“What’s in a name?“, said Juliet. It conveys, natural characteristics of an individual are more important than his/her artificial/acquired characteristics. A poetic statement as it certainly is, it does not go in tune with significance of a ‘name’ in marking identity of an individual in his/her societal transactions.
An individual must be in complete control of her ‘name’ and law must enable her to retain as well as to exercise such control freely ‘for all times’. Such control would inevitably include aspiration of an individual to be recognized by a different ‘name’ for a just cause. In light of Navtej Singh Johar, (2018) 10 SCC 1 this freedom would include freedom to lawfully express one’s identity in the manner of their liking. In other words, expression of identity is a protected element of freedom of expression.
Precise scope of the right and extent of restrictions could only be determined upon deeper examination. Any change in identity of an individual has to go through multiple steps and it cannot be regarded as complete without proper fulfilment of those steps. An individual may self-identify oneself with any title or epithet at any point of time. But, change of identity would not be regarded as formally or legally complete until and unless State and its agencies take note thereof in their records. After all, in social sphere, an individual is not only recognized by how an individual identifies oneself but also by how his/her official records identify him/her. For, in every public transaction of an individual, official records introduce the person by his/her ‘name’ and other relevant particulars.
The essential question is whether the aforesaid right to alter a ‘name’ would mean, State and its agencies are unconditionally bound to reckon the changed identity of the individual and give recognition to the same by altering its records, whenever such request is made by him/her. Going by very nature of rights under Article 19, right to get a changed ‘name’ recorded in official (public) records cannot be an absolute right and, as a matter of public policy and larger public interest, calls for certain reasonable restrictions to observe consistency and obviate confusion and deceptive attempts.
Parliament is also alive to social realities having a bearing on identity documents. There are various statutory enactments wherein detailed provisions are made for change of identity [Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016; Passports Act, 1967 r/w Passport Rules, 1980]. Therefore, as regards information contained in a CBSE certificate, Board must afford opportunity to students to modify it subject to complying with requisite formalities which are reasonable in nature. If all other State agencies could allow it for consistency and accuracy, alongside being enablers in free exercise of rights by citizens, there is no reason for CBSE to not uphold right of students. We must, however, note, justiciability of requested changes can of course be gone into.
CBSE shall take immediate steps to incorporate a mechanism for recording a ‘correction’ or ‘change’, as the case may be, in certificates already issued or to be issued by it. CBSE cannot impose the precondition of applying for a ‘correction’, consistent with school records, only before ‘publication of results’. Such a condition would be unreasonable and excessive. It will be open to CBSE to provide for reasonable limitation period within which application for recording ‘correction’ in certificate issued by it may be entertained by it.
– Hon’ble Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Jigya Yadav (Minor) v. Central Board of Secondary Education, [Civil Appeal No. 3905 of 2011].