THE JUDICIARY: A CATALYST FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
By Puja Rajesh
Social change refers to the alteration of social order that arises due to the presence of several societal factors that impact existing social patterns, social structures, institutions, and organizations. It is a constant, ever occurring process that influences humans, their interaction with each other, their reaction to social norms, their level of adherence to institutionalized rules, their perception of human values, etc.
Out of the multiple factors that stimulate social change, the ‘law’, through its statutes, legislations, and judicial institutions has been instrumental in modifying existing social order and promoting progressive change in the society. It takes into consideration the needs and demands of the people, and the conditions required for the holistic development of society and formulate appropriate measures to secure the same. As evident through several pivotal instances throughout history, the usage of law as a means to secure social change is nothing new. The judiciary, in particular, plays a major role in transforming society and acts as a catalyst for social change.
Courts are considered to be the custodian of the constitution. They are the guardians entrusted with the obligation to safeguard the fundamental rights of the people. Through various mechanisms such as judicial activism, judicial review, and their interpretation of the law, the courts are able to deliver justice, which is their central function. Judicial interpretations of the constitution and various statutes often tend to be right-friendly, in the sense that they intend to secure the social, economic, and political rights of the people. By securing the social needs of the people, the judiciary continues to play a dynamic role in promoting and enabling social change. In addition to the above, as courts are one of the many institutions that reflect the social, cultural, and political realities of a state, they are capable of projecting and directing the course of social change that may take place.
The judiciary has attempted to address complex social phenomena such as poverty, inequality, discrimination, marriage etc, through its verdict in several landmark cases. In recent times by employing an activist approach, the Indian courts have been more successful in securing socio-economic justice for the people. By creating opportunities for disadvantaged sections of the society, by protecting citizens from the excesses of other organs of the government, by increasing scope for development of different sections of the society, etc the judiciary has continued to stimulate social change. This article aims to examine the role of the judiciary as a catalyst for social change through a series of cases:
Danamma v. Amar and Ors
In the case of Danamma (Appellants) v. Amar and Ors (Respondents), the Supreme Court of India held that daughters have equal rights to ancestral property, regardless of whether they were born before or after the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act. The facts of the case were as follows: The propositus of a Hindu Joint family, Gurullingappa savadi, died in the year 2001. He left behind his widow, Sumitra, and 4 children (2 sons named Arun Kumar and Vijay and 2 daughters named Danamma and Mahananda). Following Gurullingappa’s death, Amar, the son of Arun Kumar, filed a suit for the partition, and separate possession of the joint property. He contended that as the daughters of Gurulingappa were born prior to the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 they were not coparceners. He argued that no part of the family property ought to be given to them as they were born before the enactment of the act, and that by agreeing to receive dowry during their marriage they had forfeited their part of the property. Both the trial court in the year 2007, as well as the high court in the year 2012 held in the above case that the daughters would not be coparceners as they were born before the act was enacted. They did however reject the argument advanced with reference to dowry. They did not take into consideration the 2005 amendment of the Hindu Succession Act.
When the case was brought before the Supreme Court of India it raised the following issues:1. Whether the daughters could be denied their share of the property on grounds that they were born before the enactment of the act, and therefore couldn’t be treated as coparceners? 2. Whether the 2005 amendment would make the Appellants coparceners by birth in their own right in the same manner as the son, and therefore be entitled to equal share as that of a son?
The court held that the 2005 amendment crystallized the rights of the appellants, that is, the 2005 amendment will be applicable to all women, born before or after the act. It also held that the daughters shall be made coparceners by birth in their own right, in the same manner as the son. While doing so the court took into the consideration the intent of the legislature while drafting the act, which was to treat both men and women equally by giving them equal rights.
Sudama Singh and Ors v. Government of Delhi and Anr.
The writ petition was filed seeking intervention of the Delhi High Court to provide for the rehabilitation and relocation of the petitionersin the above mentioned case. The case highlights several important issues such as the right to shelter of the petitioners, and slum clusters being on ‘Right of Way’ on the basis of which state agencies could oppose them. The petitioners contended that abolition of slum clusters without relocating its urban poor residents violated right to life under article 21 of the constitution (right to shelter), as well as various other human right covenants. They also had identity and resident proofs issued by concerned authorities. The respondents contended that as the land inhabited by the petitioners comes under the category of ‘Right of Way” they were not entitled to alternate land or compensation under any of the rehabilitation or relocation policies or scheme.
