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Right to Change One’s Name and The Right To Life


The right to change one’s name or surname is a part of the right to life under Article 21, the High Courts (HC) of Allahabad and Delhi recently said.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Cases before the High Courts
  2. Rulings of the High Courts
  3. The High Courts’ views on Article 21
  4. Restrictions on the right to change names

Cases before the High Courts:

Case 1: Sadanand & Anr. vs CBSE & Ors

  • A plea was filed by two brothers before the Delhi High Court.
  • The father had changed his surname due to caste atrocities and had updated it in various public documents.
  • CBSE refused to update the brothers’ certificates with the father’s new surname, as it would change their caste, which could be misused.

Case 2: Md. Sameer Rao vs. State of UP

  • The Allahabad High Court dealt with a petition against the rejection of an application to change the petitioner’s name in his educational certificates.
  • The state argued that a change in the name is not an absolute right and is subject to restrictions imposed by law.

Rulings of the High Courts:

Allahabad High Court:

  • The authorities arbitrarily rejected the application for a name change, violating the petitioner’s fundamental rights  guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), Article 21, and Article 14 of the Constitution.
  • A person’s name is an essential part of their identity and falls within the realm of the right to privacy.
  • Consistency in identity-related documents is crucial to avoid confusion or mischief.

Delhi High Court:

  • The father changed his surname to overcome social stigma and disadvantages faced by his sons, and CBSE’s denial was unjustified.
  • The petitioners have the right to have an identity that gives them an honorable and respectable position in society.
  • If they faced disadvantages or social prejudices due to their surname, they are entitled to a change in their identity.

The High Courts’ views on Article 21:

Both the Delhi and Allahabad High Courts recognized the importance of Article 21 in the cases discussed.

Allahabad High Court:

  • The court observed that the right to keep a name of choice or change the name according to personal preference falls within the broad scope of the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21.
  • It referred to a ruling by the Kerala High Court in 2020, which stated that having a name and expressing it is a part of the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21.

Delhi High Court:

  • The court held that the “Right to Identity” is an an intrinsic part of the Right to Life under Article 21.
  • It acknowledged that the Right to Life encompasses the Right to Live with Dignity, which includes the freedom from the constraints of casteism faced by individuals based on their caste affiliation.

Restrictions on the right to change names :

  • Reasonable Restrictions: The Allahabad High Court clarified that the right to change or keep one’s name is not an absolute right and is subject to reasonable restrictions.
  • Article 19(2): The state or its instrumentalities cannot hinder the use of any name or change of name, except as prescribed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Article 19(2) allows for restrictions in the interests of security and sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, or morality.
  • Fair, Just, and Reasonable: Any restrictions imposed by law on fundamental rights, including the right to change names, must be fair, just, and reasonable. This principle was established in the case of K. S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India (2017).
  • Proportionality: The principle of proportionality is crucial in determining the validity of restrictions on rights. It ensures that the encroachment on the right is not disproportionate to the purpose of the law.

-Source: Down To Earth

December 2023