Conjugal Visit : A desideratum

Introduction: Confined behind the bars of the prison, the prisoners constantly sacrifice their many vital aspects of their life to the criminal justice system. However, the crucial question here is should the denial of the fundamental right to love and affection be one of them?The matter brings up a number of crucial issues about the […]

Introduction: Confined behind the bars of the prison, the prisoners constantly sacrifice their many vital aspects of their life to the criminal justice system. However, the crucial question here is should the denial of the fundamental right to love and affection be one of them?The matter brings up a number of crucial issues about the relationship between individual freedom and the Indian legal system, particularly in a culture that has long upheld the inviolability of personal rights. Does the Indian Constitution’s Article 21, which protects our right to life and personal liberty, hold up to examination when it comes to the denial of marital rights in prisons? An examination of the fine line between social order and inalienable rights—which apply to both prisoners and the general public—is necessary when the intimidating prison doors close each night.. The withholding of conjugal rights in the Indian prison system gives rise to deep ethical and constitutional examinations and thereby questioning the fundamental essence of our comprehension of personal freedom. Considering these intricacies, it is crucial to delve into the ambit of personal rights in Indian society and its intersection with the profound constitutional rights guaranteed to each and every citizen of India.

A Comparative Analysis between Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act and Article 21 of the Constitution. Section 9, of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, seeks to safeguard and protect the sanctity of marital unions, personal relationships of the individual rights. Specifically, this provision serves as a remedy for spouses grappling with the deprivation of conjugal rights. Conjugal rights refer to the rights and privileges that an ordinary couple is entitled to enjoy in the realm of the institution of marriage. These rights include not only the physical aspects of marital relations but also the emotional and psychological dimensions, emphasizing the overall nature of the marital bond. It serves as a guiding light for spouses seeking resolution in the face of undesired disruptions to the intimate aspects of their marital union. This demonstrates a legal dedication to upholding the comprehensive nature of conjugal bonds.

Article 21, enshrined in the Indian Constitution provides a protective canopy over the foundational right of life and personal liberty. It states that everyone has the right to life, irrespective of gender or cultural differences, and that everyone has the right to express their liberty and share their views and ideas in society. Article 21 of the Constitution, as a pivotal concept, emphasises the dedication to the intrinsic worth of every individual’s life, recognising their right to live it autonomously and with dignity. It acts as a safeguard, protecting against the arbitrary actions of the state or policies that could jeopardise fundamental rights thereby highlighting the vital importance of personal liberty within India’s democratic values.

The intersection of these provisions offer an interesting sort of a mix, which falls into the terrain of the realm of personal liberties and marital relationships. The overlap occurs when the application of conjugal rights as defined in Section 9 is considered in the context of Article 21’s constitutional guarantees. Courts must carefully balance the protection of marital purity, as envisioned by Section 9, with ensuring that the exercise of conjugal rights is consistent with the overarching ideals of personal liberty and dignity enunciated in Article 21. If the denial of conjugal rights severely infringes an individual’s personal liberty and dignity, constitutional scrutiny may be in certain situations invoked.

How does denial of conjugal rights to prisoners violate Article 21 of the Constitution?
In the context of India, the deprivation of conjugal rights to incarcerated individuals poses a nuanced challenge that could potentially violate the provisions of Article 21 in the Constitution. The important concept here is that, the essence or the purpose of any imprisonment is not limited to just punitive measures but also incorporates the concept of rehabilitation and reformation. The denial of congujal rights to the incarcerated would itself subtly question the role of imprisonment as a tool designed for societal integration. This perspective was backed by a landmark judgement delivered by Hon’ Justice V.R Krishna Iyer in the case of Charles Sobraj V Superindentent, Central Jail, AIR 1978, SC 1514,which said that imprisonment does not bid farewell to the fundamental rights wholly, though reasonable restrictions may be imposed and further added that it was the fundamental and supreme duty of the court to ensure that the incarerated enjoy reasonable rights and ensure that the curb on certain activities does not in any way interfere with their enjoyement of their fundamental rights. The significance of Article 21 comes into play, in the judgement by the Hon’ Supreme court in the case of Rustom Cowvasjee Cooper v. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 1318, and Menaka Gandhi which said that prisoners maintain all rights enjoyed by free citizens save those lost as a consequence of confinement; the rights enjoyed by prisoners under Articles 14, 19, and 21 are not static and will grow to human heights when demanding situations emerge.

