The Case of Kaushal Kishore Vs State of UP

July 10, 2024

The Indian Supreme Court (“Court”) ruled in this case that a public official’s right to free expression may not be curtailed in order to protect the basic rights of another person. The Court further declared that even in the face of non-state actors, the State has an obligation to defend people’s rights to life and personal liberty.

Kaushal Kishore Case Facts

The Court combined two suits involving disparaging remarks made in two unrelated incidents by State Ministers from Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. The case dealt with problems pertaining to the tension between the petitioners’ right to dignity and the ministers’ freedom of speech.

  • A minister in the Uttar Pradesh (“UP”) government made disparaging remarks about two sex assault victims. He said that a “political controversy” against the administration stemmed from the sexual assault of a woman and her small child.
  • In the second case, a Kerala government minister made remarks that were deemed to be “highly derogatory to women.” Both petitions claimed that governmental employees had violated their constitutionally guaranteed right to dignity (Article 21).
  • The Supreme Court’s three-judge panel heard both of the petitions. Both of the petitions addressed comparable topics and involved important legal concerns about how to read the Constitution. As a result, the case was assigned to the Court’s five-judge panel.

Kaushal Kishore Case Issues

  • Whether restrictions on the right to free speech under article 19 1 a are appropriate in order to uphold the right to an individual’s dignity as guaranteed by Article 21 or not?
  • Whether the State is required by article 21 to actively defend an individual’s rights from non-state actors or not?

kaushal kishore vs state of up judgment

  • In this particular case, the Court ruled 4:1 that a person’s freedom of speech and expression may not be curtailed for infringing upon the dignity of another person.
  • The Court rendered two opinions: a majority ruling and a partially concurring and partially dissenting opinion by justice bv nagarathna.
  • According to the Court’s majority ruling, when two or more basic rights clash, the court must decide how to prioritize one over the other or find a middle ground.
  • The Court reasoned that Article 19(2) of the Constitution enumerated the justifications for limiting the freedom of speech and expression. They maintained that no new reasons could be added to the list in order to impose additional limits because this was a comprehensive list.
  • As a result, they maintained that restricting a public official’s freedom of speech would violate that person’s right to personal dignity.
  • The problem of the basic rights’ horizontal application against both state and non-state actors was also taken into consideration by the majority ruling.
  • The Court clarified that throughout the years, the meaning of the terms “right to life” and “personal liberty” in accordance with Article 21 has expanded to encompass the rights to privacy, dignity of life, and the right to be forgotten.
  • Non-state actors can now influence fundamental rights since science and technology are permeating every aspect of life. The Court determined that the State has an affirmative obligation to defend people’ lives and liberties against private parties.
  • In a partially dissenting opinion, justice bv nagarathna stated that one fundamental and fundamental aspect of the rights protected by article 21 of the Constitution is dignity. Consequently, the Constitution’s article 19 1 a cannot be used as justification for restricting the rights guaranteed according to article 21.
  • She ruled that the statement in question could not be protected under article 19 1 a since it was insulting, degrading, and resembled hate speech.
  • According to her, the facts of this case dealt with an abuse of free expression that was used to assault a person’s basic rights rather than the need to balance two fundamental rights.

The Court decided that this was a complete list and that these grounds could not be used as justification for any additional restrictions. The horizontal application of rights to both state and non-state entities was another issue this decision addressed. According to the Court, the concept of the “right to life” has expanded over the years to encompass the rights to privacy, human dignity, and the right to be forgotten. Given the numerous important roles that non-state actors play in all facets of society, the State has an affirmative obligation to protect citizens from these entities when their right to life is violated.

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