A landmark decision by the SC in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Anr. vs Union Of India & Ors. (2017) case upheld that the right to privacy was protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. To quote from the judgment
“Dignity cannot exist without privacy. Both reside within the inalienable values of life, liberty and freedom which the Constitution has recognised. Privacy is the ultimate expression of the sanctity of the individual. It is a constitutional value which straddles across the spectrum of fundamental rights and protects for the individual a zone of choice and self-determination.”
The judgment authored by him (with 3 other judges, Justice J.S. Khehar, Justice R.K. Agarwal, and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer) in the Puttaswamy judgment featured a section titled “discordant notes.” The section featured two Supreme Court decisions, the first being the judgment in ADM Jabalpur v Shivakant Shukla (1976) decision and the second case was Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation (2013). In the Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation (2013), a two-judge Supreme Court bench reinstated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalized homosexuality. DY Chandrachud’s judgement came down heavily on Justice Singhvi’s judgment in the Koushal case. To quote from the judgment
“The right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lie at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the constitution… [LGBT] rights are not so-called but are real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine. They inhere in the right to life. They dwell in privacy and dignity. They constitute the essence of liberty and freedom. Sexual orientation is an essential component of identity. Equal protection demands protection of the identity of every individual without discrimination.”
Secondly, his judgment authored by him also overturned Justice Y.V. Chandrachud’s (DY Chandrachud’s father’s) judgment in ADM Jabalpur v Shivakant Shukla (1976), who had agreed with the majority in holding that citizens’ fundamental rights could be suspended during the Emergency.
Decriminalising Section 377
A landmark decision by the SC in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018) case decriminalised all consensual sex among adults, including homosexual sex. On 6 September 2018, a five-judge bench, which included Justice DY Chandrachud, struck down the 158-year-old colonial law under Section 377 of the IPC. While delivering the judgement, he stressed that this case was much more than just decriminalising a provision He said, “it is about an aspiration to realise constitutional rights and equal existence of LGBT community as other citizens.”
Screening of the Bhobishyoter Bhoot
In 2019, in the Indibility Creative Pvt Ltd v State of West Bengal case, he authored a judgment which imposed a fine on the State of West Bengal and granted remedial compensation for disallowing the screening of the political satire Bhobishyoter Bhoot. The SC held that the ban imposed by the West Bengal Government on the film was unconstitutional stating that the state had violated the petitioners’ right to freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Justice Chandrachud wrote that “free speech cannot be gagged for fear of the mob.”
UPSC Jihad Case
In 2020, a three-judge Bench headed by Justice Chandrachud, heard a plea for a pre-telecast ban imposed on the programme “UPSC Jihad” on Sudarshan TV. The bench observed that while Sudarshan TV was free to exercise its journalistic privilege to investigate an organisation’s funding in the public interest, it had no right to make offensive and hurtful comments about the entire Muslim community. Reportedly, the show, anchored by Suresh Chavhanke, claimed that members of the Muslim community had been attempting to infiltrate the civil services. Justice Chandrachud observed the show displayed flames in the background of a clip showing speeches and characters in skull caps, beards, and green T-shirts. Chandrachud said,
“Questions are asked why IAS and IPS Association does not act when [AIMIM MP Asaduddin] Owaisi asks Muslims to join civil services and flames are shown in background…there are remarks like haramkhor…. Charts are shown about increasing number of Muslims in civil service and there are pictorial representations.”
When Senior Advocate Shyam Divan argued that he would strongly oppose the stay on the programme citing “it was a question of freedom of speech,” Justice Chandrachud responded,
“Your client is doing a disservice to the nation and is not accepting India is a melting point of diverse cultures. Your client needs to exercise his freedom with caution.”
