S. Tharika Banu v. The Secretary to Government, Health and Family Welfare Department and Ors. W.P. No. 26628/2017

On the 29th of November, 2017, a single judge bench of the Madras High Court decided whether a transgender woman[1] could be admitted to an undergraduate degree even though she had not obtained certain minimum marks for admission. The High Court decided the transgender woman, S. Tharika Banu, must be admitted to the degree because the, “minimum marks holds good only for “males” and “females”, and not for transgender persons. The court made this relaxation for Banu keeping in mind, the rareness of her demand, the harassment and discrimination faced by transgender persons in society, and the directions of the Supreme Court in the NALSA case. In this blog, I will discuss two aspects of this judgment: 1. Will this decision open doors for more transgender persons to apply for undergraduate degrees at less than minimum marks? 2. Does this decision apply to those transgender persons who identity as male or female, and not transgender?

Before delving into these issues, it may be helpful to know that in the NALSA case, the Supreme Court had directed that the Centre and State governments treat transgender persons as socially and educationally backward classes of citizens, a constitutionally protected category, and provide them reservation in matters of admission to educational institutions. However, the latest version of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 has no mention of a reservation provision. Therefore, if this version of the Bill is to pass, transgender persons will have no legal entitlement to reservation. Until this Bill solidifies into an Act, the direction of the Supreme Court is law (Article 142)[2] and binds Tamil Nadu State Government and accordingly, its instrumentalities like the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission. Suppose the 2016 Bill passes as it is and becomes an Act– it can be challenged in the Supreme Court for failing to provide reservation to transgender persons. The court will have two options. It can by its complete justice provisions, bypass the Act and restore its earlier directions, or it may examine afresh whether denial of reservation to the transgender population violates the constitution. As the Supreme Court itself has expressly stated that transgender persons are “legally entitled and eligible” for affirmative action measures [para 60], the court will have strong reasons for upholding this challenge.  Meanwhile, representation can be made before State Backward Class Commissions for their omission to include transgender persons in the other backward classes (OBC) category, and a writ can be filed before State High Courts against the State Government for violating the equality right of transgender persons by failing to provide them “equal protection of the laws” through reservations schemes.


Arguably, yes. In this particular case, Banu had obtained 537/1200 (44.75%) marks whereas the minimum threshold to be considered for admission to the undergraduate course was 50%. A little background about Banu is important here because arguably, the court considers the background an important reason to provide relief. Banu was assigned male at birth “but due to chromosomal aberration…started identifying himself more as a female than as a male.” Without more it is difficult to say what this phrase means but arguably this signifies that Banu had an intersex condition at birth/developed one later, if that is possible, and as a consequence started to identify as a woman. This was not acceptable to her parents, and Banu left home at a young age, and underwent a sex-reassignment surgery (SRS). Thereafter, she took on a traditionally more feminine name and has been living as a female. She also passed her higher secondary exam with the abovementioned marks. Recounting the stigma faced by transgender persons in society, the court surmised that,

…for the first time in history, a transgender person has knocked on the doors of this court seeking to consider her candidature for admission in BSMS course…it is a welcome change that they have come forward to get higher education. instead of living normal stigmatic life as a transgender and in spite of undergoing various insults and even assaults, harassments in the hands of some unruly elements, when they come forward to get education, the same has to be encouraged and based on technicalities, the transgender persons coming forward to join educational institutions should not be driven out…[i]t is not as if many transgender persons have applied for seats…on very rare occasions, this kind of claims would be made and that has to be considered with compassion and benevolence. [paragraphs 9-12]

Accordingly, the court directed the State to admit her into the undergraduate course (Bachelor of Siddha Medicine and Surgery). A reader, upon examining this reasoning, may be tempted to think that the court is granting a one-off prayer, especially since the government has provided no reservation schemes for transgender persons in Tamil Nadu. However, this does not seem to be the thrust of the judgment read as a whole. Though the court has directed Bhanu be admitted into the course, it has also stated explicitly,

The Court hopes that this order would be a first step to throw open doors of educational institutions for the entry of ‘Transgenders’ for their social empowerment, employment status, dignity, right etc….” [para 13]

This signifies the court’s intention that this order be not one of a kind, but be the first to open doors for transgender persons in education institutions. One of the ways for doing so, is by providing them reservation as directed by the Supreme Court and also by another bench of the Madras High Court. The court finds the State “guilty of not implementing the order” of these courts mentioned and rejects the rationale of the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission for denying reservation to transgender persons in educational institutions. The commission had argued that since transgender persons comprise only .007% of the total population of Tamil Nadu, it would not be “feasible”, numerically, one may suppose, to provide any reservation for them.


Arguably, it does. it is important to address this point, because in its reasoning, the court has especially stressed that the 50% cut-off applies to “males” and “females” and not to “transwoman” or “transgender.” At first glance, it may seem that this reasoning can exclude those transgender persons who identify as male or female and do not want to call themselves transgender. However, the judgment should not be read in this way especially because the Supreme Court has expressly stated that transgender persons have the right to identify as male, female or third gender. Therefore, this judgment should apply equally to transgender persons who identify as male or female. Equally, this judgment should apply to persons who do not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth, this being the manner in which the Supreme Court understood the term transgender, and this could cover gender-queer persons. Finally, various regional identities such as hijra, aravani, shiv-shakti etc. are all included. In short, this judgment should apply to all those persons covered within the ambit of transgender persons, as per the NALSA judgment. This is of course, till the 2016 Bill is enacted. If enacted, as is, the 2016 Bill will severely cut down the ambit “transgender.” For the full argument on this, please see here.


The intersex condition is classified as a “physical abnormality” and a “chromosomal aberration”, and  the role that SRS has played in the grant of the relief is unknown though seems to be of importance. It is doubtful if court would have ruled similarly if SRS had not been performed especially because the court states,

those unfortunate persons, due to some physical abnormality and due to the act of genes, suffer from transforming into transgender and could not identify themselves with regular gender namely, male and female.”

