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Global Freedom of Expression

Sameer Rao v. State of Uttar Pradesh

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Non-verbal Expression, Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    May 25, 2023
  • Outcome
    Decision - Procedural Outcome, Motion Granted
  • Case Number
    W.C. No. 3671 of 2022
  • Region & Country
    India, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The High Court of Allahabad held that the right to change name is a fundamental right under Article 19 (freedom of expression) and Article 12 (right to protect personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution. The case concerned Sameer Rao, who sought to change his name from ‘Shahnawaz’ to ‘Md Sameer Rao,’ after having his name recorded differently in his High School and Intermediate certificates. Sameer’s application was rejected by the authorities, citing regulations under the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Education Act, 1921. The High Court set aside the rejection order and held that the fundamental right to a name is an integral aspect of personal liberty and freedom of expression under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution. The High Court emphasized the global recognition of the importance of names, citing international and domestic precedents, and applied the proportionality principle to the restrictions imposed by regulations. The Court read down the applicable Regulation, allowing Sameer to change his name, and stressed that the intimacy of human life and a person’s name is undeniable. The right to keep a name of choice or change the name according to personal preference comes within the sweep of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. 


Facts

Sameer Rao (the petitioner) has his name recorded as “Shahnawaz” in his Board of High School Examination certificate and the Intermediate Examination certificate issued by the Madhyamik Shiksha Parishad in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Later, he publicly disclosed his name change through a Gazette notification and in a local newspaper, officially adopting the name “Md. Sameer Rao”. Subsequently, in 2020, the petitioner applied to the respondent Board to formally change his name from “Shahnawaz” to “Md. Sameer Rao.” However, the Board rejected this application through the impugned order [p. 4-7].

The petitioner raised several arguments. Firstly, the petitioner contended that the rejection of his name change application by the respondent authorities was arbitrary and in conflict with the relevant statutory provisions. Secondly, he asserted that the right to retain one’s name was connected to fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Thirdly, he argued that the applicable regulations must be interpreted in alignment with the constitutional court’s precedents, ensuring the protection of his fundamental rights, and that Regulation 40 was liable to be read dow. Lastly, he contended that the authority committed a legal error by rejecting his application based on a limitation clause found in Regulation 7, under the Intermediate Education Act, 1921, and did not apply to applications for changing one’s name [p. 9].

The respondent State submitted that the right to change one’s name was not absolute and subject to legal restrictions. He maintained that the rejection of the name change application was appropriate as it was barred by limitation period. Secondly, he argued that citing the wrong provision did not invalidate the impugned order, as the authority’s power was derived from Regulation 40 of the U.P. Intermediate Education Act, 1921. Thirdly, he asserted that the proposed name fell within a prohibited category due to its indication of the applicant’s religion. Lastly, he maintained that Regulation 40 should not be subject to reinterpretation and represents reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights.


Decision Overview

Justice Ajay Bhanot of the High Court of Allahabad delivered this judgment. The primary issue for consideration was whether the Petitioner could change his name in the official documents.

The Petitioner contended that the rejection of his name change application by the Respondent is arbitrary and contrary provision to the statutory provisions. The Petitioner contended that the right to retain one name is associated with freedom of expression under Article 19 and the right to protect personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Petitioner contended that Regulation 40 of the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Education Act, 1921 should be read down in lieu of Constitutional protections. Lastly, the Petitioner contended that the authority had committed a legal error by rejecting his application based on a limitation clause found in Regulation 7, under the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Education Act (1921), and that it did not apply to applications for changing one’s name [para. 9]

On the other hand, the State contended that the right to change one’s name is not an absolute right and is subject to restrictions. It was further contended that considering the limitation period, the rejection of the application was appropriate, as the same was barred by the limitation period. The State further contended that the Petitioner’s application for a change of name is in the teeth of the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Education Act (1921) because the proposed name falls in the prohibited category since it discloses the religion of the Petitioner. Lastly, the State maintained that Regulation 40 should not be subject to reinterpretation and represented reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights. [para. 10]

The High Court began the ruling by analyzing whether there is a fundamental right to name in the ancient literature and the jurisprudence of the Indian court and international court on the fundamental right to name. 

