Dignity and Human Rights in India

Proceedings of The 2nd International Conference on Future of Social Sciences

Year: 2019

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.33422/2nd.icfss.2019.12.938

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Dignity and Human Rights in India

Shireen Moti



This paper aims at exploring how the constitutional value of dignity has been used in adjudicating socio-economic rights under the Indian Constitution. The use of dignity in adjudicating socio-economic rights has been done largely within the framework of liberty clause (Article 21) of the Indian Constitution with a few aberrations of situating the same under equality clause (Article 14). The paper nowhere claims that dignity is the only constitutional value that informs these adjudications of socio-economic rights. Its usage along with other constitutional values such as liberty, equality and freedom are highly interconnected. This paper evaluates all major judgments given by the Supreme Court and High Courts in understanding the meaning attributed to dignity; and how dignity has been used as a foundational principle in arguing for access to basic necessities – primarily education and healthcare in this paper. The first part of the paper articulates a theoretical framework on the lines of capability approach model proposed by Amartya Sen and later contributed to by Martha Nussbaum. The idea is to shed more light on ‘why dignity should be used as a constitutional value in adjudicating socio-economic claims’ and ‘what all can it guarantee as far as basic necessities are concerned’. Largely, cases on education posit a fit within the theoretical framework premised on capability approach. The second part of the paper evaluates application of dignity in adjudicating healthcare claims. The Indian courts were initially locating healthcare claims under obligation oriented model with abysmal emphasis on rights under the liberty clause, and came across as conservative in opening the gateway of a right based approach to healthcare. However, with advent of time and assertion of judicial activism in other spheres of public life, courts became more assertive in responding to healthcare claims and employed dignity under liberty clause as well as under equality clause in adjudicating healthcare claims. The third part of the paper assesses education cases and maps the application of dignity in their adjudication. This part evaluates how Directive Principles of State Policies have imparted life to right based discourse to education within the capability framework. The final part of the paper, offers some reflections, raises some criticisms, and concludes.

Keywords: liberty, equality, fundamental rights, social-minimum, social justice, substantive equality, healthcare, education, Kant, Sen, Nussbaum, Supreme Court of India, Allahabad High Court, Delhi High Court.