Judiciary paves way for new India in 2018, progressive verdicts break barriers
The year 2018 has been a watershed year for the Supreme Court in terms of interpreting jurisprudence. A series of progressive verdicts delivered by the apex court took India’s legal framework out of the confines of Victorian morality.
Through its path-breaking judgments, four of which were delivered in the span of a month, the court reasserted itself as a protector of individual rights, liberty, privacy and gender equality. The court ensured that reason triumphed over prejudice in the quest for social progress. In some cases, it corrected the wrongs it committed in the past.
Providing justice to the underprivileged and the deprived remained a top priority. Directions were issued on matters related to rape survivors, jail reforms, rehabilitation of widows in Vrindavan and curtailing online circulation of sexual violence and child porn. A mechanism was evolved to address these issues, and the court succeeded in nudging the Centre to deliberate and come up with realistic action plans. The court refrained from indulging in policy-making but, on a regular basis, monitored the implementation of the plans.
Rape survivors, too, have a right to live with dignity, the court asserted as it directed the media not to reveal their identities “even in a remote manner.” The dead cannot be denied dignity, it said, while asking print and electronic media not to show faces of victims of rape and sexual assault who succumb to injuries. After the top court’s constant monitoring, the Centre and big technology companies, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook, stepped up their efforts to stamp out child pornography online.
The top court remained firm on its decades-old ruling that right to live included right to clean environment and issued numerous orders to keep a check on growing pollution.
It banned the sale of BS-IV cars with effect from April 1, 2020, and ordered that only BS-VI cars be sold in the market thereafter. For the conservation of world heritage site Taj Mahal, it directed Uttar Pradesh to prepare a vision document.
Specifically for Delhi-NCR, the court asked the Central Pollution Control Board to get tech-savvy and accept complaints from citizens on social media. It said Diwali celebrants nationwide will get two hours between 8pm and 10pm to burst firecrackers during the festival in November and made the sale of only “green and improved” fireworks mandatory in NCR.
And then there were the landmark orders.
In March, it reversed a Kerala high court order that annulled an interfaith marriage it felt was a sham. “Marriage and personal relations are the core of plurality of India. We must do everything to protect it,” the top court said, ruling that consenting adults have the right to choose whom they wed.
In September, it ruled that gay sex between consenting adults is not an offence, reading down the British-era Section 377 of the penal code. “Any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates fundamental rights,” said then CJI Dipak Misra.
In a September judgment that balanced the needs of the marginalised and the privacy of individuals, the top court upheld the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar project, but with riders.
And again in September, an archaic patriarchal legislation that treated women as the “chattel of husbands” was cast aside by the court when it scrapped the adultery law. In practice for 158 years, the law dented a woman’s individuality, denied her the right to equality and promoted ownership of one gender over the other, the top court ruled. Adultery, however, remains grounds for divorce.
That women’s rights are strongly embedded in the Constitution was the principle that guided the top court to open the doors of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala to women of all age groups in September, and in November the court agreed to reconsider the judgment while refusing to stay the operation of the verdict.