Apart from these judgments, denial of these rights to the prisoners is an egregious breach of fundamental human rights as expressed in important international documents, demonstrating a serious contempt for the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These international principles emphasise the inviolable nature of human dignity and individual rights, emphasising that such rights transcend legal status or detention. As a signatory to these crucial accords, India has pledged to maintain these universal norms.
Another landmark judgement of Sunil Batra V Delhi Administartn 1980, 3 SCC 488 said “ Prisons are built with rocks of law” and said that prisoners were indeed individuals and not animals and the court must hold accountable those prison officials who, via their actions, undermine the dignity of individuals who are incarcerated. Prisons are an important aspect of the Indian environment, and jail officials are subject to examination under the Indian Constitution. It further says that when an injustic happens to an indiviudual, its an injustice to the whole constitutional fabric.

What does the Judicary Says
The Madras High Court ruled that prisoners lack an inherent fundamental right to routine conjugal relationships under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It emphasized that such rights can be exercised for specific reasons, citing infertility treatment as an exception. The three-judge bench stated that prisoners may claim this right under extraordinary circumstances, with infertility treatment recognized as such. The court underscored the protection of prisoners’ limited fundamental rights within the judicial system. While acknowledging the violation of Article 21 in specific cases, it cautioned against interpreting it as a routine entitlement. The decision was praised in the Indian criminal justice system, with other High Courts, like Punjab and Haryana, supporting it. However, expectations persist for a more liberalized approach in evolving legal discourse.

In the Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration case (1979), Justice Iyer highlighted the importance of family and friends’ visits to prisoners, considering them a source of solace. However, High Courts have divergent views on the conjugal rights of prisoners. In Jasvir Singh vs State of Punjab, a couple on death row sought the enforcement of their right to procreate, leading to a determination of whether this right is inherent in the right to life under Article 21. The court held that prisoners have the right to conjugality under Article 21, with certain restrictions. Conversely, in Meharaj vs State (2022), the Madras HC emphasized differential standards in enforcing Article 21 for law-abiding citizens and offenders. While not recognizing conjugal visits as a fundamental right, the court allowed prisoners to seek leave for such visits under ‘extraordinary reasons’ like infertility treatments.

The Up-Coming Punjab Model
Marital visits are defined by State standards as a privilege rather than an inalienable right. The notification states that these visits are allowed once every two months and have a typical duration of two hours. It is mandatory for visiting spouses to present proof of marriage and medical certifications attesting to their immunity to HIV, other STDs, COVID-19, and other infectious illnesses. Furthermore, this institution is ineligible to house some groups of inmates, including as high-risk persons, terrorists, those convicted of sexual offences or child abuse, death row inmates, and HIV-positive inmates.

Suggestions and Conclusion
An analysis of the restrictions placed on the ability of inmates to marry reveals a complex relationship between the criminal justice system and basic rights, particularly those safeguarded by Article 21 of the Constitution. The cited case law emphasises the judiciary’s recognition of prisoners’ rights as a fundamental element of the wider human rights domain, underscoring the necessity of balancing punitive actions with consideration for the inherent dignity of persons, even when they are confined to prison. Furthermore, as the article mentions, international organisations are realising how important it is to protect human rights norms in jail environments. Taking into account the state’s legitimate concerns about maintaining security and order in correctional facilities, a sophisticated strategy that respects the constitutional guarantees afforded to each individual must be implemented.It is important to use a more customised and rights-focused strategy in order to address the justifiable concerns of prison administration and safeguard the constitutional rights of inmates.

This would include creating detailed regulations that account for the unique circumstances of every instance, guaranteeing that limitations on marital rights are both appropriate and required to achieve the justifiable objectives of incarceration.Furthermore, it is imperative that prison staff members have a greater understanding and compassion for the need of protecting inmates’ rights and dignity. Putting in place educational initiatives that emphasise a human rights-based perspective in prisons can contribute to the development of an environment that respects inmates’ constitutional rights, including their right to continue living with their families.