause (3) of the aforesaid Article even permits the State to make such laws that are specifically for women and children.
In my opinion, Article 51 A (e) lays down an essential Fundamental Duty that makes sense in the context of social practices and customs carried out in India. The aforesaid sub-clause states that it is the duty of every Indian citizen to renounce such practices that are derogatory to women. The Constitution does not fail to recognise a woman’s right to maternity leave as the same has been enshrined in Article 42 which directs (non-binding) the State to make provisions for maternity leave as well as just and humane conditions of work.
The Human Rights of women have also been protected by the enactment of quite a few legislations. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is a great example of legislation that aims at safeguarding human dignity by being an aid to women enduring Domestic Violence. The aforesaid Act has not only covered physical forms of violence but has widened the scope of the word ‘violence’ to include mental or emotional violence as well.
Dowry is still quite prevalent in India. Therefore, in order to penalize the perpetrators of this crime, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was enacted. The overruling of controversial ruling of the US Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade relating to the right of abortion of women has been a topic for debate. Hence, it is a relief to know that India recognizes the rights of women to abort not only in the form of an enacted legislation namely the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, but also in a recent Supreme Court Judgement which allowed women, regardless of the marital status, to abort up to twenty-four weeks into their pregnancy.
Protection of Human Rights of Children in India
Although children enjoy the same human rights as those enjoyed by adults, due to their tender age, additional human rights were introduced on an international scale that was enabled to protect children from gross crimes, vulnerabilities, exploitation, etc. The protection of the human rights of children has not been sidelined by the Indian Constitution. Despite the Indian Constitution containing Human Rights that are enjoyed by all, including children, the Indian Constitution characterizes certain Human rights that are only enjoyed by children, Article 21 A being a perfect example of the same. Article 21 A mentions that children between the tender age of 6 – 14 are entitled to free and compulsory education which shall be decided by the State in accordance with the law.
Article 24 also mentions that any child below the age of 14 shall not be given such employment that would require them to work in any mine, factory, or is of hazardous nature. M. C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu[ii] lead to the introduction of certain guidelines by the Supreme Court of India that aimed at protecting children from economic and social exploitation and the same was to be applied to certain kinds of industries in the country. Furthermore, there are certain Directive Principles of State Policy that specifically safeguard the human rights of Children in India.
Article 45 persuades the State to enable childhood care and education of children up to six years of age. Certain clauses of Article 39 of the Indian Constitution explicitly mention and persuade the State to develop such a policy that would put a stop to the abuse of children of tender age and enable opportunities and facilities for such children to develop in a healthy environment characterized by freedom and dignity, in an attempt to protect them against abandonment and exploitation of all kinds. Vishal Jeet v. Union of India[iii] was a case where the Supreme Court gave directions to put an end to the sexual exploitation of children and even ordered a CBI Inquiry into the matter. The aforesaid helped highlight the grave importance of Article 39. The long list of Fundamental duties enshrined in Article 51A also creates a duty on the parents or guardian to provide educational opportunities to the child or ward.
Child Labour, that is one of the most gruesome violations of the human rights of children, has been condemned by the Supreme Court of India and the Legislature. Several Acts condemning child labour have been enacted in the past, the first law being the Employment of Children Act, 1938. This Act was enacted with the aim to ‘regulate the employment of children in certain industrial employments. Certainly, the aforesaid Act had several defects and could not be regarded as a foolproof step to curb child labour, as the loosely worded sections of this Act had several loopholes. The said Act was pre-independent India’s attempt at imposing certain restrictions on child Labour. Therefore, the said Act was repealed and replaced by Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, which was amended in recent years.
Protection of Human Rights of an Accused and Prisoners in India
The concept of legal aid has been mentioned in Article 39 of the Indian Constitution. In the case of M. H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra[iv], the Court recognised the right to legal aid as one of the ingredients of fair procedure. The Court even went on to state that free legal aid is to be provided at the initial stage to the accused hailing from poor families. In Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar[v], the Court observed that if one is denied the opportunity of being represented by a lawyer, it would be tantamount to a violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The same case highlighted the need for a Speedy trial as well. The Court was of the opinion the right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right under Article 21.
At times, prisoners serving their sentence and under trial prisoners are subject to inhuman living conditions and torture in the prison. Therefore, condemning this, the Supreme Court held that it would be a violation of Article 21 of the prisoner if he was being inflicted with a third degree at the time of taking confession.[vi] In the case of Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration[vii], the Supreme Court made quite a few observations regarding the treatment of prisoners. The court was of the opinion that keeping a prisoner in fetters for almost the entire day would be regarded as unjustly cruel and against the spirit of the Indian Constitution. The Hon’ble Supreme Court even recognized the right of the prisoners to be visited by their friends and family. Similarly, in Francis Coralie Mullnin v. The Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi[viii], this right was acknowledged as it was a detenue’s right to live with dignity.
A prisoner providing labour in prison is entitled to at least minimum wages determined by the law and not paying him the amount for such service would abrogate Article 23 of the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, in DK Basu v. State of West Bengal[ix], the Supreme Court addressed the issue of custodial violence and deaths. The Court formulated eleven guidelines that were to be followed for arrest and detention. The Court reiterated the concept of the right to live with human dignity while explaining how the phrase ‘life and personal liberty’ enshrined in Article 21 would be violated on account of torture and assault by the State.
As seen above, human rights have been enshrined in the Indian Constitution and the Indian Courts have time and again upheld these rights. These Rights are not exhaustive in nature. Even if penned down into law, it would be unjust to ignore their implied existence in several laws. Therefore, it can be rightly stated that human rights are inalienable and indivisible.
- Human Rights, Sixth Edition by Prof. H.D. Pithawala.
[i] AIR 2011 SC 615
[ii]AIR 1997 SC 699
[iii]1991 (1) SCC 283
[iv] AIR 1978 SC 1548
[v] AIR 1979 SC 1369
[vi]Kishore Singh v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1981 SC 625
[vii] AIR 1978 SC 1675
[viii] AIR 1981 SC 746
[ix] AIR 1997 SC 610