It could be that this statement does not mean very much, as indeed, if construed as a whole, it signifies some kind of metaphorical transformation into a transgender person– akin to the stuff of legends. However, what we can certainly take away from this is that we do not know if the court would have decided similarly if the petitioner had not undergone the SRS.

However, there are some good points to note about the judgment: 1. the court recommends that the government carry out a survey to determine the number of transgender persons in Tamil Nadu for proper compliance with the NALSA decision; and 2. the court uses pronouns in line with respect to the petitioner’s gender identity (she). Finally, it is worth raising a point about caste here. The petitioner belonged to the Scheduled Caste (SC) and had in fact asked to see the merit list for the SC category. The court did not find it necessary to grant this relief in light of its decision. One does not know whether the seat Banu was allotted was one from the SC category or from the OBC category. Since the Supreme Court direction states that transgender persons must be treated as socially and educationally backward classes, it could be that transgender persons of different castes may have to deal with a loss of caste, or at least have a fractured caste identity– caste A for all times, but a member of backward class for the purposes of admissions in educational institutions. Law/policy will have to devise a way to handle this possibility. Although fracturing of caste identities may be a beginning on the path to diminish the value of caste identities but such eventualities may cause resentment in the short run.


[1] Actually, it is not clear whether the petitioner identifies herself as a woman or as transgender. The facts suggest that she has been living her life as a female but there does not seem to be a suggestion from the side of the petitioner that she would call herself transgender. However, the court uniformly describes her as a transgender woman.

[2] The Constitution of India, 1950.


Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. v. Union of India Ministry of Law and Justice Secretary Writ Petition No. 76/2016

On the 8th of January, 2018, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered that the Suresh Koushal decision which upheld the constitutionality of S.377[1] requires reconsideration. The court so ordered while hearing a writ petition challenging the constitutionality of S.377 (Navtej writ). Substantively, the judges stated emphatically that the “litmus test” for finding S.377 unconstitutional was if it offends constitutional morality, regardless of how societal morality on the issue was poised. Should a people exercise the “inherent” right to their sexual orientation within the confines of constitutional morality, the court stated, they will receive the protection of Article 21.[2] To be sure, S.377 is still constitutional, both because the Navtej writ is not finally disposed and because the Suresh Koushal ruling is still in operation. However, these observations no doubt strengthened the judicial discourse on the protection of sexuality rights. However, this blog is not about these substantive proclamations. Instead, in this blog, I will attempt to answer two procedural questions which arise from this January order of the Supreme Court:

  1. Was the Supreme Court empowered to admit the Navtej writ given that the Suresh Koushal decision is due to come up for hearing in the curative process? [Yes]
  2. How does the order passed in this writ, affect the 377 curative petition[3], if at all? [Not at all]

However, before delving into these inquires, a few preliminary matters need to be clarified.


A case goes through two stages at the Supreme Court: judgment and review. A curative petition is a petition that can be filed after the disposal of the review petition. It is a judicially created process at having yet another look at the decision. Its genesis is owed to the Ashok Hurra Case (2002, SC) which stated that although finality of a decision is very important for certainty and stability of a legal system, the inherent powers granted to the Supreme Court allow it to reconsider its decision to prevent miscarriage of justice. The court then laid down illustrative grounds for understanding miscarriage of justice:

  1. Petitioner must show a violation of principles of natural justice. If they were not a party to the proceedings in the Supreme Court, they must show that the decision adversely affects their interest; if they were a party to the proceedings they must show that they had not been served with notice and the proceedings went on as if he had been served notice [this last ground was successfully pleaded in one of the three successful curative petitions—MP v. Sugar Singh]; or
  2. The judges at the Supreme Court proceedings failed to disclose their connection to the subject matter or parties, which gives an apprehension of bias disadvantaging the petitioner.

Aside from these points, the curative petitioner must also show:

  1. The points raised in the curative have been raised in the review;
  2. A senior lawyer must certify as to the fulfilment of the conditions 1-3
  3. Three of the senior-most judges, along with the judges that heard the original Supreme Court decision will then preside over the matter. The curative petitioners have to make those arguments in these petitions which can demonstrate either points 1 or 2 above (or other grounds which can point to miscarriage of justice)[4] at the first stage to get the petition admitted. If the petition is admitted, the Hurra case says, “the same bench” must hear the matter on merits. The phrasing “same bench” here is confusing. Does it mean the same bench which originally heard the case or does it mean the same bench which is considering the curative? This issue does not arise in the 377 curative as both judges who originally heard the case have since retired. However, I will address this issue here for completeness. Sometimes, the same bench that admits the curative decides, barring of course, the judges that retired since the curative was admitted [see, for example, Bhaskar Lal Sharma v. Monica, Navneet Kaur]. Sometimes, another bench decides though the admitting bench is still on the rolls [for example, MP v. Sugar Singh][5].

This procedure has now been formalized and is housed in Order XLVIII of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013. However, it is important to note that the curative petition arguments are gateway arguments. Once the petition is admitted on points 1 and 2 above (or other miscarriage of justice grounds), the original cases are restored (in our case, the petitions filed by Suresh Koushal etc. and Naz and others at the Supreme Court level) and the court now hears arguments on the points addressed in those filings.


This brings us to the point of maintainability of the Navtej writ. Lawyers for Navtej Johar asserted in their writ that the issues raised by their writ petition are “varied and diverse” from those raised in the 377 curative. I argue that this distinction is only surface level and it is unnecessary. It is surface level because once the curatives are admitted, the original SLPs and written submissions will be restored and arguments will once again be heard on the merits of those filings. Those who followed the Kaushal arguments in 2012, will recall that they were chiefly around Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the constitution. The Navtej writ also makes Article 21 arguments[6] and so substantively, both petitions will be raising similar arguments.