The questions before the high court were as follows: Whether people living on ‘Right of Way’ are excluded from State government’s policy for relocation and rehabilitation, although they are otherwise eligible for relocation or rehabilitation according to the scheme? If there are policies regarding people who live Right of way, what could the true import of such a policy be? Whether the respondents are implementing the alleged policy in an arbitrary, discriminatory manner that is in violation of article 14 and 21 of the constitution, as well as several international covenants that India is a signatory of?
The court held that the respondent’s decision of holding that the petitioners weren’t entitled to relocation as they were on ‘Right of Way’ was declared to be unconstitutional and illegal; those eligible among the petitioners in terms of reallocation policy will be granted an alternative site as per MPD-2021, as long as they had proof of residence before the cutoff date; basic civil amenities that are consistent with the rights to life and dignity of the citizens in the jhuggies at the site of reallocation will be made available by state agencies.
Occupational Health and safety association v. Union of India and Ors.
The petitioner in this case represented several Coal Fired Thermal Power Plants (CFTPPs) spread across several states in India, where there were inadequate occupational health services, inadequate facilities for a health delivery system and no proper guidelines with reference to occupational safety. They sought the following reliefs: to issue a writ of mandamus, or another appropriate write, order, or direction directing the respondents: to frame guidelines with reference to occupational safety and health regulations to be maintained by various industries, to appoint and constitute a committee that would be tasked with the monitoring of thermal power plants in India and to keep check of the health and safety norms of the workers a the power stations, to pay compensation to workers who are victims of occupational health disorders and to frame a scheme of compensation for workers in cases of occupational health disorders. A list of suggestions to actualize the same was also put forth by the petitioners before the Supreme Court. Considering the gravity of the situation, the court opined that as there were a large number of CFTPPs spread across various states in India, the compliance of such CFTPPs to safety standards, rules, and regulations related to the health of the employees could be better examined by the High Courts. It should look into whether there is adequate health and effective health delivery system, and if effective medical treatment is meted out.
The Supreme Court held that a report of NIOH titled Environment, Health and Safety Issues in CFTPPs must be made available to the Registrar Generals of the High Courts of a given list of states. The Registrar Generals of High Courts of the concerned States were directed to place this Judgment before the Chief Justices of the respective States so that they could initiate suo moto proceedings in the larger interest of the workers working in CFTPPs in the respective States.
The above-mentioned cases are a few of the several cases in which the Indian Judiciary has played the role of a catalyst in bringing about social change. In the first (Danamma v. Amar and Ors.) an attempt has been made to promote equal treatment and rights for both men and women. The court has taken a step towards advancing the property rights of women, and through that eliminating gender inequality. In the second case (Sudama Singh and Ors v. Government of Delhi and Anr.) the court by laying down the manner in which slums can be demolished, and the procedure to be followed after, protected the rights of the people living there. It was consistent with the human rights obligations put forth by several international conventions. In the third case (Occupational Health and safety association v. Union of India and Ors.) the court sought to protect the rights of the workers. The essence of its verdict was that the rights of the workers should be protected by ensuring that the guidelines regarding occupational safety and health regulations were maintained by various industries.
In all of the above cases the judiciary has acted as a catalyst for social change by adopting an attitude that reasonably advances the rights of the people. It has acted in public interest, keeping in mind the welfare of the people, as well as the society, and this stimulates progressive social change. It helps protect and safeguard the rights of the people, identifies areas in which change is needed and works towards establishing a stable, progressive society. It is a powerful institution that works towards the betterment of the people by acting as a catalyst for social change.
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- Mark V. Tushnet, The Role of Courts in Social Change: Looking Forward, 54 DRAKE L. REV. 909 (2006).
- Danamma v. Amar, (2018) 3 SCC 343.
- Sudama Singh v. Government of Delhi, 2010 SCC OnLine Del 612
- Occupational Health and Safety Association v. Union of India, 2008 SCC OnLine SC 49
- YashaswiniGautam, Daughters as coparcener: Danamma v. Amar, available at: https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-2507-daughters-as-coparcener-danamma-v-amar.html#:~:text=The%20case%20of%20Danamma%20v,the%20discrepancy%20between%20the%20genders
- Prathyusha Madhu, Social Change: Definition, Characteristics, Causes, Types, and Examples, available at: https://www.sociologygroup.com/social-change/