Indian legal system is often under great scrutiny by media and public, in general. The judges and courts are often blamed for things like wrong, biased judgements and verdicts, corruptions etc. The legal system in any country has many loopholes, and need constant modifications as per the current societal conditions to ensure proper justice to its people. So is the case in India, and here is the list of 7 landmark court cases that changed the laws in India for better.

1. The Nirbhaya Case – Which changed the Juvenile Justice Act

The Nirbhaya case happened on 16th December 2012. It was a brutal gang rape, where a 23 years old girl named, Nirbhaya, was raped in a bus by a group of 6. The culprits included 5 adults and a juvenile aged 17. After the crime, the culprits threw the victim’s body on the road, leaving her and her friend severely injured. After the court proceedings, the adults were sentenced to the jail for 10 years and the juvenile was sent to correctional facility for 3 years. During the trial period, one of the adult criminal was found dead in jail, authorities suspected it as suicide. But the judgement of the case created a big shock on the people and they were all against it. There were protests to try the juvenile as an adult. That led to a change in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. The landmark change led to the age bar to be tried as an adult to be lowered from 18 to 16 years.

2. Shah Bano Begum vs. Mohd. Ahmed Khan – A win for secularism & Muslim women across the country

Shah Bano was a Muslim lady and a mother of five, was aged 62 when she was divorced by her husband, Mohd. Ahmed Khan, in 1978. At that time she filed a case to get alimony but it was against the Islamic customs. The government also supported the husband, instead of the lady. On considering the various aspects of security and welfare of women, the Supreme Court favoured Shah Bano. Hence, she got maintenance under the Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This judgement resulted in an entitlement for all Muslim ex-wives to a basic maintenance of 3 months from their ex-spouses, after which their care is handed over to their relatives or the WAKF board.

3. K. M. Nanavati vs State of Maharashtra – The death of jury trials

K. M .Nanavati was a naval officer. His wife was Sylvia. After their marriage, while her husband was away on duty, she started an affair with her husband’s friend, Prem Ahuja. On 27th April, 1959, Sylvia confessed to her husband about her extra marital affair with Ahuja, and told him that he did intend to marry her. Nanavati, then one day, dropped his wife and children off at a theatre and went to confront Ahuja. He asked Ahuja if he was willing to marry Sylvia & take care of their children. He refused, so Nanavati shot him. The intriguing story received a lot of media coverage and the jury was said to have been influenced by them. Nanavati’s connections with the influential families were also cited as a reason for the jury to rule in his favour. The case then went to Bombay High Court, where the judge overruled the jury’s verdict and found Nanavati guilty of the murder. They sentenced him life imprisonment. However, he was pardoned after 3 years. The case threw light on the fact that a jury could be influenced, thereby abolishing the very system itself.

4. Mary Roy vs State of Kerala – Where daughters became equals

Mary Roy, mother of Arundhati Roy, paved the way for a change in the aspects of the Inheritance Act. Her father passed away without leaving a will, then, according to Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1092, if a man died without leaving a will for his daughter, she won’t be entitled to anything. A son, however, would get the property. Mary Roy invoked Article 14 and fought for her equal rights in the property. This fight was not for just herself, but for all the Syrian Christian women. The Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Succession Act, 1925, should be applied to Christians in Travancore and Cochin too. Through this Act, both sons & daughters whose father died before preparing a will, will get equal succession rights.

5. Mathura – The minor who changed the system

On the night of 26th March’72, Mathura, a tribal girl was called to the police station because of her brother lodging a complaint against her boyfriend. The officers there raped her and then let her go. Mathura decided to file a rape case against the police constables. The Supreme Court, however, ruled in favour of the policemen assuming it was ‘peaceful or consensual’, stating that there were no signs of struggle on her body and that she did not object to their advances. However, Mathura stood firm at her point, that they had threatened her into submission. There was a huge public uproar and the case ended up forcing an amendment in the Criminal Law Act, 1983. The amendment stated that the custodial rape was a punishable offence and the ways of dealing with ‘consent’ were thus, included under India’s Rape Laws.

6. Vishakha & others vs. State of Rajasthan – Created Laws that protected women from sexual harassment at their workplace

Bhanwari Devi, a social worker, was gang raped in a village in Rajasthan in 1992. It was only because she tried to discourage a family’s efforts of marrying their one year daughter. She filed a case and received a lot of support from various NGOs. Although their efforts didn’t help her directly, however, they did helped women all over the country.

It led to the Supreme Court announcing a prime verdict that helped to protect women from sexual harassment at their workplace, which by extension also helped in establishing gender equality. Before 1997, there were no laws addressing such cases at a workplace.

As of April 2013, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has been established, and the Vishakha Guidelines are proving to be very critical in making the new law effective.

7. Rajagopal vs State of Tamil Nadu – Extended the boundaries of right to privacy for media & the freedom of expression

In the 1994, a prisoner who got sentenced for murder wrote an autobiography. A weekly magazine in Madras decided to publish it with his permission. That autobiography includes all his life facts including the details of the murder he did. He also mentioned the name of some senior officials who are the part of this crime. The officials claimed the story to be false and sued the publication for libel & defamation. But the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the media house, stating that the officials can only sue publishing houses if the published details were false. This judgement for Rajagopal vs, State of Tamil Nadu, sustained the freedom of expression and the right to privacy.