Author: Shefali Chitkara (VIPS)

“Liberty is one of the most fundamental human rights that affects the vital elements of an individual’s physical freedom, always blossoms and enlivens the flower of human dignity.”


The article talks about the concept of liberty in India. According to the constitution, the protection of our liberty is the responsibility of our law. Personal Liberty includes right to privacy, right against cruel punishment, right to fair trial, right to travel abroad, etc. The article mentions various types of liberty and different meanings given to it by different philosophers. The article has talked about the constitutional provisions related to it. The author has mentioned the reasonable restrictions under it in brief. Further, it talks about the landmark cases, various judgements of Supreme Court on this concept. It also talks about the evolution of law related to liberty. The author concluded by mentioning some of the safeguards that are essential for the protection of liberty.


Gilchrist has correctly pointed out, “Everyone has a vague notion of liberty and desire for it, but amongst the people using the word, perhaps only two will be able to say what exactly that means.” In layman language, liberty means absence of restraint. But this is not true because according to today’s society, no one can be given a right to do anything. So, this concept is limited by social principles and laws of the states. Liberty has been classified into different types:

  1. Natural Liberty, which means that it is the natural right of a man to be free without any chains as he is born free.
  2. Civil Liberty, which a man gets being a part of the society. It may include liberty to express our views, religious liberty etc.
  3. Political Liberty, which gives liberty to actively participate in the administration of the state. It may include right to be elected, right to vote, etc.
  4. Economic Liberty, it means security from unemployment, poverty and other such issues. It includes right to get reasonable wages, right to work, etc.
  5. National Liberty, it means every nation is free from any external or internal control with some exceptions and it has right to establish a sovereign state.
  6. Religious Liberty, India, being a secular state provides the liberty to adopt any religion to its citizens and the state won’t interfere with the religious affairs.
  7. Moral Liberty, which means that an individual has liberty to act according to his inner consciousness.
  8. Individual Liberty, it means liberty to do anything which does not disturb or affect others.[1]

India, being a free nation gives its citizens all the types of liberties to be enjoyed within certain restraints.


The idea of liberty means the freedom on the activities of Indian nationals. This is one of the oldest concepts to be protected by national courts. 1215, the Magna Carta also provided that no free man shall be taken or imprisoned except by the law of land. ‘Liberty’ has been given a very wide meaning in the 5th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution. In contrast to this, Article 21 of our Indian Constitution qualifies ‘liberty’ by ‘personal’ which means that the scope of liberty is narrower in India than in US. But it has been developed over the time through various judgements given the Supreme Court of India.[2]

In Munn v. Illinois[3], it was observed by the court that liberty includes all the freedoms that a human being is expected to have.

Liberty is derived from the Latin word ‘Liber’ that means ‘absence of restraint’. Various philosophers have defined it differently. Few of the definitions are[4]:

Gettell defined it as, “Liberty is the positive power of doing or enjoying those things which are worthy of enjoyment and work.”

C. D. Burns said, “Liberty is to grow to one’s natural height and to develop one’s ability.”

Laski defined it as, “Liberty is the larger maintenance of that atmosphere in which men have the opportunity to be at their best selves.”


The preamble which is the key to the constitution mentions about Liberty. It says, “… Liberty of thought, expressions, belief, faith and worship…”. Further, under Part III, Article 19 of our Indian Constitution mentions six fundamental rights available to the citizens of India, subject to certain restrictions. These include freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association, movement, residence and settlement; and profession, occupation, trade or business. Hence, availability of all these rights to the citizens ensures the presence of liberty to them.

The most important Article 21 talks about the ‘Protection of Life and Personal Liberty’. It says, “No one shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.” These rights are available to all the people including non-citizens.[5]

Article 5 of Human Rights Act, 1998 also states that, “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the few cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law.” It protects individual’s freedom from unreasonable detention. It ensures right to liberty and security.


According to Article 21, liberty is guaranteed to all except according to the procedure established by law. This means that personal liberty could be taken away only in accordance with the procedure established by law. This refers to the law enacted by the legislature and the executive has no such right of depriving any person of his personal liberty.