This distinction is also unnecessary because Res Judicata only operates between “the same parties and in respect of the same cause of action.” [Sanjay Singh v. UPSC, SC 2007]. That means that the same parties cannot bring a case based on the same grounds once the Supreme Court has decided the dispute between them (assume review, curative are all done). In the Navtej writ, parties are different from the Suresh Koushal proceedings even though the subject matter is the same (i.e. constitutionality of 377). This is legally permissible. On this point, consider the case of Sanjay Singh v. UPSC. Here, unsuccessful candidates at a judicial selection exam challenged the scaling method deployed by the examiners to calculate scores. This exact question had come up before the Supreme Court earlier in a case called UPSC v. S.C. Dixit wherein the scaling method was found constitutional. This decision was reaffirmed at the curative level as well. The UPSC sought to argue that Sanjay Singh’s case should be dismissed because the Dixit case had already found the same scaling method constitution. The Supreme Court replied that the ratio decidendi [logic of the decision, loosely] of a previous case can always be challenged by a subsequent case [in fact, this is how legal reasoning changes]. What cannot be changed is the order in the previous case. This literally means that a subsequent court cannot pass an order reversing the final order of a prior judgment.[7] This would in the Koushal context mean that the Navtej court cannot pass an order which changes the result of the Koushal review from “dismissed” to “admitted” [See Sanjay Singh, para 10]. However, a subsequent proceeding filed in the court challenging the rationale of the Koushal judgment by different parties is not prohibited.

Similarly, if the parties remain the same but the points of dispute between them change, they can file a writ even though a curative petition on different points has been dismissed. However, since this point is not in issue in the context of the 377 litigation, I am not pressing it here. What conspires from this discussion then is that the Supreme Court was empowered to admit the Navtej writ even as the 377 curative is “pending.


The Navtej order does not affect the 377 curative in any way. As of now, the 377 curative petition has not been admitted. The last hearing on the curative matter was on the 2nd of February, 2016. In that hearing, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered that the petition should be placed before a five judge bench to decide whether the petition should be admitted, in the first instance. If the five judge bench admits the curative, it will then decide whether the original Supreme Court decision was right on the law. Therefore, at this time, the curative has not been admitted, and the review process being over, for all practical purposes, the decision of the Supreme Court is final [See on this point, Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, SC 2008]. For an analogy, consider a judgment of the High Court that has not been appealed to the Supreme Court. Although hypothetically, the decision could be overturned, until an appeal is admitted to the Supreme Court, the decision is final as between the parties. Similarly, until the Supreme Court admits the curative petition, the review decision is final. The curative and the Navtej are two entirely different beasts; the results of one, leave alone an intermittent order, does not automatically decide the fate of the other.

Now, the lawyers of the Navtej writ have two choices. The first is to argue that the Navtej writ be tagged along with the curative hearing, assuming the curative is admitted. In that situation, the fates of these two petitions will be tied. The other, and perhaps, the more profitable path is for the lawyers to argue that the curative and the writ be heard separately so that assuming that the 377 curative fails to overturn Koushal on merits, there is yet another chance for the constitutionality of 377 to be decided via the Navtej writ. This has been done once before in the case of Abdul Gabbar Khan. Khan appealed in the Supreme Court claiming compensation on the basis of the Bhopal gas tragedy settlement. A curative on the same issue was already pending in the Supreme Court[8].  Khan’s counsel was successfully able to argue that the appeal be decided after the court had heard the curative even though the court had suggested that the appeal and the curative be tagged together.

[1] S. 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalize carnal intercourse against the order of nature.

[2] Fundamental right to life.

[3] What I refer to collectively as the 377 curative is actually a bunch of curative petitions filed by Naz Foundation, parents of LGBT persons, professors, mental health professionals, Academics Ratna Kapur et. al., Voices Against 377 and Mr. X.

[4] The different curative petitioners have tried to demonstrate a miscarriage of justice through different techniques. For example, Naz has tried to show that the Koushal decision omitted to consider the amended S. 375 while pronouncing the decision. The mental health professionals have chiefly argued that the expert opinion and scientific evidence provided by them on homosexuality was not considered by the Supreme Court. For other arguments raised to demonstrate miscarriage of justice see, curative petitions filed by some of the other petitioners here.

[5] The judges who decided the actual Supreme Court judgment complained of had since retired.

[6] Primarily, that the right to sexuality, sexual autonomy and sexual partner are rights protected by the fundamental right to life guaranteed by the Indian constitution (Article 21).

[7] See especially on this point, para 21 of Shaukat Hussain Guru v. Delhi Writ Petition (Criminal) 106/2007) and U.P.S.C. v. Subhash Chandra Dixit Civil Appeal 8609/2013.

[8] At the last hearing on this matter, the court directed that the matter be heard in open court to decide the issue of admission, in the first instance. The matter has since not been listed for such a hearing.

My thanks to Ramki and Adv. Mihir Samson for helping me figure out where curatives and the Navtej writ can be found online. My thanks also to my young cousin, Smriti, who helped in so many intangible ways to make sure that this blog goes up on time. 



K. Gowtham Subramaniyam v. Controller of Examination Anna University W.P. No. 7536/2017

On the 1st of June, 2017, a single judge bench of the Madras High Court directed Anna University to change the name and sex in the records of the petitioner, a transgender man. In this post, I will summarize the case with a focus on the different medical processes “on account of” which the court passed this direction. Additionally, I will seek to demonstrate that:

  1. In the reported cases post NALSA which require a determination of gender identity for the allocation of rights, courts have usually relied on sex re-assignment surgery (SRS)[1] and anatomical approximation post SRS, but not on psychological tests.
  2. Government departments in different states do not follow any uniform procedure though it is not unlikely that the department may ask for a SRS certificate.
  3. The Transgender (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 [“2016 Bill”] has the potential to turn the NALSA self- determination principle on its head by empowering a District Magistrate and a screening committee to certify whether a person is transgender.