The High Court referred to a quote from Rigveda ‘प्रारंभिक दशा में पदार्थों का नामें रखे गए हैं। यही ज्ञान का पहला चरण है।’ (Translation: In the initial phase, substances are given name. This is the first step of knowledge.) The Court emphasized the historical and cultural importance of names. It noted that names have been crucial in ancient civilizations and are deeply ingrained in human societies. The Court referred to Yuval Noah Harari’s Book “Sapiens” to emphasize that the first recorded evidence of human thought and transactions discovered in the remnants of the ancient Mesopotamian civilization contain references to the name of a person. [paras. 11-12]

The High Court referred to Torah’s Shemot, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Maithili Saran Gupt’s literature. The Court emphasized the profound significance of names in human life, celebrated in various forms of literature and cultural contexts. It noted that names are regarded as essential components of identity, influencing social interactions and commercial transactions, transcending temporal and geographical boundaries. The invention of names played a crucial role in human societal development, enhancing adaptability and survival skills. It noted that naming traditions stem from cultural, historical, religious, and joyous aspects, symbolizing the cherished arrival of a new life. The High Court pointed out the inextricable connection between an individual’s name and their life, emphasizing the importance of this connection in constitutional law discussions. [para. 13-18]

The High Court referred to Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. The court cited the Sumpurnanand vs. State of U.P., (2018), where it was observed that the interpretation of Article 21 had evolved significantly. The court stressed that life, as per constitutional understanding, encompasses all elements that make life meaningful and worth living, moving beyond mere survival. [para. 20]

The Court referred to the case of Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corpn, (1985), which expanded the concept of the right to life. This case emphasized that life is not just about physical existence but includes various facets and faculties by which life is enjoyed. This broadened interpretation reinforced the idea that a person’s name is an integral part of their identity and contributes to the enjoyment of life. [para. 21-22] The High Court further referenced the Kashish Gupta Vs. Central Board of Secondary Education, (2020) and Rashmi Srivastava Vs. State of U.P., (2022), wherein the Different High Court held that the right to a name is a part of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and the right to liberty under Article 21. [para. 24 and 27] The High Court highlighted that a person’s name is how they express themselves to the world and move around in society. Restricting an individual’s preferred name was seen as a violation of their fundamental rights. [para. 24-25]

The High Court referred to the Supreme Court case of Jigya Yadav v. CBSE, (2021), where it was stated that the name is an intrinsic element of identity. Individuals have the right to control and change their names, especially for just causes. It noted that the control over one’s name was seen as an essential aspect of freedom of expression and identity, protected under the Constitution. The High Court also referred to international cases such as Coeriel and Aurik v. The Netherlands, (1994) and Raihman v. Latvia (1990), where global human rights committees recognized the significance of a person’s name as part of their identity. The High Court noted that the refusal by authorities to recognize a change of name was considered an interference with the right to privacy and individual identity, which is protected under international human rights standards inter alia including Article 24(2) of the ICCPR; Article 8 of the CRC; Article 18(2) of the CRPD; Article 18 of the ACHR, and Article 6(1) of the ACRWC. The High Court emphasized that there is a consensus among various jurisdictions and international authorities regarding the universal importance of names. It held that the right to a name is regarded as a fundamental human right, protected and respected globally. [para. 28-32]

The High Court further analyzed the restrictions on the fundamental right to a name. The HC held that the fundamental right to keep or change a name is vested in every citizen by virtue of Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution of India, however, the same is not an absolute right and is subject to various reasonable restrictions as may be prescribed by law. The High Court referred to K. S. Puttaswamy Vs. Union of India, (2017) wherein the Supreme Court propounded the proportionality principle and held that the limitations or restrictions imposed by law on fundamental rights have to be fair, just, and reasonable. [para. 34-35]

The High Court emphasized the tests of reasonableness applied to restrictions on fundamental rights, drawing from significant legal precedents. The High Court referred to the case of Jeeja Ghosh Vs. Union of India, (2016), where the constitutional value of human dignity is highlighted. It noted that human dignity is described as a central normative factor that unites human rights, serving as the basis for constitutional rights, an interpretative principle for understanding constitutional rights, and a key element in determining the proportionality of statutes limiting constitutional rights. The High Court noted that it established the pivotal role of human dignity in constitutional law. [para. 36]

