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Prisoners Rights in India


Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.

As we along with whole world knows that India is a democratic country where right of every single person is protected which is base of Great constitution of India. We all enjoy our rights but due to some circumstances prisoners are not able to exercise same rights as other person does.

The character and intensity of the privileges afforded to individuals kept in custody behind the bars or captivity against their will because they have been caught of performing an unlawful act.

Section 1 of the Prison Security Act1992, defines the term prisoner.

The meaning of word prisoner means any individual who is kept under custody in jail or prison because he/she committed an act prohibited or illegal act by law of the land.

Prisoners have are also humans and hence have basic legal rights that can’t be taken away from them. The basic rights included are right to food and water, right to have an attorney to defend himself, protection from torture, violence and racial aggressive pressure.

History and evolution of prisoners and their rights

Today we are very concerned about our right and

During the 1800s, many prisoners were sent to prisons as disagreed to getting capital punishment for the offense they had committed. After the late 1800s, there was a “hand-off” strategy that was adopted and it fundamentally affected the courts throughout the twentieth century. The Prisoner Rights Movement that started during the 1960s made critical progress towards the advancement of prisoner rights, altering how they would be dealt with and how they would come to act when in prison. The cases that developed during this time added to the current treatment, connection, and subculture that the prisoners presently experience.

As time passes evolution is basic requirements hence, requires today.

Prisons in the modern democracy have been envisioned as reformative care-giving institutions. However, the reality of prisons is that there is overcrowding; inhuman living conditions; a dearth of basic needs such as access to food, medical treatment and cleanliness; absence of accountability and transparency of administration, targeting and surveillance, torture and even death; least of opportunities of skill building or recreation. “India shares the universally held view that a sentence of imprisonment would be justifiable only if it ultimately leads to the protection of society against crime. Such a goal could be achieved only if incarceration motivates and prepares the offender for a law-abiding and self-supporting life after his release. It further accepts that, as imprisonment deprives the offender of his liberty and self-determination, the prison system should not be allowed to aggravate the suffering already inherent in the process of incarceration.”

This perspective is a result of various judgments pronounced by the Supreme Court of India in the last several decades, in which the prison administration has been reprimanded regarding the inhuman living conditions in prisons and animal-like treatment of prisoners. The United Nation’s Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners also call for the dignified treatment of prisoners leading to their reintegration to into society and no further infliction of pain other than the imprisonment itself.

India and it’s initiative for prisoners rights

The Supreme Court of India has made it clear that a prisoner should be treated with dignity and as a legal citizen with rights, regardless of their status as a detainee, under trial or convict. The Constitution of India empowers us with one of the basic fundamental rights – Right to life and Personal Liberty mentioned in Article 21 which implicitly states the right to life with dignity. Certain articles mentioned in our Constitution like Article 14, 20, 21, 22 deals with prisoner rights in India. Article 14 talks of equality of law whereas Article 20 prohibits self- incrimination and double jeopardy. Article 21 is vast in its own terms which states the right to life with personal liberty.

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal, and they are egalitarian in the sense of being the same for everyone. The doctrine of human rights has been highly infacted within international law and global and regional institutions.

Basic human rights that are conferred to every individual are violated on a day to day basis in the prisons. They are let to suffer in a congested environment in the small cells of prison with the other prisoners. Custodial rapes are increasing in jails wherein a place which confines a person for society’s welfare, the person ends up losing one’s dignity. The Prisons Act, 1894 is one of the ancient prison laws of India. Chapter VII of the act states regarding prisoner employment related issues whereby it says they may work after superintendent’s permission and would receive their earnings thereof but a rule said that they must not work for more than 9 hours per day. Section 37 of the Prisoner’s Act,1894 says that if in any case any prisoner is found to be sick, the officer in charge would talk to the Jailer and without further delay must call Medical Subordinate. Other parts of the Act talks about whether Civil or under trial prisoners could have their commodities like clothing, bedding or food received from outside the prison.

A glance at Right to vote to prisoners in india.

