In a significant observation, Delhi High Court noted that it is permissible for an individual to change his or her surname to be not able to be identified with any particular caste that may be a cause of prejudice to such person.
While noting that the right to identity is an intrinsic part of the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the bench made it clear that this change will not lead to any advantage of any reservation or any other benefit that may be available to the adopted surname or caste.
Justice Mini Pushkarna observed, “The Right to Identity is an intrinsic part of Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. There is no denying the fact that Right to Life includes within its ambit, the Right to Live with Dignity, which includes not to be tied down by any casteism that a person may face on account of the caste to which such person belongs. Thus, if a person wants to change his or her surname, so as not to be identified with any particular caste that may be a cause of prejudice to such person in any manner, the same is permissible.”
The High Court bench was hearing a plea filed by two brothers against the letter issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education dated June 1, 2017. In the letter, CBSE had refused to change the surname of their father in their 10th and 12th board certificates.
Their father decided to change his surname due to continuous episodes of caste atrocities and published a note in the newspaper for the same purpose to be used in all future documents. The court was informed that his surname has been changed by way of publication in the Gazette of India.
On the contrary, the counsel appearing CBSE stated that the change in surname would entail a change in their caste which can be misused. The counsel added that the petitioners are seeking change in their father’s surname which is beyond the school records and impermissible.
Calling the denial by CBSE ‘unjustified’, the bench stated, “It is to be noted that the petitioners have every right to have an identity which gives them an honourable and respectable identity in the society. If the petitioners have suffered any disadvantage on account of their surname and have faced social prejudices due to the same, they are certainly entitled to change of their identity that gives respectability to the petitioners in the societal structure.”
While noting that the surname has already been changed by way of Gazette notification, there is no justification in refusing to change the surname in board certificates.
The bench quashed the impugned letter and directed CBSE to initiate the required changes.