The petitioner, assigned gender female at birth, “always felt and lived like a man”, as the High Court put it. He underwent the following gender affirmative procedures:

  1. A gender identity disorder diagnosis
  2. Hormone replacement therapy
  3. Psychological testing and certification declaring petitioner fit for surgery
  4. SRS

He received a certificate from the doctors after the surgery attesting to the fact that the petitioner was transgender and had undergone SRS. After these procedures, the petitioner changed his name to K. Gowtham and issued a public notice to the effect by a publication in the in the Tamil Nadu Gazette. He also obtained an Aadhar card in his male name. Thereafter, he made a written representation to Anna University to change his name. The University, citing lack of provision or precedent to effect the change, required that the petitioner present a transgender certificate from the District Magistrate, per the proposed 2016 Bill.

The High Court found that “on account” of the SRS and the subsequent doctor certificates, the petitioner, “has become a complete male.” [para 2]. Accordingly, the High Court directed the university to change the name and sex on the records and certificates of the petitioner.


Not only does the High Court rely on the SRS and medical certificates, it also presumably relies on the anatomical correctness of the post-surgery sex organs when it declares that, “the petitioner has become a complete male.” This judgment doubly violates NALSA by: 1. Granting the prayer arguably only on terms ruled illegal by NALSA (the SRS); and 2. Going a step further to presumably see how successful the surgeries had been in replicating the male anatomy.


Arguably, the court’s declaration that the petitioner had become a “complete man” per medical certificates weighed on its decision to declare that the petitioner’s records be changed. I have argued above that such reliance is illegal as per NALSA.

However, this decision needs to be seen in the light of another development as well. The procedure laid down by the 2016 Bill for the recognition of a person as transgender has the potential to become heavily medicalized, in contravention of the NALSA ruling. Whereas the thrust of the NALSA judgment was on self- determination, the proposed Bill empowers the District Magistrate (DM) to certify whether a person is transgender (Ss.4-8). Though the full procedure of how this shall be done has not been laid out in the Bill, the composition of the District Screening Committee on whose recommendations the DM will certify, may give us some indications. The committee shall comprise:

  1. A Chief Medical Officer;
  2. Social welfare officer;
  3. Psychologist or psychiatrist;
  4. Representative of transgender community;
  5. A government officer.

The requirement of doctors, both medical and psychological, is without any basis in the NALSA judgment. NALSA relies on self- determination rendering a medical or psychological opinion on whether a person really is transgender, unnecessary. While NALSA’s reliance on the phrase “psychological test” may lead some to believe that transgender persons can be made to undergo a psychological exam to corroborate the fact of their gender identity, the judgment, if read in full, arguably uses the phrase “psychological test” to refer to the internal self belief of a person, a belief in the realm of the psyche, and not an actual psychological test understood in clinical terms. Justice Radhakrishnan’s mention of a psychological test must be read in light of his explicit statement that, “Determination of gender to which a person belongs is to be decided by the person concerned.” [Page 84]. Moreover, the judgment never identifies the role of a psychologist or psychiatrist while upholding the right to self- determined gender. The only instance of the usage of the word psychiatrist in the judgment is by Justice Sikri when he is describing what SRS entails. He also arguably does not identify the role of a psychiatrist or a psychologist in gender identity because he bases his judgment on the fundamental principle of an individual’s “right to choose” [page 91]. Finally, the Supreme Court’s direction 2 clearly states that a transgender person’s right to self identified gender is upheld, placing the obligation on the government to provide legal recognition in accordance. A psychological or psychiatrist exam would militate against very spirit of a self identified gender identity. The reported judgments post NALSA seem to have understood this requirement correctly. Either deliberately or inadvertently, they have not required the results of a psychological exam before upholding the rights of a petitioner to self identity as transgender, even as they have required proof of SRS, and a “successful” SRS to grant these rights [See table 1].



In this table, I have excluded cases in which the court incorrectly equated intersex with transgender and intersex claimants did not seek to identify in a gender different from that assigned at birth.  Additionally, I have excluded cases in which the determination of the transgender identity of the parties is not a legal issue.


Case Reliance on SRS Reliance on Anatomical Resemblance Reliance on Psychological Exam
Shivani Bhat


(Delhi HC)

No No No
Shivam Santosh Dewagan


(Chhattisgarh HC)

Yes Yes No
K. Gowtham


(Mad. HC)

Yes Yes No
Prithika Yashini

(Mad. HC)

Yes Arguably No but details of medical certificates examined are not reproduced in judgment. No
S. Swapna

(Mad. HC)

Yes Id. No

Additionally, it is not uncommon for government departments to ask for SRS, as reported online or shared on listservs. See table in this Doc. This table also demonstrates that it is unclear what additional documents transgender applicants need to produce in addition to the published procedure.

In the present case, the court did not pay heed to the university’s demand for a DM certificate because the 2016 Bill has not yet become law. However, the section, if passed, may cause the right of a transgender person to self identify to change hands and become the right of the DM to identify a transgender person. This section has faced stiff opposition from activists, lawyers and scholars working in the field. See, for example, this collection of critiques of the 2016 Bill. If the 2016 Bill passes in its current form, it is very likely that the principle of self-determination of gender identity will have little or no meaning; doctors of the body and mind will make these decisions in scenes that will remind us of Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic.


[1] A recent study has suggested that the term Gender Affirmative Surgery better signifies how transgender persons experience this surgery. However, for the present blog, I use the term SRS for reading consistency between court rulings and my critiques because the courts have been using SRS.

I am grateful to Dr. L. Ramakrishnan (Ramki) for extensive discussions around this blog and for pointing me to the collection of critiques of the 2016 Bill. Ramki is the Vice-President at SAATHII, a public health non- profit, and volunteers at Orinam, a volunteer collective with extensive internet resources on the queer movement in India.


