India: transformative jurisprudence on privacy and discrimination – judicial dialogue 

On 10 February 2018, the ICJ, in partnership with the National Law University, Delhi (NLU), organized a judicial dialogue on transformative jurisprudence on privacy and discrimination. 

Participants included judges from the Supreme Court of India, the High Court of Delhi, and the District Courts of Delhi; ICJ Commissioners: Justice Ajit Prakash Shah, from India, who made the event possible through his support, Justice Kalyan Shrestha, from Nepal, Justice Adolfo Azcuna, from the Philippines; a Commissioner of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission; and lawyers and activists from India. The judicial dialogue examined the relationship between the right to privacy, the principle of non-discrimination, and the right to equality before the law, in the context of one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity, as well as in light of the jurisprudence of the Indian Courts.

It pursued the ICJ’s larger goal of addressing the need for sustained, ongoing engagement with the Indian judiciary on LGBTI rights, to facilitate better access to justice for the LGBTI community, with the help of a sensitized judiciary.

The discussions lent support to domestic advocacy efforts directed at other State and non-State actors to get them to better address and reduce discriminatory treatment and homophobic and transphobic attitudes towards LGBTI communities by challenging discriminatory laws and practices.

The dialogue underscored the different facets of the dynamic right of privacy in relation to the human rights of disenfranchised communities, and discussed sexual orientation and gender identity as essential attributes of one’s identity deserving of and entitled to protection.

The conversation touched upon emergent challenges in the privacy debate, in light of technological advances, critiquing the Indian Government’s unique identification project whereby the Government’s programme of issuing a 12-digit unique identity number to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data, and which will be needed to access government and private sector services, is currently being contested in the Supreme Court on account of privacy concerns.

The speakers emphasized the importance of the right to be forgotten and the right to limit one’s audience as essential to a right to privacy, given the increasing importance of the internet.

The speakers also highlighted the need for the judiciary to uphold fundamental rights enumerated in the constitution instead of pandering to populist beliefs and mores

There was unanimous agreement among the judges and the extended legal community that Section 377, Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes “voluntary carnal intercourse against the order of nature” needs to be struck down, to facilitate progress in developing a rights framework for sexual minorities.

There was criticism of other discriminatory laws, including draft legislation, such as the current Indian Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 for its denial of an individual’s right to self-identify one’s gender.

The speakers reiterated the need for a comprehensive effort from the Indian judiciary, and other State actors with a focus on judicial training and sensitization, as well as police reform, to ensure that India is able to fulfill its international and constitutional obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of the LGBTI community.

A common theme was the importance of comparative and international law in the development of Indian jurisprudence.

The speakers discussed the ‘Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Law in Relation to Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ at length, and the growing prominence of these Principles in Indian jurisprudence, as reflected in the Puttuswamy and National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India judgments, both of which quoted the Yogyakarta Principles extensively.

The dialogue focused on the role of the judiciary, the need for sensitization regarding the human rights violations of the LGBTI community among the judiciary in India and South and South East Asia and, in that context, the importance of judicial dialogues.

ICJ Commissioner Justice Shrestha emphasized that South Asian judges have typically played a more important role than the legislature in advancing human rights.

He discussed the importance of judicial creativity in providing remedies, and emphasized that training programs must include best practices and that judicial training programs must be imparted regularly.

The dialogue stressed the importance of judicial trainings highlighting the role that Justice Cameron and Justice Kirby, both former ICJ Commissioners, have played in raising awareness about the relationship between human rights and issues of sexuality, HIV/AIDS and gender identity in India.

It reiterated the importance of judges being in touch with people’s lived realities, and thus the importance of encouraging judiciary’s interaction with the LGBTI community.

For more information: maitreyi.gupta(a)


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