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Solitary Confinement in the Context Of Legality and Ethicality in India

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Solitary confinement is the act of leaving alone in a closed space far from any means of communication with the outside world whether in person or via electronic modes. This act has been practiced for few centuries in different parts of the world. Two major conditions where solitary confinement was applied are either to treat the mentally ill people or as a form of punishment for the criminals. This method was then perceived as the way to curb violations against the people from the ones who posed danger to society.

Solitary confinement has been practiced in two forms – self-infused or enforced by others. The self-induced solitary confinement in the true sense is for the individual’s benefit with the sole aim of keeping oneself secluded from others to avoid hassles, liability towards others, etc. On the other hand, solitary confinement has been an instrument of punishment inflicted on people so that they are restricted from communication with others which in turn helps to restrict thoughts, ideas, plans being shared, arousal of appraising, and dispersion of negativity leading to unrest in the society. 

How legal and ethical is solitary confinement has always been a topic for debate. It is quite hard to establish the sanctity of solitary confinement and also whether it is a good or a bad one. Basis the ground reality and the underline situation, solitary confinement can be a handy instrument to overcome a hard situation staying within the purview of legality, while at times the people in power may see the course of this solitary confinement through illegal, unethical, and unacceptable will cause of action. The facts and figures described in the subsequent sections of the documents would help to establish the researcher’s view and does justify the thoughts. 

Concept, Origin, And Purpose Of Solitary Confinement In India

The action of social reclusiveness for a longer period of time and restricting all forms of human communications are the ideal characteristics of a person undergoing solitary confinement. During this process, there is a complete curtailment of socialization. The word solitary refers to loneliness and confinement implies restriction within a fixed or predefined area.

In India, the origin of any punishment traces long back to the pious text of Hindus like Manusmriti, Dharmasastra, and Dharmasutra. These texts of ancient India were the code of conduct for Hindus and Hinduism which held status similar to what the Indian constitution is having the present day. The concept then was, when any such crime was committed by a person that was categorized as heinous, the prime punishment awarded to any such person was banishment from the village and society. Although this banishment was not confinement but was characterized by solidarity as he or she was not allowed to have any contact with any of the villagers. If anyone was found doing so was also banished from the village. Later it was realized that leaving the criminal free was not the apt solution for the crime committed as he was let free to lead his life accordingly. It was then when the concept of confinement evolved. Later on, when people were put into this kind of confinement, the concept of prison, prisoners, and other related authorities came into existence. With time and the introduction of the medieval period, these concepts began gaining prominence where the criminals were under strict surveillance as well as confinement backed up by-laws. During the British rule, the Britishers’ did put each and every individual in jail (imprisonment) whoever disobeyed their rules and regulations and after these episodes, India made its concrete laws regarding the imprisonment of criminals. Hereafter, Modern India follows the practices of solitary confinement but only to deal with specific categories of criminals with limitations keeping in mind the psychological as well as physiological conditions of a person. There is a trivial difference between imprisonment and solitary confinement. The latter is more rigorous than the former one. The chief motive behind this method is visibly understood as to restrain the spread of negativity among the other individuals. The human mind has always been dynamic in nature and there is no rule governing the brain. Hence keeping evil vibrations away from a clean society was considered to be the best preventive measure. Solitary confinement served the purpose of protecting society from malicious, immoral, and criminal views and behaviors.

Health Conditions Suffered During And In The Post Solitary Confinement Period

Health conditions are in ways directly proportional to the environment of the individual he or she is residing in. If a person is in a positive and happy environment, his health responds accordingly. In such an atmosphere, the person will be both psychologically as well as physiologically sound. But in conditions like solitary confinement where a single person is restricted within a capacity like a cell or room, it affects him mentally as well as physically. The articles by the doctors are reviewed where these conditions and health effects are proven after performing studies and experiments.

The psychological effects on a person while staying in solitary confinement and post that period is – 

  • Development of anxiety and depression – Anxiety is the unreasonable feeling of worriedness, nervousness, and uneasiness with compulsive behavior. This feeling pushes a person into a prolonged period of sadness and the person experiences ultimate emptiness in life known as depression.
  • Development of bipolar attitudes – In this kind of disorder, the patient experiences both maniac as well as depressive episodes. He will evidence severe mood swings and unprecedented behaviors.
  • Hallucination – The state of sighting objects or events which have no real existence and mere illusions.
  • Repercussions of Suicidal thoughts and attempts to take away ones’ own life 
  • Stress – A mental status where the person is emotionally drained due to experiencing immense adverse conditions.

