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Permissible to change surname over caste prejudices: Delhi HC

Jun 13, 2023 12:01 AM IST

Delhi high court has ruled that individuals have the right to change their surname in order to avoid being identified with a particular caste that could cause prejudice. The ruling came after two brothers challenged a letter from the Central Board of Secondary Education refusing to change their surnames in their class 10 and 12 marksheets. They claimed their father had changed his name from Lakshman Mochi to Lakshman Nayak due to prejudice, but that CBSE was refusing to allow the change in their certificates by contending that the change in surname would entail a change in their caste.

New Delhi Every individual has the right to an honourable and respectable identity in society guaranteed under the right to life, the Delhi high court has said, while ruling that it is permissible for an individual to change his or her surname in order to not be identified with a particular caste that may cause prejudice.

Permissible to change surname over caste prejudices: Delhi HC
Permissible to change surname over caste prejudices: Delhi HC

The ruling comes on a plea moved by two brothers, who challenged a letter issued by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on June 1, 2017, refusing to change their surnames in their class 10 and 12 marksheets.

“The right to identity is an intrinsic part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. There is no denying the fact that the right to life includes within its ambit, the right to live with dignity, which includes not to be tied down by any casteism that a person may face on account of the caste to which such person belongs. Thus, if a person wants to change his or her surname, so as not to be identified with any particular caste that may be a cause of prejudice to such person in any manner, the same is permissible,” the court said in a judgment of May 19, the order of which was made available recently.

The brothers in their plea said that their father has changed his name from Lakshman Mochi to Lakshman Nayak due to day-to-day atrocities. However, they said, CBSE was not allowing that change in their certificates by contending that the change in surname would entail a change in their caste, which could be misused.

In her judgment, justice Mini Pushkarna said that the petitioners have every right to have an identity which gives them an honourable and respectable identity in the society.

“If the petitioners have suffered any disadvantage on account of their surname and have faced social prejudices due to the same, they are certainly entitled to change of their identity that gives respectability to the petitioners in the societal structure,” the court said.

The judge noted that in the present case, the petitioners’ father has already carried out the change in surname by way of publication in a gazette notification. It took note that the new surname adopted by the father is duly reflected in the various public documents issued by government agencies.

“Therefore, there is no justification in not allowing a similar change in the 10th and 12th CBSE Certificates issued in favour of the petitioners, to reflect the correct name of their father…Therefore, the CBSE is directed forthwith to carry out the requisite changes in the 10th and 12th Certificates of the petitioners to reflect the name of their father as ‘Lakshman Nayak’ instead of ‘Lakshman Mochi’,” the court said.

The judge, however, clarified that the change in surname would be limited to the name only. “The said change shall not entail change of caste of the petitioners, for the petitioners to take advantage of any reservation or any other benefit that may be available to the ‘Nayak’ caste/surname,” the court said.

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