Shivam Santosh Dewangan v. State of Chhattisgarh 2016 CriLJ2819

On the 27th of April, 2016, a single judge bench of the Chhattisgarh High Court granted bail pending trial in a rape case. The prosecutrix, a transgender woman who had undergone sex re-assignment surgery (“SRS”) commenced a sexual relationship with the accused upon a promise to marry. When that promise was broken, she lodged an FIR alleging rape, among other things. This case concerned the bail application of the accused who had been imprisoned following the FIR.  Sexual relationships based on (later) broken promises to marry may qualify as rape but this blog is not an opinion on that issue. Neither is it an opinion on bail proceedings. Instead in this blog, I focus on two of the reasons for the grant of bail: 1. The court’s incorrect finding that the prosecutrix was not a woman only because all her female sex organs had not fully formed post SRS; and 2. The court’s incorrect implication that the prosecutrix could not be raped only because her vagina was not fully developed. I argue that these findings are incorrect in law and end up excluding certain legal subjects from the protection of rape law.


Before expanding on the reasons for bail, we recall that rape, as per the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”), is a crime that can be committed only against a woman. The judge granted bail for the following reasons: 1. She was not entirely a woman i.e. “…her sex ha[d] not changed in tune with gender characteristics from male to female even after SRS surgery.”[1] 2. According to her medical report, her vagina was not completely formed and her secondary sexual characteristics were still developing; 3. There was a year long delay in filing the FIR 4. No semen was found on her clothes; 5. No custodial interrogation of the accused was required; and 6. The prosecutrix was a 23 old adult. I will deal in depth with reason 1 and 2 and make some general observations about reasons 3-6 in respect of bail proceedings. Bail proceedings are not a determination of the merits of the case i.e. whether the accused is guilty or not. Generally, in non-bailable offences like rape, the accused cannot demand bail as a matter of right.[2] Moreover, in cases such as rape, if there is an appearance of guilt, bail shall be denied. Therefore, it is common, to my understanding, for courts to consider the kinds of evidence it did to arrive at the bail decision.[3] This is despite the fact that some of the evidence they examine may be thrown out as inadmissible at the trial stage, or the conclusions drawn from them may be legally incorrect as I will demonstrate below.[4] However, in this blog, I am not focussing on the merits or demerits of such kinds of bail proceedings.2.


The question in the case was one concerning rape—primarily, whether sexual intercourse on a promise to marry is rape, if the promise is later broken. The short legal answer to that question is yes, it may be rape.[5] Now, though he had been chargesheet-ed on a rape complaint (S.375, IPC), the accused argued that the prosecutrix was not a woman because her sexual characteristics had not developed. Accordingly, he could not have raped her. Examine this report from the medical officer in which he found that the vagina and the secondary sexual characteristics of the prosecutrix had not fully developed:

“Examine [sic] patient is a transgender [sic] has undergone sex change surgery 3 years back around 2013 at Dr. Kalda Clinic. Second Sexual Character on developing stage, has not started menses. Axillary hair+, Vagina is incompletely formed. No sign of injury seen over the anal region or vaginal area. 2 slides prepared from the anal region area. From the above clinical finding about sexual intercourse cannot be told.” [para 7]

The prosecutrix had undergone SRS in 2013. The Supreme Court in 2014 had declared that all transgender persons had a fundamental right to their self identified gender and any insistence on SRS is both illegal and immoral (Directions 2 and 5). Therefore, a transgender person can self indentify as either a man, a woman or third gender (Direction 2). If SRS was not required then there was no reason to medically examine the prosecutrix as to her sex characteristics. Her self-determination as a woman should have been sufficient to place her in the category of “woman” for the purpose of the allegation of rape. Some transgender persons undergo the SRS and some do not. However, that is not a legal requirement to be recognized as either a transgender or a woman as per the NALSA judgment. Instead, this court erroneously relied on the exposition of J. Sikri in NALSA on the experience of SRS. In para 103 of NALSA, J. Sikri explained that SRS is not an overnight process. By this the judge only sought to explain the steps involved in a SRS operation—from the decision, to the hormone therapy and the psychiatric evaluation and then the operation. He did not wish to point out that even after the SRS, the sexual features do not develop overnight, and even if he did, the directions abovementioned given by the full court render inquiry into the state of sex characteristics irrelevant. Therefore, the court’s conclusion that the prosecutrix was not a woman is incorrect in law.


Reason 2 for the grant of bail stated that the vagina of the prosecutrix was not fully formed, implying that she could not be raped. The court stated: “…further considering the fact that her vagina is not fully developed and the secondary sexual characters are on developing stage, as case of the prosecutrix is falling under Section 375(a) of the Indian Penal Code… this Court is of the view that it is a fit case to release the applicant on bail.” [para 12]. 375(a) of the IPC states that, “a man is said to commit rape if he (a) penetrates his penis, to any extent, into the vagina, mouth, urethra or anus of a woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person…”

First, rape under 375(a) can be committed by insertion of penis into places other than the vagina as well: the mouth, the anus, the urethra. There was no reason therefore, for the court’s exclusive focus on vaginal penetration under the 375(a) charge. To be sure, the court did observe that there were no signs of anal injury.  Not only is this still an incomplete coverage of 375(a), lack of injury is not determinative of innocence in rape cases—especially ones of this sort. Irrespective, it was not lack of anal injury but absence of a fully developed vagina that featured in the list of reasons provided by the court for granting bail.

