Right to Sleep


Right to Sleep was every person’s fundamental right, that is what I thought.

So, I was surprised to see the Supreme Court of India’s judgement that right to sleep is a fundamental right, see The Times of India coverage at “Right to sleep a fundamental right, says Supreme Court” .

What was the issue here ? Obviously, nothing is as simple as what it appears to be, especially in India. It is a complex nation emerging from hundreds of years of stupor, into a modern nation capable of holding its own in the comity of the top countries of the world. Hence, it is sometimes not really surprising to see that notions that we take for granted are getting endorsed either by the government or by a court of law.

That said, the specific issue here is the liberty of a set of protesters sleeping in the open space where a protest was being organized against the government in Delhi last year. Should they be allowed to make use of that open space to sleep ?

Delhi Police violated this fundamental right of citizens to sleep peacefully by attacking the peaceful protesters. Right to sleep is of a fundamental nature, and is categorized in the same plane as right to privacy, right to food, right to education, et al. This ruling of the Supreme Court of India is very significant and clearly delineates the rights of citizens vis-a-vis the enforcement powers of the police force. It is now clearly ruled by the Supreme Court of India that what the Delhi Police did was violative of the fundamental rights of citizens.

But the interesting part of the ruling was whether the citizens can exercise this fundamental right to sleep anywhere and at anytime they like. In that respect, it is to be interpreted in the same manner as when one’s right ends, the other’s right begins. So, the Supreme Court rightly ruled that citizens cannot, for example, sleep at the Court premises !

As the civilized society slowly tames the arrogance of power, and disciplines itself in the process, we can surely hope to arrive in the league of the developed nations of the world (forget we were one of the most developed nations some thousands of years ago). Police brutality is not a good sign of a developed nation. Forget brutality and insensitivity – even acts showing lack of respect will not be acceptable. No one should be presumed guilty by the police unless proven guilty by a court of law. Law enforcement cannot disturb and cannot afford to disturb the fundamental rights of the people.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
25th February 2012
Mumbai

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