Section 377 IPC - Navtej Singh Johar Vs. Union of India [Supreme Court of India, 06-09-2018] Introduction

Penal Code, 1860 - Section 377 - The Constitution – an organic charter of progressive rights - Transformative constitutionalism and the rights of LGBT community - Constitutional morality and Section 377 IPC - Perspective of human dignity - Sexual orientation - Privacy and its concomitant aspects - Doctrine of progressive realization of rights - International perspective - Other Courts / Jurisdictions - Comparative analysis of Section 375 and Section 377 IPC - The litmus test for survival of Section 377 IPC.

(Dipak Misra, CJI) (R.F. Nariman, J.) (A.M. Khanwilkar, J.) (Dr. Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, J.) (Indu Malhotra, J.)
September 6, 2018
NAVTEJ SINGH JOHAR & ORS. …Petitioner(s)

Dipak Misra, CJI (for himself and A.M. Khanwilkar, J.)

A. Introduction
Not for nothing, the great German thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, had said, ―I am what I am, so take me as I am‖ and similarly, Arthur Schopenhauer had pronounced, ―No one can escape from their individuality‖. In this regard, it is profitable to quote a few lines from John Stuart Mill:-
―But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency of personal impulses and preferences.‖
The emphasis on the unique being of an individual is the salt of his/her life. Denial of self-expression is inviting death. Irreplaceability of individuality and identity is grant of respect to self. This realization is one‘s signature and self-determined design. One defines oneself. That is the glorious form of individuality. In the present case, our deliberation and focus on the said concept shall be from various spectrums.
2. Shakespeare through one of his characters in a play says ―What‘s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet‖. The said phrase, in its basic sense, conveys that what really matters is the essential qualities of the substance and the fundamental characteristics of an entity but not the name by which it or a person is called. Getting further deeper into the meaning, it is understood that the name may be a convenient concept for identification but the essence behind the same is the core of identity. Sans identity, the name only remains a denotative term. Therefore, the identity is pivotal to one‘s being. Life bestows honour on it and freedom of living, as a facet of life, expresses genuine desire to have it. The said desire, one is inclined to think, is satisfied by the conception of constitutional recognition, and hence, emphasis is laid on the identity of an individual which is conceived under the Constitution. And the sustenance of identity is the filament of life. It is equivalent to authoring one‘s own life script where freedom broadens everyday. Identity is equivalent to divinity.

3. The overarching ideals of individual autonomy and liberty, equality for all sans discrimination of any kind, recognition of identity with dignity and privacy of human beings constitute the cardinal four corners of our monumental Constitution forming the concrete substratum of our fundamental rights that has eluded certain sections of our society who are still living in the bondage of dogmatic social norms, prejudiced notions, rigid stereotypes, parochial mindset and bigoted perceptions. Social exclusion, identity seclusion and isolation from the social mainstream are still the stark realities faced by individuals today and it is only when each and every individual is liberated from the shackles of such bondage and is able to work towards full development of his/her personality that we can call ourselves a truly free society. The first step on the long path to acceptance of the diversity and variegated hues that nature has created has to be taken now by vanquishing the enemies of prejudice and injustice and undoing the wrongs done so as to make way for a progressive and inclusive realisation of social and economic rights embracing all and to begin a dialogue for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for the ―less than equal‖ sections of the society. We have to bid adieu to the perceptions, stereotypes and prejudices deeply ingrained in the societal mindset so as to usher in inclusivity in all spheres and empower all citizens alike without any kind of alienation and discrimination.
4. The natural identity of an individual should be treated to be absolutely essential to his being. What nature gives is natural. That is called nature within. Thus, that part of the personality of a person has to be respected and not despised or looked down upon. The said inherent nature and the associated natural impulses in that regard are to be accepted. Non-acceptance of it by any societal norm or notion and punishment by law on some obsolete idea and idealism affects the kernel of the identity of an individual. Destruction of individual identity would tantamount to crushing of intrinsic dignity that cumulatively encapsulates the values of privacy, choice, freedom of speech and other expressions. It can be viewed from another angle. An individual in exercise of his choice may feel that he/she should be left alone but no one, and we mean, no one, should impose solitude on him/her.
5. The eminence of identity has been luculently stated in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and others, (2014) 5 SCC 438 popularly known as NALSA case, wherein the Court was dwelling upon the status of identity of the transgenders. Radhakrishnan, J., after referring to catena of judgments and certain International Covenants, opined that gender identity is one of the most fundamental aspects of life which refers to a person‘s intrinsic sense of being male, female or transgender or transsexual person. A person‘s sex is usually assigned at birth, but a relatively small group of persons may be born with bodies which incorporate both or certain aspects of both male and female physiology. The learned Judge further observed that at times, genital anatomy problems may arise in certain persons in the sense that their innate perception of themselves is not in conformity with the sex assigned to them at birth and may include pre-and post-operative transsexual persons and also persons who do not choose to undergo or do not have access to operation and also include persons who cannot undergo successful operation. Elaborating further, he said:-
―Gender identity refers to each person‘s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body which may involve a freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or functions by medical, surgical or other means and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms. Gender identity, therefore, refers to an individual‘s self-identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identified category.‖
6. Adverting to the concept of discrimination, he stated:-
―The discrimination on the ground of ―sex‖ under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression ―sex‖ used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male or female, but intended to include people who consider themselves to be neither male nor female.‖
7. Dealing with the legality of transgender identity, Radhakrishnan, J. ruled:-
―The self-identified gender can be either male or female or a third gender. Hijras are identified as persons of third gender and are not identified either as male or female. Gender identity, as already indicated, refers to a person‘s internal sense of being male, female or a transgender, for example hijras do not identify as female because of their lack of female genitalia or lack of reproductive capability. This distinction makes them separate from both male and female genders and they consider themselves neither man nor woman, but a ―third gender‖.‖
8. Sikri, J., in his concurring opinion, dwelling upon the rights of transgenders, laid down that gender identification is an essential component which is required for enjoying civil rights by the community. It is only with this recognition that many rights attached to the sexual recognition as ―third gender‖ would be available to the said community more meaningfully viz. the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to marry, the right to claim a formal identity through a passport and a ration card, a driver‘s licence, the right to education, employment, health and so on. Emphasising on the aspect of human rights, he observed:-
―…there seems to be no reason why a transgender must be denied of basic human rights which includes right to life and liberty with dignity, right to privacy and freedom of expression, right to education and empowerment, right against violence, right against exploitation and right against discrimination. The Constitution has fulfilled its duty of providing rights to transgenders. Now it is time for us to recognise this and to extend and interpret the Constitution in such a manner to ensure a dignified life for transgender people. All this can be achieved if the beginning is made with the recognition of TG as third gender.‖
The aforesaid judgment, as is manifest, lays focus on inalienable ―gender identity‖ and correctly connects with human rights and the constitutionally guaranteed right to life and liberty with dignity. It lays stress on the judicial recognition of such rights as an inextricable component of Article 21 of the Constitution and decries any discrimination as that would offend Article 14, the ―fon juris‖ of our Constitution.