Unlike the words used in US Constitution i.e., ‘due process of law’, the framers of Indian Constitution have used ‘procedure established by law’.

In the case of A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras[6], it was argued that the ‘procedure established by law’ meant the same as ‘due process of law’. Both the terms are synonymous and the same protection is being given in both the countries with a difference that ‘due process of law’ covers substantive and procedural law but ‘procedure established by law’ covers only procedural law.[7]

The Supreme Court rejected this argument and held that ‘procedure established by law’ is more specific and the ‘due process of law’ used in US Constitution is quite vague.

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[8], Chandrachud J. said that the procedure has to be just, fair and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary and Krishna Iyer J. said that the ‘law’ means reasonable law and not any enacted piece.[9]

An example for this could be the rights of prisoners. A prisoner is entitled to exercise all his rights unless his liberty has been constitutionally curtailed. So, any imposition of a major punishment in prison is conditional upon the observance of the procedural safeguards enshrined in Article 21.


This concept first came up in the case of A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras[10]. In this case, the petitioner was detained under Preventive Detention Act. He challenged this in the court that it be violative of his right to freedom of movement, which is the essence of personal liberty under Article 21. The Supreme Court gave the meaning of personal liberty in a very narrow sense. It said that personal liberty includes only the physical freedom of body like freedom from arrest or wrongful confinement. It also said that the term ‘law’ is the state made law only. The Supreme Court held that Article 19 has no connection and applicability to Article 21.[11]

However, this interpretation is not followed in the later judgements by the Supreme Court.

Another important case is of Kharak Singh v. State of U. P.[12]. In this case, the petitioner has been charged of dacoity but was released as no evidence was found against him. However, police kept him under police-surveillance. He challenged this as violative of his right under Article 21.

The Supreme Court held that ‘Personal liberty’ is not restricted to bodily restraint to prisons only, but was used in a succinct sense including all varieties of rights which constitutes the personal liberty of a human being other than those mentioned under Article 19(1). Any unauthorised obstruction into someone’s home and disturbance caused to him is a violation of the personal liberty. The domiciliary visits of the policemen in the house of petitioner were an interruption on the petitioner’s personal liberty. Therefore, the U.P. Police Regulation was violative of Article 21 and was struck down as unconstitutional. It can be said that Article 19(1) deals with a particular type of freedom and Article 21 mentions the residue.[13]

The most important case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[14] gave a new dimension to the concept of ‘personal liberty’. In this case, the petitioner got a letter from Regional Passport Officer to surrender her passport. She immediately requested to issue the reason of such letter. She received another letter stating that the reason could not be given to her in the interest of general public. The petitioner approached the Supreme Court claiming infringement of her fundamental right to liberty.

The Supreme Court overruled the A. K. Gopalan case and also widened the scope of this article. It was held by the Supreme Court that the government was not justified in impounding the passport of the petitioner without any reason. Right to go broad is covered under Article 21 and petitioner was not given a chance to be heard so that was the violation of principle of natural justice. Justice Bhagwati observed that Article 21 covers a wide variety of rights that constitute personal liberty. Article 19 is connected to Article 21. If any law deprives an individual of its personal liberty, then such a law must stand the test of Article 21 along with the Article 14 and 19.[15]

In the case of Satwant Singh Sahney v. Passport Officer[16], the right to travel abroad is in included in ‘personal liberty’ and no person can be deprived of his right to travel except as per the procedure established by law. Refusal to give the passport of the person without any reasons assigned for it amounts to an unauthorised deprivation of personal liberty as given under Article 21.[17]

There was one more case of State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Pandurang[18]. In this case, it was observed that the prisoner does no cease to be a human being not having fundamental rights. Right to write a book and get it published by a detenu is his fundamental right and its denial without the authority of law violated Article 21.[19]


It was generally believed that the fundamental rights are available only against the State and could not be invoked against the non-State entities or individuals. In Vidya Verma v. Shiv Narain Verma[20], court held that a person must seek remedy under the ordinary law and not under Article 21 if his right to personal liberty is infringed by a private individual. But instances are available where this right has been invoked against private persons also. It is argued that Article 21 should be given the widest interpretation possible and should not be restricted to State action only.

