Examining the evolution of the constitutional right to liberty

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Rohan Alva
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New Delhi– It’s a provision that has made possible the right to privacy – as well as the decriminalization of homosexuality. Rohan Alva’s ‘Liberty After Freedom’ explores the origins and evolution of what is today considered the most important fundamental right in the Indian Constitution – the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21.

Without a doubt, this Article has had the most outsized influence on the progressive development of rights in India. But the story of how it was birthed is deeply controversial and its passage in the Constituent Assembly divided opinion like no other feature of the Constitution.

When India gave herself the Constitution on January 26, 1950, both life and liberty were thought to be in peril because the Constituent Assembly decided not to grant due process protection to them. ‘Liberty After Freedom’ (HarperCollins) explores the intellectual beginnings of this paramount fundamental right in order to decode and unravel the controversies which raged at the time the Constitution was being crafted.

Written in lucid prose and drawing extensively on the Constituent Assembly debates as well as a wide array of scholarly literature, the book questions long-held beliefs and sheds new and important light on the fraught history of due process and Article 21. It will be indispensable for the legal community and for anyone interested in the genesis of the Constitution.

The right to life and personal liberty, says the author, “is that one fundamental right which impacts the life of every single Indian, and its growing salience is represented by the fact that in recent years this right has become part of our daily conversations, in terms of the recognition of the right to privacy and the decriminalization of homosexuality”.

“Given its high importance, I believe the story of how this right came to be and the women and men who shaped its destiny deserves to be told. Exploring its origins informs us not only of the controversies which arose at the time the Indian Constitution was crafted, but holds important lessons for the progressive realization of this right in contemporary India,” Alva adds.

Alva’s debut work, says Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, “is an eye-opener… an important addition to the existing academic writing on Indian Constitutional history. Alva has brought to bear an impressive grasp of legal history to shine light on the arduous journey that Article 21 undertook to reach its present form. Through meticulous research, Alva shows how fragile the Article was at its inception, and how important it is for citizens to continue to ensure that this most important of rights remains protected.”

Rohan Alva is a counsel practising in the Supreme Court. He earned his LL.M. from Harvard Law School, which he read for as a Tata Scholar and on a Harvard Law School Scholarship. He lives in New Delhi with his wife, Nina, two children, Zarina and Cyrus, and two dogs, Jerry and Jackie. (IANS)

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