Currently, there are over 4 lakh prisoners in Indian jails. A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar stated that the right to vote was neither a fundamental right nor a common law right and was only given by a statute. The bench noted that the right to vote apportioned under the act was subject to stipulation imposed by the law, which does not allow prisoners to cast vote from jails.

The Election Commission resisted strongly the plea saying that the right to vote was a statutory right under Section 62 of the Representation of the People’s Act and “being a statutory right (it) is subject to restrictions prescribed in the RP Act”.

But against this India's four lakh prisoners will still not be able to vote with the Delhi High Court dismissing a plea seeking voting rights for those lodged in jails

Famous case law regarding prisoners right in India.

In State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzgir, the Supreme Court stated that the mere fact that someone is detained cannot deprive one of his fundamental rights and that such conditions are not to be extended to the extent of the deprivation of fundamental rights of the detained individual. The Court further ruled that every prisoner retains all such rights that are enjoyed by free citizens except the one that is lost necessarily as an incident of confinement.

In Charles Sobaraj v. Supdt Central Jail Tihar, it was ruled that all the rights available to prisoners under Articles such as 14, 19 and 21 are though limited but cannot be said to be static. They are bound to or rather will rise to new human heights when challenging circumstances arise.

In the case of Rohit Shekha v. N.D Tiwari, the court held that nobody should be compelled to be subjected to any techniques in question at any circumstances, even when it is in the context of an investigation in a criminal case. Proceeding with such acts would result in an unwarranted intrusion into an individual’s personal liberty. It is equally important that adequate space is provided for the voluntary administration of the impugned techniques in the context of criminal justice on conditions that certain safeguards are in place. The court also did a brief examination of the jurisprudence that permits compulsory testing or involuntary drawing of samples and stated that judicial precedents in such cases emerge in criminal prosecution related to serious offences like those involving narcotic substances, manslaughter, murder or sexual offences. In all of these cases, the court has carefully weighed the interest of justice in the context of public policy and privacy of an individual while examining the permissibility of compulsory testing.

The duty of the prisons for the safekeeping of the convict and for the conservation and safety of the society against crime and its fundamental responsibilities for promoting and nourishing the well-being and development of all members of the society.

All prisoners shall reserve and withhold the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in UDHR, ICESCR, ICCPR and the optional protocol as well as such other rights as are set out in other United Nations covenants.

Right to Privacy of prisoners and their spouses

In Rahmath Nisha v. Additional Director General of Prisoner and Others, the accused was given 10 days leave to visit his wife. But, due to serious illness, his wife was transferred to the hospital in ICU by the time he reached home. However, the police escort that accompanied the accused refused to let him visit the hospital citing that permission has been granted to visit home only. The Madras Court held that the prisoner should be allowed to visit his wife in hospital and that the meeting between him and his wife should not be monitored. The court stated that when a prisoner is united with his wife, he might like to hold her the hands of his partner. It’s natural that his emotions would find physical expression. Therefore, the right to privacy and dignity of the prisoners should be scrupulously safeguarded. It is also important that the conversation between the prisoner and his partner or spouse should go unmonitored.

International bills of basic human rights to be enjoyed by everyone:

A very famous saying goes like :

Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Martin Luther King Jr.

On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – 30 rights and freedoms that belong to all of us and to be relished by all of us. Seven decades on and the rights they included continue to form the basis for all international human rights law.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights states The 30 rights and freedoms set out in the UDHR include the right to asylum, the right to freedom from torture, the right to free speech and the right to education. It includes civil and political rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to social security, health and education.


It is incumbent upon the Central and State governments to not only provide the prisoners with humane conditions for a living but also educate them about their rights so that it is not abused by the powerful inside the prison.

It could be said that the judiciary of the country has played a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of prisoners whenever the legislative and executive have erred. It has acted as the saviour of the convicts and upheld their fundamental rights time and time again. It has thoroughly exercised its powers through judicial activism and has repeatedly devised new remedies and tools to protect the human’s right to life and personal liberty.




Prisoners of Honour by David Levering Lewis

Deepti Chaudhary

Institute of law

1st year BA LL.B

Jiwaji University

Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

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