ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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(De)Valuing Dignity

Three Risks of Dignity Inflation in the Indian Supreme Court’s Reasoning

The Supreme Court of India holds dignity to be a foundational constitutional value. Judicial enthusiasm about dignity must, however, be sensitive to the risk of devaluing it in the absence of close legal analysis. Three such risks are identified here. First, the constitutional status of dignity is unclear. Is it a right under Article 21 or a value underlying fundamental rights? The choice has significant interpretive implications. Second, does dignity guarantee a minimum standard of life, or does it refer to human flourishing entailing extensive state obligations? Third, can dignity be understood as a source of limiting rights as held in the Aadhaar decision?

The author thanks Akruti Ramchandran and Raja Venkata Krishna Dandamudi for excellent research assistance. The article has benefited from discussions at Ambedkar University, Delhi; Academia Sinica, Taiwan; Asian Law Institute Signature Conference 2018, Seoul; and IVR Annual Conference 2019, University of Lucerne.

Human dignity is beyond definition. It may at times defy des­c­ription. To some, it may seem to be in the world of abstraction and some may even perversely treat it as an attri­bute of egotism or accentuated ecc­e­n­tricity ... Dignity speaks, it has its sound, it is natural and human. It is a combination of thought and feeling.

— Justice Dipak Misra, Common Cause (A Regd Society) v Union of India and Anr (2018: para 156)

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Updated On : 4th Aug, 2020
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