Second, 375(a) penalizes non consensual penetration into the vagina, and not non-consensual penetration into a medically correct vagina. Inquiry into the medical correctness and dimensions of the vagina not only misses the point of rape law which punishes “Offences Affecting the Human Body” [Chapter under which Rape Provisions are housed], such inquiries end up creating legal subjects who “cannot” be raped: post- SRS transgender women with incompletely formed vaginas, intersex women with ambiguous genatalia and biological women whose vaginas don’t fit the medical category, for example. For this prosecutrix such a determination has created this quandary: though the court is treating her as a woman because she has undergone the SRS, and the court refers to the prosecutrix with a feminine pronoun, it is implying that the prosecutrix cannot be raped because she does not have a fully formed vagina. At the same time, her SRS operation has taken her out of the category of a man and therefore S. 377, IPC is not attracted. Therefore, she may have been raped but accused, if found guilty, will neither be punished for rape (376, IPC) nor under 377, IPC. Finally, if courts are going to require a medically correct vagina standard to grant relief in rape cases, how will law address rape cases of transgender women who do not undergo SRS? One immediate answer is that such cases may be handled under 377 but this solution leaves the transgender woman divided against herself, a woman for all purposes, but a man for the purposes of rape law. Lawyers, judges, legislators and others in the business of law need to know more about how transgender persons understand their body before they can formulate satisfactory solutions for their criminal law needs.


[1] Para 12.

[2] See Section 437 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973: When Bail May be Taken in Case of Non-Bailable Offence.

[3] For a general understanding on the jurisprudence behind bail see K.N. Chandrashekharan Pillai, “Bail” in R.V. Kelkar’s Criminal Procedure (Eastern Book Company, 2014) 289-344.

[4] For a contrasting viewpoint, see Abhinav Sekhri, “Reversing the Presumption of Innocence- Part III” http://theproofofguilt.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/reversing-presumption-of-innocence-part_9.html

[5] The key question to be answered in this situation is whether the prosecutrix consented to the sexual intercourse only because she believed the accused’s promise to marry to be true? Without expressing an opinion on whether this is a good test, I present some preliminary observations on how the Indian courts apply this test. The court applies the test in this fashion: 1. If there are other reasons which could have influenced her decision, the courts have not found sex based on broken promises to marry as rape. Other reasons include love between the parties, absence of evidence that the accused never intended to keep his promise to marry when he made it, prosecutrix’s consent despite knowledge of insurmountable caste differences etc. 2. There is no hierarchy of reasons– the prosecutrix may have loved the accused but consented to a sexual relationship only because he promised to marry her; the court does not go into this inquiry. 3. The court’s real test appears to be a search for a dispassionate (pun intended) yes in promise to marry cases which connects with how female sexuality is construed. The woman is construed as a passive recipient of sex and therefore any desire on her part to have sex which pre-dates the promise counts against her rape charge. Key cases on this point are: Uday v. State of Karnataka AIR 2003 SC 1639; Deelip Singh @ Dilip Kumar v. State of Bihar AIR 2005 SC 203; Jayanti Rani Panda v. State of West Bengal and Anr. 1984 CriLJ 535.

Curiously, presence of factors other than the promise to marry lead the court to conclude that the prosecutrix could not have really relied on the promise to marry before having sex; love, caste differences etc. weaken the authenticity of the promise. There is of course another way to read these factors which is this: could not the love, the desire to united over caste differences lead the prosecutrix to believe even more in the promise to marry? Not only does the court promote a cynical view of love and sex, it places the burden of this cynicism on the prosecutrix: the prosecutrix should have been aware that the promise to marry could not have been real owing to caste differences; the court doesn’t conclude or raise a presumption that the accused never intended to marry, owing to insurmountable caste differences, when he promised to marry [see this claim esp. in light of how S.114A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 shifts the burden of proof on the accused and presumes lack of consent when the prosecutrix in a rape trial alleges lack of consent.]

My thanks to Arushi Garg for pointing me in the direction of the key cases on this topic, and also for the enlightening discussion on the theory and practice of cases concerning sex on a promise to marry. Arushi is a doctoral student in the law department at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on conviction rates in rape cases in Delhi.



Kirankumar Rameshbhai Devmani v. State of Gujarat [(2014) 71 VST 555 (Guj)]- Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I summarized the arguments of the parties and the decision of the court. In this part, I will deal with the three remarkable features of the case I had mentioned before: 1. the court’s attempt to give meaning to the morality of the constitution[1], and to apply this meaning in this case; 2. legal incompetence at official levels, and how it can delay and frustrate day to day affairs of people; and 3. the place occupied by same sex sexual relations in the case. To refresh the memory of readers, the present case involved a film about a boy who discovers that he is gay. The film, through the boy, depicts various difficulties faced by gay people in society. The film was refused tax exemption given to all Gujarati colour films and the petitioner who is the producer and director of the film challenges this refusal. See full factual scenario in Part 1.


In Part 1, I had explained how the court found the withholding of tax exemption as illegal and subsequently that such withholding would amount to a violation of the free speech and expression right under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. To more fully explain how diverse points of view can co-exist in democratic constitutional schemes, it delved into the morality of the constitution. It found that the peaceful co-existence of a “plurality of ideologies” was not only one of the aims but also one of the guiding principles of our constitutional scheme [para 31]. In the words of the court:

In the constitutional scheme of things that we have adopted in our country, plurality of ideologies and different viewpoints are accepted and respected. In a topic as one on hand, there are bound to be as many view points as are colours in a rainbow. No single view point may be fully correct or fully incorrect and yet all of them can peacefully co-exist.” [para 31].

It further went on to state that this plurality of ideologies allowed different viewpoints to stand so long as they did not violate the constitution. Such reasoning goes a long way to re-establish the constitutional values on which the Indian constitution has been drafted and to re-position the judge as a dispassionate protector of those values. This is especially important to motivate State actors (eg. government employees, judges etc.) to set clear boundaries between their personal beliefs and the beliefs of the constitution and to remind them that when they are acting in the capacity of their office, the only set of values that they can legitimately chase are those enshrined in the constitution. Contrast this with the Suresh Kumar Koushal case in which the court called the LGBT population a “miniscule fraction” [para 43] arguing for “so called rights” [para 52] betraying a sense of antipathy and revulsion for the community. For further reading on the kind of language used by the Supreme Court in the Suresh Kumar Koushal case see, Danish Sheikh, “The Quality of Mercy Strained: Compassion, Empathy and Other Irrelevant Considerations in Koushal v. Naz” (2013) 6 NUJS L Rev 585.

