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R. RAJAGOPAL and Ors v. State of Tamil Nadu

The case of R.Rajagopal and Ors v. State of Tamilnadu is a significant landmark case that relied upon the principles of freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy. The suit was filed to prevent the publication of an autobiography book written by a prisoner named Shankar who was


The case of R.Rajagopal and Ors v. State of Tamilnadu[1] is a significant landmark case that relied upon the principles of freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy. The suit was filed to prevent the publication of an autobiography book written by a prisoner named Shankar who was awarded the death penalty. It further lays down discussion on various parameters about the right of the press to investigate the facts and conduct of public officers and also criticize them if necessary. The main implication that was brought into the limelight was that the freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right and provides full liberty to an individual to articulate his views in front of people. Therefore, the Supreme Court judges granted permission for the publication of the book and also proclaimed that the right to privacy is part and parcel of every individual’s life as defined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.


The case was about an auto driver named Shankar who was accused of murder and was sentenced to the death penalty for the same. When he was serving life imprisonment in prison, he wrote an autobiography book that enumerated the relationship and connections he shared with many senior prison authorities and state officials who had been his partners and were involved in many illegal acts.  Before his death, he gave the book to his wife and asked her to ensure that it gets published in the esteemed columns of the magazine of the petitioner named “Nakeeran”.

Later on, having come to know about this, the inspector general of prison sent a letter to the petitioners stating that the information contained in the book is false and defamatory in nature and that publishing the same would amount to acting against their rules. In addition, he also further threatened to take necessary legal action in case it gets published. After realizing that the higher officials would certainly interfere with the publication, so to restrain their actions they filed a suit in order to protect and safeguard their freedom to print under Article 19 (1) of the Indian constitution.                                However, the petition was dismissed by the high court and later on the matter was brought before the supreme court by bringing a suit with reference to article 32 of the constitution and sought to restrain the respondent from intervening with the publication.

ISSUES RAISED                                                                                                                                                 

1) The question raised was whether freedom of speech and expression can be considered as a ground or reason to violate the right to privacy.                                                                                     

2) Whether the state is vested with the power to stop a book from getting published because it might infringe on their right to privacy?

3) Whether the press was authorized to publish an unauthorized account of a person’s life through freedom of the press as guaranteed under article 19(1) (a)[2] and in case it leads to a situation where there is a violation of the right to privacy than are there any remedies available for the same?


  • The main contention put forth by the petitioner was that every individual has the fundamental right to express his views and no one can prevent or violate the rights.
  • They articulated that the state officials had tried to impose restrictions out of fear that their connections might get exposed in front of everyone.
  • That the prisoner is enshrined with the fundamental right under article 19(1)(a) to get his book published whenever he wished.
  • They also further contended that the right to privacy was not a fundamental right during that time, henceforth the right to freedom of speech can overpower it depending upon the seriousness of the issue.


  • The main contention made by the defendant was that the autobiography written by Shankar contained derogatory and false information in nature and publishing the same might hamper or infringe the privacy of the officials and prison authorities.
  • They also further contended that there was no concrete proof on the petitioner’s part to prove whether the book was written by Shankar or whether it was just a mere allegation made by the publishers.


The case mainly highlighted the right to privacy and aims at aiding the rule to turn it into a basic right.  Another significant aspect of this case is that it throws light on article 21 of the constitution that every individual is vested with complete rights to safeguard and protect their privacy and no one can impose restrictions on the same or restrain anyone from enjoying their legal rights.


The Supreme Court held that the prisoner is vested with complete rights to publish his autobiography and the publisher can also publish the autobiography as per his desire. The publisher also had full rights to publish about Shankar which certainly falls under the ambit of public records even without obtaining the prior consent of Sankar. It referred to various seminal cases on privacy, namely Kharak Singh & Ors. vs. State of U.P. & Ors[3] and Gobind vs. State of MP & Anr[4] to note that an independent right of privacy could be assumed to have emanated from the “Right to personal liberty, the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and the freedom of speech”, “which one can characterize as a fundamental right”. It noted that the right to privacy was not an absolute right, and would “have to go through a process of case-by-case development”. It was laid down that the right to privacy is a fundamental right as it remains implicit under article 21 of the Constitution(Right to life and personal liberty).  In addition, it was also said that no public official can file any suit for damages in defamatory cases which were performed during the execution of their official duties unless and until it is proved that the publication is false in nature. There is no provision or law which permits the officials to impose any unwanted restrictions on the press or the media.


The court also laid down that the article can be published even without taking the authority of Shankar in case it falls under the ambit of public records in addition, it also mentioned that they can publish it as per the desire of the concerned person. However, it has to be noted that they cannot publish anything if the matter is related to personal life without obtaining the consent of the concerned person, and violating the same would amount to an offence as it hampers his right to privacy, and will be punished for the same. It was declared that predominantly the right to privacy is not exhaustive in nature. It differs from case to case depending upon the graveness of the situation. Over the years, the legislature has been constantly working on implementing and framing the necessary guidelines in order to bring about reformative changes with respect to their application in society. It also laid down that even the state has no absolute right to restrain or prohibit a citizen from publishing but at the same time it must be duly ensured that the person is vested with proper adequate measures and rights to seek remedy if any right is harmed.


Looking upon the analysis of the above-mentioned case, it can be concluded that the right to freedom of speech and expression along with the right to privacy has a vital role to play and indeed an integral part in today’s contemporary society. Apart from playing a vital role let’s not forget the fact that they hold utmost importance since they are very crucial and form the basic structure of the constitution. The judgment laid down in the case clearly demarcated and indicated the Rights of the Press and also the Right to Privacy.  It also brings into the limelight the importance of the right to privacy despite being a part and parcel of Article 21[5]. Through this case, the court reached the conclusion that the state cannot impose unwanted restrictions which would lead to violation and anything which falls under the ambit of public record can be published. Predominantly even though the concept of the right to privacy has evolved as one of the most debated concepts, it is pertinent to note the fact that to date it has not been enumerated in the Constitution as a separate right despite falling within the ambit of Article 21 and therefore the proper implementation of the same is necessary to avoid uncertain situations in future. Back then in the earlier days, this primitive concept was not very well recognized in legislation or case laws. The Courts and this case law particularly have played a pivotal role in the development of the concept of the right to privacy. If the case would have been decided today, it’s nevertheless to say that the judgment would have been completely different. To conclude, it would be appropriate to mention that the law reforms of privacy certainly need some specific attention. Freedom of speech and expression cannot be warranted while dealing with cases, where there is no concrete proof to showcase the true nature of the alleged facts or particularly for a defamatory statement. Thus, this right cannot be denied however proper steps and adequate measures need to be undertaken in order to avoid misuse of the provision or unwanted chaos due to its complexity. The judgment laid down in this case also highlights the same.   This landmark case law certainly played an imperative role and in fact, laid down the foundation for discussions about the concept of the right to privacy and thus greatly aiding the process.

Author(s) Name: R.Shakthivel (Presidency University, Banglore)


[1] AIR 1995 SC 264: (1994) 6 SCC 632: (1995) 2 SCJ 86 

[2] The Constitution of India,1950 art 19(1)(a)

[3] 1963 AIR SC 1295

[4] AIR 1975 SC 1378

[5] The Constitution of India, 1950