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On July 18, 2022, the Allahabad High Court (“the Court”) of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, held that the right to change one’s name is a facet of the fundamental right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. In the present case, Rajni Shrivastava wanted to change her name to Rashmi Srivastava. With this intention, she published the same in the newspapers Dainik Jagran and Hindustan Times as well as in the Gazette of India. Subsequently, the petitioner also successfully moved appropriate applications to the Aadhar authorities and the Ministry of Finance for changing her name in the Aadhar Card and the Permanent Account Number (PAN) Card. However, her name change application was rejected by her old school authorities and the University administration. The Court overturned the educational authorities’ decisions because, in its view, denying the petitioner’s request to alter her name manifestly infringed her rights as granted by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
Rajni Shrivastava (“the petitioner”) wanted to change her name to Rashmi Srivastava. With this intention, she published the same in the newspapers Dainik Jagran and Hindustan Times as well as in the Gazette of India [para. 1].
Her name had previously been recorded as Rajni Shrivastava in her High School Examination (2009), in her intermediate examination (2011), and in her graduate studies as well. Therefore, the petitioner moved an application for changing her name in the school records [para. 1]. She was registered with the Council for the Nursing and Midwives, Uttar Pradesh and was also issued a certificate and identity card with the name of Rajni Srivastava [para. 2].
The petitioner also moved an appropriate application to the Aadhar authorities with the intention of changing her name from Rajni Shrivastava to Rashmi Srivastava. In accordance with the said application, her name was changed from Rajni Shrivastava to Rashmi Srivastava in the Aadhar Card. Subsequent to her moving an application, her name was also changed in the Permanent Account Number (PAN) Card issued by the Ministry of Finance.
The petitioner filed Writ Petition No. 2219 of 2019 before the Court due to a discrepancy between her name as recorded on the High School Certificate, the Intermediate Certificate, and the Graduation Certificate as opposed to the Aadhar Card, PAN Card, and the Bank Account (MS). The aforesaid writ petition was dismissed on January 25, 2019, allowing the petitioner to file a suitable application and giving the respondents instructions to issue a reasoned decision in the application [para. 2].
Vide a ruling dated April 11, 2019, the petitioner’s application was rejected by the school authorities primarily due to the fact that the request surpassed the limitation period allowed under the Intermediate Education Act of 1921, Chapter III, Regulation 7. The petitioner’s similar representation before the University administration and other authorities was also rejected on the grounds that no further action could be taken unless the correction requested by the petitioner was made in the High School records.
When the petitioner approached this Court by filing the current petition, the Court issued an interim order dated July 30, 2021, instructing the authorities to reevaluate the petitioner’s complaint in light of its decisions in the cases of Kabir Jaiswal v Union of India and others and Anand Singh v Uttar Pradesh Board of Secondary Education and others. On the basis of this ruling, the petitioner recontacted the respondent authorities, and on March 22, 2022, a subsequent order rejected the request once more. Thus, an amendment application was filed by the petitioner seeking to challenge the subsequent order dated 22.03.2022 [para. 3].
Justice Pankaj Bhatia of the Allahabad High Court presided over this case. The main issue for consideration before the court was whether the right to change the name was a fundamental right as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution states that “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”.
The petitioner contended that the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) must determine whether any legitimate justification had been provided for changing the name, and it was up to the Board to take into account any pertinent information related to the request for a name change [para. 4]. The petitioner placed reliance on Jigya Yadav (Minor) v CBSE, which states that “as regards the request for “change” of particulars in the certificate issued by the CBSE, it presupposes that the particulars intended to be recorded in the CBSE certificate are not consistent with the school records. Such a request could be made in two different situations. The first is on the basis of public documents like Birth Certificate, Aadhaar Card/Election Card, etc. and to incorporate change in the CBSE certificate consistent therewith. The second possibility is when the request for change is due to the acquired name by choice at a later point of time. That change need not be backed by public documents pertaining to the candidate……where the change is to be effected on the basis of new acquired name without any supporting school record or public document, that request may be entertained upon insisting for prior permission/declaration by a Court of law in that regard and publication in the Official Gazette including surrender/return of original certificate issued by CBSE and upon payment of prescribed fees. The fresh certificate as in other situations referred to above, retain the original entry (except in respect of change of name effected in exercise of right to be forgotten) and to insert caption/annotation indicating the date on which it has been recorded and other details including disclaimer of CBSE” [para. 6].
After hearing the arguments from both sides, the judge ruled that the “right to change the name is a facet of the fundamental right as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and cannot be denied” [para. 6]. The judge overturned the educational authorities’ decisions because, in his view, the denial of the petitioner’s request to alter her name manifestly infringed her rights as granted by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. The Court instructed the petitioner to file a new application before the educational authorities, together with a copy of this judgement, the documents (including the Aadhar Card and the PAN Card), the original certificate, and the marksheet. The educational authorities were instructed to implement the requested change of name in the certificate and marksheet upon receipt of such an application and to complete the whole exercise within six weeks from the date of filing of the application [para. 7].
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
By stating that the right to change the name is a facet of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, the Allahabad High Court has expanded upon the freedom of expression. The Court placed reliance on Jigya Yadav (Minor) v CBSE where Justice A.M. Khanwilkar of the Supreme Court of India had stated that “a juvenile accused of being in conflict with the law or a victim of sexual abuse whose identity gets compromised due to lapses by media or the investigative body, despite there being complete legal protection for the same, may consider changing the name to seek rehabilitation in the society in exercise of her right to be forgotten. If the Board, in such a case, refuses to change the name, the student would be compelled to live with the scars of the past. We are compelled to wonder how it would not be a grave and sustained violation of the fundamental rights of the student.”
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