Constitution Day: How SC campaigned rights of marginalized

26 November, 2022 | Pravina Srivastava

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Here are several significant decisions in which Supreme Court's decision improved the lives of ordinary people.

As the country commemorates its 73rd anniversary of the Constitution, Supreme Court has played a vital role in providing landmark rulings, many of which championed rights of downtrodden. Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud stated Saturday at a Constitution Day ceremony in New Delhi that India’s emancipation from colonial control and the framing of the Constitution were two parallel efforts.

“The protracted battle for independence culminated in the end of the colonial era and the emergence of an independent nation ruled by self-rule,” remarked Chief Justice of India.

“Our Constitution is a social compact entered into between those who have traditionally been in power and those who have been oppressed and seek to shift the power hegemony and prefer to rule themselves,” CJI Chandrachud added.

Every year on November 26th, Constitution Day, also known as ‘Samvidhan Divas,’ is observed to commemorate the adoption of the Indian Constitution on November 26, 1949. Every law passed by parliament can be brought to interpretation by the Supreme Court, which is a unique element of the Indian Constitution and the cornerstone of India’s democracy.

Here are several significant decisions in which Supreme Court’s decision improved the lives of ordinary people.

Kesvanand Bharti Case: The landmark Kesvanand Bharti case of 1973 was significant in protecting the integrity of Indian Constitution. A 13-judge Supreme Court court then concluded that while Parliament can modify the Constitution, it cannot change “fundamental structure of the Constitution.”

While the Supreme Court did not define ‘fundamental structure,’ Chief Justice SM Sikri stated that it may have the following features: (1) Supremacy of the Constitution; (2) Republican and Democratic forms of government; (3) Secular nature of the Constitution; (4) Separation of powers between the Legislature, the executive, and the judiciary; and (5) Federal nature of the Constitution.

Shah Bano Begum Case: Supreme Court’s 1985 decision upholding the right to alimony for a divorced Muslim woman was a legal milestone in the struggle for the preservation of Muslim women’s rights in India. Supreme Court also declared that the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) applies to all people, regardless of faith.

In the Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court supported distinct quota for OBC in central government employment, but excluded the “creamy layer” from the reserve while assessing the breadth and extent to which reservation may be extended to backward classes in occupations. The Supreme Court further said unequivocally that the reserve must not exceed 50%.

Vishakha Case: In a landmark decision dealing with sexual harassment of women at work, the Supreme Court in 1997 established criteria for companies to follow when dealing with sexual harassment accusations.

Supreme Court mandated that all employers or those in control of work places, whether public or private, take sufficient precautions to avoid sexual harassment. It said that an effective complaint process must be established in all organisations for the resolution of the victim’s complaint.

Case of the National Legal Services Authority: The Supreme Court established “third gender” status for transgender people in a landmark decision in 2014. Previously, transgender people could write either male or female next to their gender.

“Every human being has the right to choose their gender,” Supreme Court said in granting rights to those who identify as neither male nor female. The apex court also directed Centre to regard transgender people as socially and economically backward.

Triple Talaq case: Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the Islamic practise of triple talaq was unconstitutional. SC ruled 3-2 that the age-old tradition of a Muslim man divorcing his wife by saying the word “talaq” three times was unconstitutional.

Right to Privacy Case: In 2017, a nine-judge panel of Supreme Court held that citizens have a basic right to privacy, that it is vital to life and liberty, and hence falls under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. The court ruled that privacy is a basic right.

Navtej Singh Johar case: In a landmark decision issued in 2018, Supreme Court decided that consenting adult homosexual intercourse is not a crime. Noting that sexual inclination is inherent and uncontrollable, the Supreme Court overturned the British-era Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which declared homosexual intercourse a punishable violation.