Shampa Singha v. The State of West Bengal & Ors. WP 23120(W)of 2018

On the 29th of January, 2019, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court applied the Navtej Johar decision to a lesbian couple, holding that consensual co-habitation and intercourse between adults of the same sex does not fall within the ambit of S.377. As in the Sreeja case, the sexual relationship between the two women involved was openly mentioned in the court. The facts of the case are not entirely clear but it is evident that the writ is filed by one of the partners. Presumably, one of the partners, had returned to her mother and the petitioner partner had filed a writ alleging that the mother was holding her partner captive. The other partner, who had hitherto been residing with her is now inclined to stay with her own mother. There are three facets which are interesting to note about this case:

  1. Article 21

Following Navtej Johar, this case also finds that the right to life under Article 21 includes an inherent right to determine, by oneself, one’s sexual orientation and sexual partner. This choice is inherent under Article 21 even if the choice is not made for procreation. Additionally, the court notes that not only is this right inherent under Article 21, it is also essential for the enjoyment of the life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21.

  1. Constitutional Morality

The court also notes that our scheme of constitutional morality does not permit objections of religion or personal morality to whittle down this inherent right (of orientation and choice of partner). It is unclear why the court specifically mentions religion as an impermissible restriction on the abovementioned right. One can conjecture that perhaps in the argumentation stage before the court, one’s religious beliefs were pleaded as a ground to deny cohabitation of the two women involved.

  1. Psychological Test

Finally, the court notes that the partner of the petitioner, whom the court calls a “victim” for unexplained reasons, has been assessed for psychological soundness. It is unclear why the court mentions it. It is also unclear whether the court ordered this test or whether this test has been performed due to extant facts of the case. Since the judgment does not summarize the facts or the arguments, it is hard to determine the appropriateness of this psychological test. However, at the outset, it can be said that a psychological test does prima facie seem out of place in this kind of case which involves two majors who want to exercise their right of whether or not to live together arguably, though not explicitly, protected under Article 21 in this case. The Navtej judgment has clearly stated that adults have a right to consensual sexual intercourse with a person of their choice regardless of sex. To avail this right, that judgment has not forwarded a requirement of psychological testing.

I am grateful to Dr. L. Ramakrishnan (Ramki) for telling me about this case. 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.