Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra

Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra

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Citation: 1983 SC 378

Bench: Justice Ranganath Misra, C.J., M.M. Dutt., J., Bhagwati P.N., J., Amarendra Nath., J., R.S. Sen


Sheela Barse, a journalist, addressed a letter to the Supreme Court of India, showing her concern regarding the ill treatment of women in the prison lockups. She mentioned that, five out fifteen women who were interviewed by her at Mumbai Central Jail complained about the assault and torture which they were facing from the police officers. Her letter was treated as a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution by the Supreme Court.

Simultaneously, the Director of the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, was instructed to interview the women of Mumbai Central Jail without the presence of anyone else and verify that the allegations which was put forward in the writ petition are true or not.The Director after interviewing the women prisoners, stated in her report that, “all the allegations in the writ petition were true. Apart from this there was no proper system of providing legal assistance to female prisoners.


  1. Adequacy of the safety and security of women prisoners in police lock up and their protection against torture and ill-treatment. Whether the current treatment infringe rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution?
  2. State’s liability to provide legal assistance to all prisoners in jails and to poor or indigent accused who are arrested.


The court held that, legal assistance should be provided to poor who are being arrested as it is a part of Article 14, Article 19 and Article 39A of the Indian Constitution.It directed the Social workers to make report of the female prisoners, regarding ill treatment in the lock ups, if any.

The Supreme Court issued a notice to the Inspector of Jail to for ‘legal aid organisation’ at High Court and District levels. Apart from this, the Court also directed guidelines to Inspector General of Maharashtra Jail about the prisoners under which a notice was to be issued to all the Superintendents of Maharashtra:

  • Send a list of all the prisoners and the crimes committed by them. Males and females details must be separately specified.
  • A list should be put up by the police officers regarding the lawyers appointed to the prison people. This should be done to make prisoners aware about their lawyers.
  • Facilities should be provided to lawyers to comes to meet the prisoners.

Further, the Court issued guidelines for the protection of female prisoners in the lockups. They are as follows –

  • There should be separate lockups for female prisoners and it should be guarded by female police officers only.
  • Interrogation of the female prisoners should only be done in the presence of female officers only.
  • The person should be informed about the ground of arrest and provision of bail.
  • It is mandatory that a female suspect is to be checked by a female police officer only (Section 160(1) of CrPC).
  • Women prisoners cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise.


Thus, it was held that every individual has the right to live his life with dignity whether he is a prisoner or not. This meant that all rights enshrined under the Constitution includes the rights of prisoner and also the living conditions of the condemned prisoners.

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