Apart from reminding institutional actors of their duties, the court has also re-assured them that their upholding a particular right would not mean their personal sympathy for the right, as long as the right is merited by the constitution. Such logic would attempt to persuade judges personally unsympathetic certain claims, to apply constitutional standards and abjure their personal opinions when in the business of adjudication.

“Endorsing one’s right of expression does not imply endorsement of his view point. In any vibrant modern democratic society, divergent viewpoints is not only inevitable but is considered as a healthy sign. Diverse and antagonistic viewpoints can coexist and survive side by side peacefully in a modern cultured society.” [para 50].

This re-assertion of constitutional values and not personal viewpoints on which a case ought to be decided is reminiscent of the reasoning of the Delhi High Court in the Naz case. There, the Delhi High Court expressly stated that regardless of popular opinion on the topic of homosexuality, S. 377 should be held to be unconstitutional if it did not pass the threshold of fundamental rights:

Popular morality, as distinct from constitutional morality derived from constitutional values, is based on shifting and subjecting [sic] notions of wrong and right. If there is any type of morality that can pass the pass the test of compelling state interest, it must be constitutional morality and not public morality” [para 79].



The second remarkable thing about this case is how clearly it demonstrates official ineptitude and delaying tactics used by authority figures. In this case, there was a clear policy highlighted for refusing tax exemptions. As per para 4 of the policy, the only films that could not receive the exemption were films that depicted “evil customs, blind faith, sati, dowry, and such social evils and those which are against national unity.”  There were no other reasons to refuse the exemption and there was no discretion in this matter. Yet, the Commissioner of Entertainment Tax (“Commissioner”) refused the exemption to the film on grounds that it had been given an A certificate by the Censor Board, a reason beyond the scope of the policy. In order that the he may make a representation against this wholly illegal reason, the producer approached the Commissioner either in person or through letters on the 24th of April, 2013, 26th of April, 2013, 29th of April, 2013 and the 16th of May, 2013 before he could hear back from him. He even penned a letter to the Chief Minister complaining about the non-consideration of his requests for representation. Therefore, 5 letters had to be written only to get attention to an application which had been refused on grounds not even present in the policy. These dates are taken on record by the court in the case.

After multiple letters were sent to him, the Commissioner ultimately replied asking the producer to delete certain dialogues and mute certain words, and to submit a signed affidavit to that effect before his film could be tax exempt. The Commissioner was not empowered to do so and acted beyond the scope of his powers. When the producer refused to comply, the Commissioner once again rejected the exemption application. Even when the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting directed the Commissioner to identify a “basis” for his refusal, the Commissioner failed to fathom a policy reason for refusing tax exemption. Instead he content himself with reasons such as the film did not have a useful message, it could create friction between members of society, it was controversial, it promoted homosexual ideology, and other reasons highlighted in Part 1.

The law on paper may provide limited reasons for refusing tax exemption but a private actor is caught in a frustrating legal web when authority figures act clearly outside the scope of those powers and assume for themselves grounds for refusal which do not exist as per government policy. For this producer, this meant a long drawn legal battle and the delay of the release/tax exempt status of the film. It is unknown whether there was any departmental action taken against the Commissioner for acting outside his scope. However, the court did acknowledge that the commissioner’s objections were, “wholly misguided based on fallacious premises” [para 53]. The Commissioner’s refusal was not just a misapplication of a rule of law, it was the complete avoidance of it. Such avoidance delayed a simple application by nearly a year. What a weapon (accidental/deliberate) legal incompetence can be.


The final important legal manoeuvre of note in this case is the manner in which the court put the Suresh Kumar Koushal case in perspective. One would imagine that with that decision coming out in December, 2013 and finding that same sex sexual relations were a kind of criminal unnatural sex, a High Court ruling in February, 2014 may find difficulty in allowing tax exemption to a film about homosexuality. However, this court was quick to find that the Suresh Kumar Koushal case had no application to the present query. That case concerned itself with some forms of sex which had been criminalized and not with the criminality of a certain sexual orientation. Although it is important to understand that S.377, Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“S.377”) has a disproportionate impact on the LGBT community, it is also important to understand that it does not criminalize homosexuality, and it’s continued existence cannot be used as reason to deny any conversation about the LGBT community, or to deny other rights of the community. The legal clarity displayed by the court is laudable. Till the time that this section occupies a place in the law books,  reasoning of this kind can lead the way for other State authorities/private persons that may have otherwise been persuaded by the existence of S. 377 to deny claims with a LGBT association.



[1] All references to the constitution in this post refer to the Constitution of India, 1950.

Justice Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors. Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494/2012

Note: Part 2 of Kirankumar has been postponed 
to October 2017 in light of the privacy decision.


On the 24th of August, 2017, a nine judge bench of the Supreme Court of India decided whether there is a fundamental right to privacy. Summarily and without tracing it’s constitutional genealogy, the court decided that there exists, in the Indian constitutional scheme, an inalienable, fundamental right to privacy drawing life blood primarily from Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950 (“constitution”). However, this right was found not to be absolute and different judges on the bench stated different reasons and tests for State interference with it. In this blog, I will discuss implications of the judgment on the 377[2] case and rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), generally.

