Right to Change One’s Name

Context:  Recently, the High Courts of Allahabad and Delhi said that the right to change one’s name or surname is a part of the right to life under Article 21. Allahabad High Court’s Observations:
  • Right to Change one’s Name: The court stated that prohibition to change one’s name violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), Article 21, and Article 14 of the Constitution.
  • The Importance of Congruence: The court emphasised that name changes made in High School or Intermediate certificates should be simultaneously incorporated in all identity documents issued by various authorities (such as Aadhaar, PAN, ration card, etc.).
  • Reasoning for Congruence: The court argued that maintaining congruence in identity-related documents is essential to avoid confusion in identity and potential misuse.
  • Prevention of Misuse: The court added that it is the responsibility of the state to prevent any potential mischief or misuse that may arise from carrying identification documents with different names.
  • On Article 21: 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 guaranteed under Article 21.
    • The court referred to the Kerala HC ruling in “Kashish Gupta vs. Central Board of Secondary Education” and emphasised that the state cannot obstruct the use of a preferred name unless restricted by Article 19(2) or by just, fair, and reasonable laws.
    • Name is an intrinsic element of identity and is protected under the right to privacy.
Delhi High Court’s Observation:
  • Right to Honourable Identity: The court recognized the petitioners’ right to have an identity that provides them with an honourable and respectable position in society.
  • Addressing Prejudice: If the petitioners faced any disadvantages or social prejudices due to their surname, the court stated they are entitled to a change of their identity to gain respectability in the societal structure.
  • On Article 21: The right to identity is an integral part of the right to life under Article 21.
    • The right to live with dignity includes not being bound by casteism or facing prejudice due to one’s caste.
    • Individuals have the right to change their surname if it helps them overcome social stigmas or disadvantages associated with their caste.
    • Changing one’s surname to avoid identification with a particular caste that may cause prejudice is permissible.
Restrictions on the Right to Change Names:
  • Fair, just, and reasonable restrictions: The right to change names, although a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21, is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law.
    • These restrictions must be fair, just, and reasonable according to the Allahabad High Court.
  • Procedure for Deprivation of Rights: Any procedure that leads to the deprivation of the right to change names must be fair, just, and reasonable.
  • Principle of Proportionality: The principle of proportionality is considered essential in determining the validity of restrictions on the right to change names.
    • It ensures that the encroachment on the right is not disproportionate to the purpose of the law.
  • Value of Human Dignity: The value of human dignity plays a significant role in assessing the proportionality of a statute that limits the right to change names.
    • The dignity of individuals is considered in determining the reasonableness of the restriction, as per the test of reasonableness stated in the Jeeja Ghosh vs. Union of India case.
Article Summary
Article 19(1)(a) Freedom of Speech and Expression: Citizens have the right to express their opinions and ideas freely, with reasonable restrictions to safeguard national interests and public order.
Article 21 Right to Life and Personal Liberty: It declares that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
  • This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.
Article 14 Right to equality: State shall not deny to any person equality before law or equal protection under the law within the territory of India. This provision confers rights on all person whether citizens or foreigners.
 News Source: The Indian Express

Leave a Comment