The physiological effects on a person are due to the psychological illness suffered while bearing through solitary confinement. The physical degradation is evident by the bodily appearance of any person who was in confinement for a long period of time. The physical conditions suffered are –

    • Significant or drastic loss of weight – When a person is secluded from social interaction, that individual will experience drastic loss of weight due to psychological conditions and the body also does not function properly.
  • Cardiac complications – Heart-related diseases.
  • Vision loss – Eyes stay good when they get the sight of nature and fresh air. Confinement curtails both the conditions of having good vision. 
  • Speech impairment – Solidarity results in the person becoming dumb due to lack of conversation for a prolonged period of time.
  • Weakness in the body – When there is a lack of bodily activities; the body loses the strength to do anything.
  • Loss of muscular control due to elongated weakness in the body.
  • Hypertension 

These health issues can presently be very well understood as the whole world has witnessed the pandemic due to COVID-19 where individuals were restricted into their homes by imposing Lockdowns, to prevent the spread of the disease further. The ones affected by the virus were put into “self-isolation” and “quarantine”. Although the process of quarantine and self-isolation was quite liberal in comparison to that of solitary confinement still there were cases reported about suicides due to depression, stress, and anxiety. There are cases reported of death due to cardiac arrest. Decreased socialization is the major reason for all the mentioned health issues.

Provisions In Law In India With Respect To Solitary Confinement

According to the Indian Penal Code, 1860, there are provisions that speak of solitary confinement and its limitations. 

Section 73 of the Indian Penal Code discusses Solitary confinement in detail. Although there are provisions for keeping criminals under rigorous imprisonment but keeping in mind the health issues and Right to life and liberty of the person under article 21 of the Indian Constitution there are limitations ruled out under section 74 of the Indian Penal Code. The above-mentioned sections of the Indian Penal Code restrict the period beyond which a person cannot be held under such kind of confinement. Exceeding this can adversely affect human psychology making the person suffer terribly. Another provision that governs the limitation of solitary confinement is Section 29 of The Prisons Act, 1894. This provision is also supported by the right of Protection of Life and personal liberty under article 21 of the Indian Constitution where the individual is assisted by medical aid.


After conducting a study about the legality and ethicality of “Solitary Confinement” in India, the author of the article finds that this act is existing with legal acknowledgment under the provision of India Penal Code,1860 (Section 73) and limitation under section 74 of India Penal Code,1860 and Section 29 of The Prisons Act, 1894. These provisions are included in the statutes after a deep and exhaustive consultation with the qualified medical authorities so that no individual is deprived of his basic constitutional as well as human rights during his entire survival. Although solitary confinement is legal under the authorization of judicial officers its after-effects are more brutal than the death sentence awarded to any convicted person. Complete absence of socialization with other than the jail staff can turn a person severely ill and insane. It can abruptly affect his thought process leaving him at a stage of complete dismay. The current situation where due to a pandemic where people are asked to stay indoors that too not alone or isolated but with the entire family, still due to the lack of social interaction outside the house other than family members individuals are mentally affected and they feel stressed without actually having any stress causing factor. There are cases reported of suicide in the lockdown period and the suicidal reasons being depression and fretfulness due to lack of social communication. If staying confined with family members can affect people so badly, then the condition is much more brutal when it comes to solitary confinement in form of punishment. Hence, Solitary Confinement though is legally backed up in India but is ethically unethical. Punishment in the form of solitary confinement must be replaced by any sort of more human method like rehabilitation, mental therapy, and clinical counseling. These methods are less aggressive in approach than solitary confinement. The way a person survives in any solitary confinement is violative of the person’s fundamental rights. When a person is left in solidarity for a prolonged time, the phrase here comes true which says ‘an empty mind is devil’s house’. He might either start exploring ways with more devilish concepts or badly get affected by guilt by overthinking about his deeds. Therefore, steps must be taken to abolish solitary confinement as a form of punishment for the offenders under the Indian legal system and instead adopt those ways where punishment is unequivocal as well as proportional to the crime committed.


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