In the case of A. D. M. Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla[21], also known as Habeas Corpus case, the Apex Court observed that Article 21 was the only repository of the right to life and personal liberty and if it got suspended by the presidential order under Article 359, the detune would have no right to file for a writ petition for challenging the legality of his detention. This resulted in denial of the cherished right to personal liberty guaranteed to the citizens. Hence, the Constitutional Amendment Act, 1978 amended Article 359 through which the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 would not be suspended when the proclamation of emergency is in operation.


It can be concluded that the liberty of a person is his inalienable right which exists as a virtue of being a human being. The courts have expanded the concept of liberty through its various judgements and are still trying to expand the application and scope of Article 21 so that citizen’s rights are protected every time. There are few of the safeguards that are essential for the protection of liberty. These are:

  1. Democratic government, which is best possible safeguard of liberty as it is the government of the people, by the people and for the people that ensures the people’s liberty to express their views, thoughts and criticize the government.
  2. Fundamental Rights act as a shield for protecting our freedom and ensures that people enjoy their liberty. Rights and liberties are described as the two sides of the same coin and without rights, there is no place of liberty.
  3. Separation of Power will help in preventing excessive use of power by one organ of government and the power will be distributed among the three organs so that people can enjoy more liberty.
  4. Eternal vigilance means thatpeople should be aware of their rights and duties. They should be vigilant to protect their liberty.
  5. Independent Judiciary: Our judiciary should be independent, impartial and powerful as it is the biggest protector of our liberty.
  6. Co-operation between the government and the people could only help the government to protect the liberty of people. People should co-operate with the government. They should revolt against any attack on their liberty and support the government to suppress those actions.
  7. Rule of Law should prevail. People should be punished on infringement of law. Laws should be equal for everyone. Equality should exist over arbitrariness.
  8. Absence of special privileges: Everyone should have equal rights, no one should be given special privileges because it will impact the liberty of other people.
  9. Honest and free press: Mass media is considered to be the guardian of liberty. Press should be honest and free so that they can prevent government from becoming irresponsible. Professor Laski has quoted, “The people without reliable news are sooner or later a people without the basis of freedom.”
  10. Love for Liberty: There should be unconditional and unlimited love for liberty in the hearts of the people, so that they can fight for it whenever someone attacks on their liberty.

India, being one of the largest democracies has provided these safeguards for the protection of liberty of the people. It is through the joint efforts that the nation is successful to protect the rights of its people and will be able to ensure this in future only when co-operation exist between people and the government.



[1] Concept of liberty, available at:

[2] Liberty: Definition, Features, Types and Essential Safeguards of Liberty, available at:

[3] 24 L Ed 77: 94 US 113 (1877).

[4] Concept of liberty, available at:

[5] Article 21: Meaning & Scope of Protection of Life & Personal Liberty, available at:

[6] 1950 AIR 27, 1950 SCR 88.

[7] Article 21: Meaning & Scope of Protection of Life & Personal Liberty, available at:

[8] 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621.

[9] Article 21: Meaning & Scope of Protection of Life & Personal Liberty, available at:

[10] 1950 AIR 27, 1950 SCR 88

[11] Protection of right and personal liberty, available at:

[12] 1963 AIR 1295, 1964 SCR (1) 332.

[13] Protection of right and personal liberty, available at:

[14] 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621.

[15] Protection of right and personal liberty, available at:

[16] AIR 1967 SC 1836: (1967) 3 SCR 525.

[17] V. N. Shukla, Constitution of India 218 (Eastern Book Company, Calcutta, 13th Edition, 2019).

[18] AIR 1966 SC 424: (1966) 1 SCR 702.

[19] V. N. Shukla, Constitution of India 218 (Eastern Book Company, Calcutta, 13th Edition, 2019).

[20] AIR 1956 SC 108: (1955) 2 SCR 983.

[21]AIR 1976 SC 1207.