Expanding the Concept of Family
A landmark decision by the SC in the Deepika Singh v. Central Administrative Tribunal (2022) case widened the definition of ‘family’ stating “familial relationships may take the form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships.” The Court was hearing an appeal filed by Deepika who worked as a nurse at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh. The PGIMER denied her application for maternity leave after the birth of her first biological child stating that she had previously availed her maternity leave to care for her husband’s children from his previous marriage. Her petition for an allowance was denied by the Central Administrative Tribunal and the Punjab and Haryana High Court. A two-judge SC bench consisting of Justice Chandrachud and Justice Bopanna ruled in the favor of Deepika, and said,
“Familial relationships may take the form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships. A household may be a single parent household for any number of reasons, including the death of a spouse, separation, or divorce. Similarly, the guardians and caretakers (who traditionally occupy the roles of the “mother” and the “father”) of children may change with remarriage, adoption, or fostering. These manifestations of love and of families may not be typical but they are as real as their traditional counterparts.”
2018 Suicide Abetment Case
In 2018, Justice Chandrachud authored the judgment through which bail was granted to Arnab Goswami, the Editor-In-Chief of Republic TV. Arnab was arrested by the Mumbai police case for abetting the suicide of Alibaug-based interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother Kumud Naik. Justice Chandrachud noted that it was important to ensure that criminal law did not become a tool for the selective harassment of citizens.
On 28 September 2018, the SC in a 4-1 majority judgment ruled that the practice of banning women of menstrual age from the temple violated the fundamental rights of women. Former CJI Dipak Misra, and Justices A M Khanwilkar, Rohinton Nariman, and D Y Chandrachud wrote the majority opinion, while Justice Indu Malhotra wrote the lone dissent. To quote from his judgement, “Court must lean against granting constitutional protection to a claim which derogates from the dignity of women as equal holders of rights and protections. Does the Constitution permit this as basis to exclude women from worship? Does the fact that a woman has a physiological feature – of being in a menstruating age – entitle anybody or a group to subject her to exclusion from religious worship? To exclude women is derogatory to an equal citizenship.”
Quashing the Adultery Law
On 27 September 2018, a five-judge bench, which included Justice DY Chandrachud, declared the adultery law unconstitutional in the Joseph Shine v Union of India (2017) case. Previously, under Section 497 of the IPC, which dealt with adultery, a man who had consensual sexual intercourse with the wife of another man without that husband’s consent or connivance was fined or sentenced to a five-year jail term. As the law defined women as an abettor, the wife was exempt from punishment. He observed,
“The law on adultery enforces a construct of marriage where one partner is to cede her sexual autonomy to the other. Being antithetical to the constitutional guarantees of liberty, dignity and equality, Section 497 does not pass constitutional muster.”
Interestingly, in 1985, the then CJI YV Chandrachud (DY Chandrachud’s father) along with Justices RS Pathak and AN Sen upheld the validity of Section 497.
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, JB Pardiwala and AS Bopanna ruled that all women, regardless of their marital status, were entitled to benefits of safe and legal abortion till 24 weeks of pregnancy. The SC said that any distinction between a married and an unmarried woman under abortion laws was “artificial and constitutionally unsustainable.” In the landmark decision, Justice DY Chandrachud recognised marital rape as a crime. The SC held that “sexual assault by a man of his wife can take the form of rape” and gave women the right to an abortion.
Equal Roles for Women in the Army
A landmark verdict in 2020, in The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v Babita Puniya case, directed the government to grant permanent commissions to women army officers in landmark verdict ending gender bias. Emphasising the right to equality, a bench comprising justices D Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi said, “Men are dominant and women are primary caretakers – this deeply entrenched stereotype needs to go away. There is need for change in mindsets to bring about true equality in the Army, including the command positions.”
Advocate Babita Puniya filed a PIL at Delhi High Court in February 2003 seeking permanent commission for female officers recruited through SSC in the army, at par with their male counterparts. A short time after Babita Puniya, he authored the judgment in Union of India v Ld. Cdr. Annie Nagaraja wherein the Court directed a similar relief to be granted to women sailors in the Indian Navy.
Love Jihad: Hadiya case
Shafin Jahan v Ashokan K.M., popularly known as the Hadiya case is a 2017–2018 Indian Supreme Court case that affirmed the validity of the marriage of Hadiya (formerly Akhila Ashokan) and Shafin Jehan, which was challenged by Hadiya’s family. Media outlets have described the underlying dispute as an allegation of “love jihad.” In the case, Justice Chandrachud upheld Hadiya’s choice of religion and marriage partner and reiterated that an adult’s right to make decisions in marriage or religion falls within her zone of privacy.