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Prisoners’ Rights in India

Updated: Jan 14

"Hate the sin not the sinner " - Mahatma Gandhi

Rights are the social, political & legal principle of freedom, they act as a fundamental normative rule of what is allowed or owed to a person according to the legal system. Rights are fundamental and uphold the equality of an individual in order to safeguard justice. Fundamental Rights in India are borrowed from the constitution of the USA and in total there are six fundamental rights. These are essential rights that every individual in the country is entitled to in order to safeguard their own interest. Fundamental rights are a group of rights that are recognized by a high degree of protection from government encroachment. The term ‘government encroachment’ means the dictatorship of government on individuals.

However, Prisoners in India are not entitled to each and every fundamental right. There exists some curtailment on them with respect to the exercise of these rights as observed in the case of Charles Sobraj vs. The Superintendent, Central Jail, Tihar, New Delhi (1978)[1] where Justice Krishna Iyer held, “imprisonment does not spell farewell to fundamental rights although, by a realistic re-appraisal, Courts will refuse to recognize the full panoply of Part III enjoyed by a free citizen”. Various fundamental rights under i.e. Article 19, 20, 21 and 22 deal with the rights of the prisoner’s as observed in the ingenious judgment of Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration[2] where constitutional bench answered the question 'whether prisoners are a person and are entitled to FRs by preserving the Art. 14, 19, and 21of the constitution'.

Art. 14 represents the idea of equality and it provides for “equality before the law and equal protection of law” 
Art.19 provides for freedom of speech and expression without any fear through different modes. 
Art.20 talks about two aspects firstly, ‘double Jeopardy’ which means no person shall be punished for the same offence twice. Secondly, it prohibits self-incrimination, which means that no person can be compelled to be a witness against himself. 
Art.21 is a very broad concept and represent the idea of the right to life and personal liberty and cover wide aspects of rights i.e. right to speedy trial, right to free legal aid etc. 
Art. 22 provides for the rights of a detained person i.e. arrested person shall be presented before the magistrate within 24 hours of arrest and should be provided with the counsel of his own choice. 

Here the main question is why should prisoners be given fundamental rights?

There are many incidents where prisoners inside the prison were abused and their basic fundamental rights were taken away by the state authorities. In the case of T.V. Vatheeswaran vs State of Tamil Nadu [3] the prisoner’s FRs life and liberty guaranteed under Art. 21 was violated by keeping him in solitary confinement for 8 years illegally and then giving him the death penalty which was scheduled 8 years ago.

Similarly, in the case of Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar[4] the court recognized the insensitive nature of the legal and judicial system and upheld that the “prisoners are entitled to free legal aid and right to a speedy trial as a part of Art.21”. Apart from Fundamental Rights' prisoners are also protected under The Prisons Act, 1894 which provides for their proper and healthy condition (Sec. 4); safe custody of prisoners (Sec.7); proper medical support [Sec.24(2)] and so on. Perhaps Keeping this in mind we can’t forget that prisoners are human too and they are also entitled to basic human rights which all of us have acquired from the day we are born.


[1] Charles Sobraj vs The Suptd., Central Jail, Tihar,1978 AIR 1514, (India)

[2] Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration, 1980 AIR 1579, (India)

[3]T.V. Vatheeswaran vs State of Tamil Nadu,1983 AIR 361, (India)

[4]Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar, 1979 AIR 1369, (India)


Khushi is currently studying BA.LLB course in Ramaiah College of Law, Bengaluru. You can contact her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/khushi-gupta-531377198.

Editor: Jayant Upadhyay

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