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NAVTEJ SINGH JOHAR & ORS. VS UNION OF INDIA {2018}10 SCC 1

This article is written by Shweta, LLB, UILS Chandigarh University during her Internship at LeDroit India.

NAME OF THE CASE: NAVTEJ SINGH JOHAR & ORS.  VS UNION OF INDIA

CITATIONS OF THE CASE: AIR 2018 SC 4321, (2018) 10 SCC 

NAME OF THE PETITIONER:  NAVTEJ SINGH JOHAR AND OTHERS (LGBT INDIVIDUALS)

NAME OF THE RESPONDANT: UNION OF INDIA

DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 6 SEPTEMBER, 2018

BENCH: CJI-Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justice Indu Malhotra.

FACTS

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code states- “Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has sexual  intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

This case came after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation, which upheld the constitutionality of Section 377.

The central issue o the case revolve around whether  377 violated the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly their right to privacy ,equality and freedom of  expressions.but  the government defending the law, argued it protected public morality and social order

ISSUES

The central issue in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India was the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This colonial-era law criminalized consensual homosexual acts among adults.

The petitioners, including Navtej Singh Johar, argued that Section 377 violated their fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution. These rights include:

Right to equality (Article 14): The petitioners argued that Section 377 discriminated against LGBTQ+ people by denying them the right to private, consensual sexual activity that was legal for heterosexual couples.

Right to freedom of expression (Article 19): The law criminalizing homosexuality was seen as an intrusion on a person’s ability to express their sexual identity.

Right to life and personal liberty (Article 21): The petitioners argued that criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships deprived LGBTQ+ people of their dignity and autonomy.

Arguments in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India

Petitioners’ Contentions (Navtej Singh Johar and others):

Violation of Right to Equality (Article 14): Section 377 discriminates against LGBTQ+ people by criminalizing consensual sexual activity. This is unequal treatment based on sexual orientation under the law 

Violation of Right to Freedom of Expression (Article 19): Criminalizing homosexuality restricts a person’s ability to express their sexual identity, which is a fundamental aspect of self-expression.

Violation of Right to Life and Personal Liberty (Article 21): Section 377 infringes on the right to privacy and decisional autonomy. Criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships denies LGBTQ+ people dignity and the right to form meaningful relationships.

Homosexuality is Natural: Sexual orientation is an inherent part of a person and not a choice.  They argued these are natural variations of human sexuality and nat a disease or crime. Criminalizing it for being natural is irrational.

Privacy and Personal Liberty: Consensual sexual activity between adults in a private space is a fundamental right.

Government Contentions:

Section 377 is Non-discriminatory: The law criminalizes “unnatural sexual conduct” and applies equally to all, regardless of sexual orientation. It doesn’t target people, just specific acts.

Public Morality and Order: Section 377 protects public morals and societal order by prohibiting acts deemed unnatural.

Not an Absolute Right: Fundamental rights can be restricted for social good. Here, the restriction protects public morality.

The government opposed that using judgements from foreign courts to interpret Indian laws. They argued that India social context should be based on domestic legal principles.

JUDGEMENT

The Supreme Court ruled that Section 377 of the IPC was unconstitutional because it violated Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution, and thus overruled the decision held in Suresh Koushal and Ors. v. NAZ Foundation and Ors. Furthermore, it stated that section 377 will only apply to non-consensual sexual activities committed against any adult or minor.

This decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India to decriminalize homosexuality is historic and memorable. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code stated that “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years and shall be also liable to a fine.”This demonstrates how homosexuality is considered to be against the natural order simply because it was not approved, accepted, and respected due to its firm belief, rigid norms, and belief systems.

CONCLUSION

The Supreme Court’s decision in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India is a definitive step towards justice and equality. It rectified a historical wrong, affirmed the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, and laid the groundwork for a more inclusive and equitable society. This landmark ruling will be remembered as a pivotal moment in the ongoing fight for human rights and dignity for all.

 By decriminalizing consensual homosexual acts between adults, the Supreme Court not only overturned a repressive colonial-era law but also affirmed the fundamental rights of equality, dignity, and privacy for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. This landmark judgment emphasized constitutional morality over societal prejudices, setting a powerful legal precedent for the protection of marginalized communities. It significantly advanced public acceptance and awareness of LGBTQ+ rights, fostering a more inclusive and equitable society. Ultimately, this ruling stands as a testament to the enduring principle that justice and human dignity must prevail over discrimination and oppression.

The decision set a powerful legal precedent for future cases involving the rights of marginalized communities, ensuring that any law infringing upon fundamental rights would be subject to strict scrutiny.

Beyond the legal implications, the judgment fostered greater public awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights in India. It contributed to a broader movement toward social inclusivity and equality, encouraging other reforms and promoting a more accepting societal attitude.

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