Legally Speaking | Do we have the right to sleep? - Hindustan Times
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Legally Speaking | Do we have the right to sleep?

Apr 20, 2024 11:30 PM IST

The Bombay high court recently emphasised that the right to sleep is a fundamental human right. The HC's ruling aligns with a universal right to rest

Recently, the Bombay high court (HC) noted that to record a person’s statement at an unearthly hour amounted to a deprivation of his right to sleep, which it called a basic right. In this instance, the HC pulled up the Enforcement Directorate for summoning a 64-year-old petitioner and questioning him from 10:30 PM to 3:30 AM before arresting him. The High Court stated, “The `right to sleep' / 'right to blink' is a basic human requirement, inasmuch as, non-providing of the same, violates a person's human rights. It affects a person's health and may impair his mental faculties, cognitive skills and so on. ”

The right to sleep or rest has been termed a basic human right(Shutterstock)
The right to sleep or rest has been termed a basic human right(Shutterstock)

The right to sleep or rest has been termed a basic human right and finds mention in international documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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The earliest origin of this right can be traced to the labour movement, where workers demanded reduced working hours. leading to the establishment of the eight-hour workday. Presently, the International Labour Organization continues to advocate the right to "quality sleep" as a basic human right to safeguard not only the health of the person but also promote the safety and productivity of the workforce.

In India, one of the earliest mentions of the right to sleep was in 1962, when the Supreme Court (SC) was deciding the validity of State surveillance in Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh. In the case, the petitioner challenged State surveillance and domiciliary visits of the police at odd hours in the night. The SC noted that the surveillance was not founded on law but an administrative order and hence could not take the defence of being a reasonable restriction on a person's rights. It held the surveillance to be a violation of personal liberty under Article 21. While the majority refused to deem privacy as a fundamental right; Justice Subba Rao in his dissent noted that the right to privacy was a fundamental right and the surveillance was in violation of the same. In 2017, the SC in K.S. Puttaswamy upheld the minority view and deemed privacy a fundamental right.

The Court noted that the nightly visits were an intrusion of the person’s right to sleep.

The next phase of the evolution of the right to sleep was within the realm of noise pollution. With the advent of loudspeakers and the growth of residential societies, high courts across the country were hearing petitions on the right to sleep against noise pollution. One of the first cases was by the Calcutta HC in Om Birangana Religious Society v. The State decided on April 1, 1996. In this case, petitioners from the religious society challenged the refusal of the district administration to permit them to use loudspeakers while performing daily puja. The court noted that the right to practice religion under Article 25 could not be used to curtail the rights under Article 21 of other persons. The HC noted, "A citizen has a right to leisure, right to sleep, right not to hear and right to remain silent. He has also the right to read and speak with others. The use of microphones certainly takes away the right of the citizens to speak with others, their right to read or think or the right to sleep. There may be heart patients or patients suffering from nervous disorder who may be compelled to bear this serious impact of sound pollution which has had an adverse effect on them. It may create health problems."

Finally, the SC took cognizance of the issue of noise pollution in 2005 and prescribed guidelines regarding the use of firecrackers, loudspeakers, and the seizure of noise-producing devices and directed the State to create awareness across the country on the problems of noise pollution. While issuing the directions the Court noted that noise impacted the right to sleep of people especially sensitive groups like infants, children, and elderly.

While all these cases included the right to sleep, the definitive pronouncement came on February 23, 2012, when the apex court suo moto heard the pleas of displaced peaceful protestors from Ramlila Maidan in the middle of the night. On June 4, 2011, Baba Ramdev and several persons gathered at the Ramlila Maidan to protest against corruption. At 11.30 PM, the State imposed section 144, termed the gathering to be an unlawful assembly and began forcibly removing the sleeping protestors. The police resorted to the use of teargas bombs and lathis on protestors who were sleeping or waking up. Terming the action to be a violation of fundamental freedoms, Justice Chauhan elaborated on the right to sleep. On sleep, he noted, “It is a necessity and not a luxury. It is essential for optimal health and happiness as it directly affects the quality of the life of an individual when awake, inducing his mental sharpness, emotional balance, creativity and vitality. Sleep is, therefore, a biological and essential ingredient of the basic necessities of life. If this sleep is disturbed, the mind gets disoriented and it disrupts the health cycle. If this disruption is brought about in odd hours preventing an individual from getting normal sleep, it also causes energy disbalance, indigestion and also affects cardiovascular health.” He concluded that the sudden awakening without any justification affected the basic rights of an individual. Thus, the right to sleep was very clearly acknowledged as a part of the right to life of a person.

In a 2016 study conducted in the US, it was found that people who were sleep-deprived were more likely to sign false confessions. A direct linkage was found between the lack of sleep and poor reasoning and cognitive function.

Sleep and good quality sleep is a basic right of every living being and same has been recognised as an enforceable fundamental right in India. So, whether it is unreasonable state action, the loudspeakers or any other factor, none can deprive us of our right to sleep.

Parijata Bharadwaj, a lawyer and researcher based in New Delhi, co-founded the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group that offered legal services to adivasis in Chhattisgarh. The views expressed are personal.

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