9. It has to be borne in mind that search for identity as a basic human ideal has reigned the mind of every individual in many a sphere like success, fame, economic prowess, political assertion, celebrity status and social superiority, etc. But search for identity, in order to have apposite space in law, sans stigmas and sans fear has to have the freedom of expression about his/her being which is keenly associated with the constitutional concept of ―identity with dignity‖. When we talk about identity from the constitutional spectrum, it cannot be pigeon-holed singularly to one‘s orientation that may be associated with his/her birth and the feelings he/she develops when he/she grows up. Such a narrow perception may initially sound to subserve the purpose of justice but on a studied scrutiny, it is soon realized that the limited recognition keeps the individual choice at bay. The question that is required to be posed here is whether sexual orientation alone is to be protected or both orientation and choice are to be accepted as long as the exercise of these rights by an individual do not affect another‘s choice or, to put it succinctly, has the consent of the other where dignity of both is maintained and privacy, as a seminal facet of Article 21, is not dented. At the core of the concept of identity lies self-determination, realization of one‘s own abilities visualizing the opportunities and rejection of external views with a clear conscience that is in accord with constitutional norms and values or principles that are, to put in a capsule, ―constitutionally permissible‖. As long as it is lawful, one is entitled to determine and follow his/her pattern of life. And that is where the distinction between constitutional morality and social morality or ethicality assumes a distinguished podium, a different objective. Non-recognition in the fullest sense and denial of expression of choice by a statutory penal provision and giving of stamp of approval by a two-Judge Bench of this Court to the said penal provision, that is, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, in Suresh Kumar Koushal and another v. Naz Foundation and others, (2014) 1 SCC 1 overturning the judgment of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi and others, (2009) 111 DRJ 1 is the central issue involved in the present controversy.

Submissions on behalf of the petitioners
Submissions on behalf of the respondents and other intervenors
Decisions in Naz Foundation and Suresh Koushal 
Other judicial pronouncements on Section 377 IPC
The Constitution – an organic charter of progressive rights
Transformative constitutionalism and the rights of LGBT community
Constitutional morality and Section 377 IPC
Perspective of human dignity
Sexual orientation
Privacy and its concomitant aspects
Doctrine of progressive realization of rights
International perspective
(i) United States
(ii) Canada
(iii) South Africa
(iv) United Kingdom
(v) Other Courts / Jurisdictions
Comparative analysis of Section 375 and Section 377 IPC
The litmus test for survival of Section 377 IPC

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