The best to freedom of expression and expression takes priority over the fitting to privateness –

The right to freedom of expression and expression takes precedence over the right to privacy authored by Surya Sunilkumar, a student at the Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies

R. Rajagopal and Ors. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors. (1995)


The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights that are justified in the event of violations. Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution are important rights, they are the right to freedom of expression and the right to life and personal freedom. Article 21 enshrines the right to privacy. R. Rajagopal and Ors. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors. (Auto Shankar case) is one of the landmark cases that have defined the scope of these articles. Although we have freedom of speech and expression, Article 19 (2) states that there may be reasonable restrictions. In this case, the Supreme Court of India ruled on the powers of the government, the application of reasonable restrictions and the scope of the right to privacy

Facts of the case

A prisoner convicted of murder wrote an autobiography discussing the involvement of senior officials and other government officials in his illegal activities. In the meantime, he was sentenced to life in prison and was later to be hanged. Before he was hanged, he gave his wife his autobiography with the knowledge of prison officials. Later, to get it published, his wife gave it to the petitioners (publishers) of this case. Before the book was published, the Inspector General of Prisons wrote to the editors claiming that the autobiography was false, that the publication was against prison rules, and threatened legal action if they continued publication. The reason given by the prison authorities for such an act was that the content of the book was defamatory.

Arguments of the parties

The petitioners have made the following arguments:
• The right to freedom and expression is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Article 19, paragraph 2 states: “… to the extent that such a law appropriately restricts the exercise of the right granted by this subsection in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with other states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or instigation of a crime. “The autobiography that was to be published did not violate any of these subsections.
• Auto Shankar, an Indian citizen, had the right to publish his own book as it is a fundamental right.
• The book was given with the knowledge of the prison officials.
• The right to freedom and expression has more power than the right to privacy as it is part of the right to life and personal freedom, unlike freedom of expression, which is in itself a fundamental right.
• The authorities used the third degree torture of Auto Shankar (Gouri Shankar) to deny his authorship of the book before he was hanged.
• There was no defamation as the truth is taken as a defense in defamation.

The respondents provided the following information:

• There was no evidence that the book was written by the convict because he was hanged to death before confirmation of the matter could be given. Chances are the editors changed it.
• There is no evidence that the book was given to Auto Shankar’s wife with the knowledge and approval of prison officials.
• The information contained in this book is defamatory and untrue as there is no evidence that government officials or officials were involved in its illegal activities.
• Respondents denied having tortured the detainee using the third degree method.


  1. The court examined the right to privacy as there could be defamatory statements that would damage the officials’ reputation. However, it cannot prevent petitioners from publishing it until the respondents have evidence to say otherwise. Respondents can file a defamation case and claim damages after proving their innocence.
  2. The authority cannot issue a prior ban before the autobiography is published. The court made the aforementioned statement in relation to an international New York Times v. United States case.
  3. The Supreme Court ruled that Auto Shankar had the right to have his autobiography published as there was no malicious intent and the publication did not violate any provision.


This case established the scope and application of Article 19 (2) and the right to privacy. It was made clear that the right to freedom of expression will take precedence over the right to privacy as it is the fundamental right. The petitioners of the case were given full power to publish the book without amendment and the state cannot prohibit it, thus upholding the petitioners’ right.

[1] (last on October 30, 2020)

[2] (1971) 403, US 713

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