Moreover, the High Court referred to the case of Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited vs. Union of India, (2022)  case to clarify the limitations on fundamental rights in a constitutional democracy. It noted that while the rights are not absolute, any limitation imposed must be justified on the grounds of reasonableness. The Court explored various standards used to assess reasonableness, such as rationality, Wednesbury unreasonableness, proportionality, and strict scrutiny. The High Court emphasized the proportionality standards, involving an evaluation of the importance of the objective pursued by the measures limiting a constitutional right and the reasonableness and justifiability of the means chosen. [para. 37]

Applying these principles to the facts of the present case, the High Court analyzed Regulation 7 of Chapter III of the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Education Act, 1921, which pertains to the correction of clerical errors in the name or the other particulars of a candidate entered in the High School or Intermediate certificates issued by the Board. The High Court held that the said Regulation is not applicable in cases of change of name. The High Court held that the provision which deals with name-changing is Regulation 40. [paras. 38-40]  While observing that the provisions had to be interpreted in a permissive manner to realize the fundamental rights of the petitioner, the High Court noted that Regulation 40 stated that an application for a change of name had to be filed within three years from 31st of March of the year when the candidate appeared in the examination. The High Court observed that although in the instant case, the application was made 7 years and 5 months after the petitioner sat for the High School and Intermediate examinations respectively, the delay was liable to be condoned [paras. 40-44] 

 

The High Court held that since the application is considered to be within the limitation period, the rejection of the application for change of name on the ground of delay was arbitrary and transgressed the fundamental rights of the petitioner vested by virtue of Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. [para. 45]

On the question of whether the application falls within the restrictions on name changes as specified in Regulation 40 of the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Education Act, 1921, the High Court referred to sub-sections of Regulation 40 i.e., 40(ख) and 40(ग), which outline the conditions for accepting or declining name change applications. The High Court noted that Regulation 40(ख) allows name changes only under specific circumstances, such as if the name is derogatory or offensive. Thus, the High Court held that the same should be interpreted through the construction canon of “ejusdem generis,” i.e., interpreting the provision to include names that lower or enhance a person’s self-esteem. The High Court held that names affecting self-worth can be dropped or adopted, respectively. [paras. 46-49]

The High Court further analyzed Regulation 40(ग) and held that the said provision prohibits name changes related to religion, caste, honorifics, or marriage. The Court highlighted that the law did not restrict the names given at birth or during the christening, so changing one’s name later in life should not be prohibited. The High Court observed that at times a change of name pursuant to a change of caste or religion is part of rituals, thus the restrictions are disproportionate, arbitrary, and infringe on fundamental rights. The High Court referred to Subramanian Swamy v. Raju, (2014) and applied the doctrine of “reading down,” stating that if a statute’s unconstitutionality can be remedied by implying an unintended legislative omission, the Court can save it from being unconstitutional. Consequently, the High Court read down the Regulation 40(ग). [paras. 50-56]

The High Court concluded that the rejection of the Petitioner’s application arbitrarily violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), Article 21, and Article 14 of the Constitution of India and is in the teeth of relevant regulations under the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Education Act, 1921. Thus, the High Court set aside the Impugned Order. The High Court allowed the Petitioner to change his name from “Shahnawaz” to “Md Sameer Rao.” The High Court emphasized the importance of congruency in identity-related documents for public interest and national security, highlighting the need for coordination between state and central government authorities to ensure consistency and eliminate anomalies. [paras. 57-66]


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The ruling positively impacts freedom of expression as it reaffirms the fundamental importance of a person’s name as part of their identity and extends the right to change one’s name under the ambit of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It underscores the broader principle that individuals have the right to express their identity and beliefs, even through a name change, without arbitrary restrictions. The court’s decision also addresses potential violations of freedom of religion and equality, ensuring that regulations governing name changes respect these fundamental rights. In doing so, the case sets a precedent for safeguarding individuals’ freedom of expression and identity in the context of their names.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • UNHR Comm., Coeriel v. Netherlands, Comm. No. 453/1991 (Jan. 14,1982)
  • UNHR Comm, Raihman v. Latvia, Comm No 1621/2007
  • ICCPR
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 8
  • OAS, American Convention on Human Rights

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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