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Private lives at households are not constitutional vacuums for injustice, says CJI Chandrachud

Despite the general sense of security households offer, there is a fair chance that these spaces may become unequal and unfair to some, says Justice Chandrachud

PTI Bengaluru Published 17.12.23, 04:44 PM
Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud.

Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud. File picture.

Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud on Sunday said though households provide a private sanctuary to the inhabitants, it may not be simply an equitable space.

Dwelling on the topic ‘Constitutional imperativeness of the state, navigating discrimination in public and private spaces’ the Chief Justice underlined that the gain of improving private lives will reflect on public life as well, for ‘these private structures are not constitutional vacuums’.

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Justice Chandrachud was delivering the Justice E S Venkataramaiah Centennial Memorial Lecture organised by the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru here.

According to the CJI, courts in India have in the past privileged the institution of marriage over the individual. The courts inherited the thought that the need to preserve the institutions is greater than the need to protect individual’s rights.

The sensitive sphere of privacy of homes was considered to be an intimate sanctuary, immune from the applications of the core principles of constitutional law, he said.

“In all fairness, this tendency to insulate private lives of individuals is well founded, even if we may disagree. After all, privacy is but an extension of personhood and dignity. It is a right that guarantees against the excessive intrusion of the individual's life by both state and non-state actors against the excesses of the public and private authorities. It accords an effective barrier against surveillance and restrictions on expression,” the Chief Justice noted.

“I asked myself, what is the harm in stopping law at this threshold of the household? The answer lies in the fact that the household as much as it provides a private sanctuary to its inhabitants, is not simply by that reason, an equitable space.” Despite the general sense of security households offer, there is a fair chance that these spaces may become unequal and unfair to some, Justice Chandrachud pointed out.

It is not uncommon to hear that when faced with a financial choice between the education of a male child and a female child, the family will choose in favour of the former.

Noting that there are subtler versions of inequality, the CJI said the pressures a woman faces when stepping out of the household for her education, profession, or recreation do not exist for her male counterparts.

“If the hierarchies persist in a private space and the law looks the other way in the name of the sanctity of the household, or the sanctity of marriage, we will be failing the promise of equal protection of law and qualifying it with a caveat, based on the location of the wrongdoing. This will be a diluted understanding of what privacy entails,” he observed.

It is not a cloak for infringement of the rights away from the watchful eyes of the law, but it is the guarantee against excessive, and not against the very reach of the law and due process, Justice Chandrachud explained.

Averring that hierarchies and prejudices travel beyond the public-private binaries, the CJI said, “The gains of improving our private lives will reflect in our public life as well. As we began to recognise that these private structures are not constitutional vaccums, and injustices in the private spaces are also indeed what they are- unjust, we were able to better assess their role in society.” Speaking on the discrimination women faced at workplace as well, he said efforts must be made to bridge the gender pay gap and address intersectional discrimination faced by Indian women.

He underscored that advocacy should encompass not only gender sensitive policies, but also initiatives that recognise and rectify the unique challenges faced by women.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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