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  • Devanshi Agarwal

#CaseBrief: Navtej Singh Johar and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors (2018) 1 SCC 791


Relevant Facts

1. Petitioners and Leadership: Navtej Singh Johar, along with a group of petitioners, initiated the legal action by filing writ petitions under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. The petitioners included individuals who identified as LGBTQ+, highlighting the personal and immediate impact of Section 377 on their lives. The petitioners argued that Section 377 violated their fundamental rights to life, liberty, and equality under Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The respondents, represented by the Union of India, argued that Section 377 was necessary to protect public morality and public health.

 

2.Nature of Challenged Law:The focal point of the case was Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalized "carnal intercourse against the order of nature."Section 377's broad language and historical application disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ community, creating an environment of fear and discrimination.

 

3.Fundamental Rights Violation:The petitioners contended that Section 377 contravened fundamental rights, specifically the rights to privacy, dignity, and equality. The right to privacy, as established in the Puttaswamy case (2017), formed a crucial aspect of the argument, emphasizing the evolving understanding of individual autonomy.

 

Issues:

1. Constitutionality of Section 377: The primary issue revolved around the examination of the constitutionality of Section 377 in the context of contemporary societal norms.The legal challenge aimed to address the archaic nature of Section 377 and its compatibility with the evolving understanding of individual rights.

 

2. Impact on Fundamental Rights: The court had to assess the extent to which Section 377 impinged upon fundamental rights, with a particular focus on privacy, dignity, and equality. The case necessitated a nuanced exploration of the delicate balance between individual freedoms and societal interests.

 

Contentions:

1. Petitioners:

    - The petitioners argued that Section 377 violated the right to privacy, dignity, and equality, creating an atmosphere of stigmatization and marginalization. Personal narratives and experiences were presented to underscore the real-world consequences of the law.

 

2. Union of India:

    - Initially defending Section 377, the Union of India later altered its stance during the proceedings, reflecting the evolving societal perspectives on the matter. The changing position of the government highlighted the dynamic nature of the legal and social discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ rights.

 

Dissenting Opinions:

1. Unity in Verdict: Notably, there were no dissenting opinions among the judges; the Supreme Court spoke with a unified voice in delivering the judgment. Justice Indu Malhotra wrote a separate opinion, concurring with the majority on the unconstitutionality of Section 377 but disagreeing with the majority's reasoning on certain issues.

 

Rule of Law:

1.     Fundamental Rights Emphasis: The court underscored the importance of fundamental rights, particularly the right to privacy, dignity, and equality, in interpreting and applying the law.

 The recognition of the transformative power of the Constitution served as a guiding principle in redefining societal norms.

 

2. Constitutional Morality and Minority Rights:The judgment emphasized the significance of constitutional morality and the need to protect the rights of minorities. The court's decision contributed to a broader jurisprudential framework for safeguarding the interests of marginalized communities.

 

Conclusion:

1. Historic Verdict: On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court delivered a historic unanimous judgment, striking down the relevant portions of Section 377. The decision marked a watershed moment in the legal history of India, signifying a departure from discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.

 

2.Acknowledgment of Rights: The judgment acknowledged the dignity and rights of the LGBTQ+ community, affirming their place within the constitutional framework. By setting a precedent for inclusivity and equality, the case propelled India toward a more tolerant and progressive legal landscape. The Court held that Section 377 was not necessary to protect public morality and public health.

 

3. Societal Impact: Beyond its legal ramifications, the case initiated a positive societal shift by fostering a broader conversation on LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance. The judgment encouraged a reevaluation of societal attitudes, contributing to the ongoing dialogue on diversity, inclusion, and individual freedoms.

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