Controversies have a power of shaping the outcome of an incident, altering the course of an event, and sometimes even setting right what could otherwise have gone wrong; while on the other side of the coin, it also sometimes ruins the true essence of the subject matter. India has had a series of controversial Court cases that led to the amendment of laws or shaped new legislations altogether. Here we analyze a list of top 5 controversial Court cases that altered the Indian legal system in some way.
- The Shah Bano Begum Case (Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum)
The case played a major role in shaping the law on maintenance to wife, as it upheld the provision under CrPC as non-violative of the Islamic personal law on maintenance, and directed the husband to pay maintenance to his first wife who he had divorced by way of Talaq a few years after taking a second wife of younger age. It led to severe protests from the Islamic religious factions, and in turn the Government passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 nullifying the effect of the judgment and lay down that the maintenance only needed to be paid upto 90 days after divorce or during the iddat period. However, the Supreme Court again in cases of Daniel Latifi and Shahima Farooqi, upheld the earlier decision of the Court to ensure adequate protection and equal rights to Muslim women after divorce.
- The Nanavati Case (K.M. Nanavati v State of Maharashtra)
That is one name Bollywood popularized among the masses by the movie starring Akshay Kumar and Ileana DCruze, but their real story is no less than a movie tale. The change brought by the case in the Indian system was that it was the last case where jury trial was held in India. The plot is no less than a crime-romance drama that unfolded in 1959 where Mr. Nanavati who was a Naval Commandant shot dead a business tycoon Mr.Prem Ahuja who was in an illicit relationship with his English wife Sylvia. There was major public support for Mr. Nanavati as he was an honorable man of values, and was intimidated by the ‘playboyish’ attitude of the businessman who indeed had no interest in marrying Sylvia even if she sought divorce from Nanavati. In a series of twists and turns, Nanavati was acquitted by the Jury, then re-tried and convicted by the HC, and eventually pardoned by the Governor and released from prison after 3 years.
- Mathura rape Case (Tukaram and Anr v State of Maharashtra)
The rape case that rocked India from its roots, both in terms of public conscience and in terms of law. In 1972, the 14-16 year old girl Mathura who had to visit the Police Station in her small village to give a statement about a complaint of abduction that had been filed by her brother (but she was not abducted; she was only in love with a village boy and was with his family by free will) was raped by two policemen inside the Police Station. The case created much public uproar and social chaos as several women rights activists took to streets to seek justice for her after the accused were acquitted by the Court for lack of incriminating evidence. Though the offenders were not punished, the case created a tremor in the system that spoke volumes for women who were victimized. Under the present system, a woman should not be arrested after sunset and before sunrise unless there is permission from the Judicial Magistrate and at least one woman Police Officer is present at the time.
- Vishakha Case (Vishakha and Ors v State of Rajasthan)
The case was a landmark decision in terms of setting stringent rules to tackle sexual harassment at workplace. The decision came in a Petition filed by Vishakha and some other activists against the Govt of Rajasthan and the Union of India, after which the Vishakha Guidelines were adopted to protect women from sexual assault and harassment at their workplace. It came after public outrage broke out upon the acquittal of a few upper class men who had been alleged of raping a poor lower caste woman who spoke up against child marriage in the village.
- Kesavananda Bharati case (Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala)
After a series of cases in which the Legislature and Court seemed to be at a war in respect to the former’s power to amend the Constitution, this case finally set an end to the tug of war and upheld the Fundamental Rights as supreme “Basic Structure” of the Constitution. Though the case was in respect of the acquisition of the Petitioner’s land by the Govt., the judgment had an impact that went farther into limiting the power of the Govt to alter the provisions of the Constitution. In addition, the strength of the Bench (13) made sure that the verdict would be a strong precedent.