Before doing that, we need to be clear that there is no clear majority opinion, in the ordinary sense of the word, in this case. It is a nine judge bench and therefore, an opinion endorsed by five or more judges would count as a majority opinion. However, here, there is one opinion endorsed by 4 judges (Chandrachud opinion) and 5 individual opinions, all of which find a fundamental right to privacy but are different in particulars. Such a situation is called a plurality and to find a majority on any one point, 5 or more judges should have the same opinion that point.


a. 377 Matter is Still Undecided

To be sure, the court did not decide the 377[3] issue. In fact, 5 judges of the court categorically stated that the 377 matter is pending before another bench and so they leave its validity be decided by the appropriate proceeding:

Since the challenge to Section 377 is pending consideration before a larger Bench of this Court, we would leave the constitutional validity to be decided in an appropriate proceeding.” [para 128] (Chandrachud opinion)

“It is not necessary to delve into this issue further, other than in the context of privacy as that would be an issue to be debated before the appropriate Bench, the matter having been referred to a larger Bench.” [para 81, Kaul J., upon finding that the fundamental right to privacy extended to LGBT persons regardless of how minuscule they were in numbers.]

b. Sexual Orientation Recognized as a Fundamental Right

5 Judges of the court clearly found that sexual orientation is “undoubtedly”[4] an essential attribute of privacy.[5] If privacy is a fundamental right and sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy then the right to sexual orientation is a fundamental right as well. The Supreme Court in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India [“NALSA”] had noted that self defined sexual orientation is, “integral to … personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom” [NALSA, para 20], and had in Suresh Kumar Koushal[6] noted that S. 377 does not criminalize any particular sexual orientation.[7] However, neither of the judgments had gone so far as to expressly declare the right to sexual orientation as a fundamental right.

The reader will recall that the Supreme Court has already noted in NALSA that the right to self determined gender identity is a fundamental right.[8] Therefore, the sum total of all these cases is that now there is an expressly declared fundamental right to sexual orientation in addition to gender identity.

c. Two Arguments for Personal Intimacies to be Essential Entitlements under Privacy

The recognition of sexual orientation as a fundamental right should by itself lead the court to find S.377 unconstitutional as the section stands in the way of the fulfilment of a core aspect of sexual orientation—sex, with a person of choice, and in a manner of choice. 2 other opinions in the judgment should be highly persuasive of this point. The first is the 4 judge Chandrachud opinion finding that “personal intimacies” are an entitlement under the right to privacy [Conclusion P]. As per the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “intimacy” means familiarity, friendship, but also sexual intercourse.[9] If the right to privacy is an inalienable fundamental right and it includes personal intimacies then S.377 which criminalizes the personal intimacies of LGBT persons[10] cannot stand constitutional scrutiny because it will violate the fundamental right to privacy. This conclusion is doubly solidified in light of the court’s restatement of a crucial constitutional law principle: to withstand constitutional scrutiny, an impugned section should survive the scrutiny of all fundamental rights. The second is the Justice Nariman opinion which finds that the fundamental right to privacy will protect “fundamental personal choices.”[11] Although he does not explain what that phrase means, his judgment illustrates “personal choices” as including “rights of same sex couples—including the right to marry…”[12] This provides grounds for arguing that Nariman J. too, finds that personal intimacies of all persons, regardless of SOGI, is protected by the fundamental right to privacy.[13]


Finally, the 4 judge Chandrachud opinion has recognized the following list of non- exhaustive entitlements under privacy: decisions about personal intimacies, family life, procreation, home and sexual orientation [Conclusion (3)(F)]. Privacy itself has been housed primarily under Article 21. Article 21 guarantees life and liberty to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Accordingly, the aforementioned entitlements also extend to all persons, regardless of SOGI. This means that this opinion has affirmed that even LGBT persons have a fundamental privacy right to home, procreation, family life etc. This coupled with Justice Nariman’s finding that personal choices protected by privacy include, “rights of same sex couples—including the right to marry…”[14] provides extremely persuasive grounds for arguing that 5 judges have stated that all persons have a right to marry, regardless of SOGI.  Additionally, the logic of the 4 judge Chandrachud opinion may also open up avenues for LGBT persons to argue for procreation related rights like surrogacy etc.


[1] My thanks to Mariyam Kamil, DPhil (law) student at the University of Oxford for hearing out and confirming my various legal conclusions re. SOGI from this decision. Mariyam researches on the constitutional right to privacy in India.

[2] S.377, Indian Penal Code, 1860.

[3] All references to 377 in this blog mean the issue of the constitutional validity of S. 377, Indian Penal Code, 1860 which criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, and which is pending in the Indian Supreme Court.

[4] Kaul J. Opinion; para 80.

[5] For example, paragraph 126 and Conclusion (3)(F) of the Chandrachud opinion.

[6] Suresh Kumar Koushal and Anr. v. Naz Foundation and Others (Civil Appeal No. 10972 of 2013).

[7] Suresh Kumar Koushal and Anr. v. Naz Foundation and Others (Civil Appeal No. 10972 of 2013) para 38.

[8] “Self-determination of gender is an integral part of personal autonomy and self-expression and falls within the realm of personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” [para 69, NALSA].

[9] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/intimacy.

[10] S.377 criminalizes the sexual lives of all those persons, whether or not LGBT, who have non-peno-vaginal sex. However, in keeping with the scope of the website, I have referred only to LGBT persons in the main text.

[11] Nariman J.; Para 81.

[12] Nariman J.; Para 46.

[13] Additionally, Chamaleshwar J. suggests that “intimate decision” is an aspect of privacy and it includes most personal life choices [Para 36]. He does not elaborate on what personal life choices are and for this reason, I have left it out of the above reasoning.  Similarly, Bobde J. states that privacy has “deep affinity” with intimacy, among other things. In its literal sense, the word affinity means closeness, liking, similarity as per the Oxford English Dictionary and therefore its unclear whether Bobde J. has counted intimacy as an aspect of privacy. For this reason, I have left it out of the reasoning. In this blog, I have tried to present the strongest arguments from the judgment for personal intimacies to be counted as a privacy entitlement.

[14] Nariman J.; Para 46.