India Supreme Court acquits woman by upholding her right to reproductive privacy News
© JURIST / Neelabh Bist
India Supreme Court acquits woman by upholding her right to reproductive privacy

The Supreme Court of India overturned the conviction of a woman sentenced to life imprisonment for the alleged murder of her new born child Thursday, holding that a woman could not be compelled to reveal matters relating to her private reproductive choices.

The case concerned an incident occurring in 2004, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. A woman, deserted by her husband, conceived a child by another man. After, the body of a deceased child was recovered, and the woman was convicted. The woman contended that she miscarried. The apex court, while hearing the appeal, examined the evidence and witness statements anew, and concluded that the woman’s conviction was based on mere circumstantial evidence; none of the witnesses could corroborate, beyond a reasonable doubt that the child belonged to the woman.

The court then raised the issue, of whether the woman must reveal the details of her relationship with the deceased child, or her miscarriage,  in her statement to the trial court, particularly when the prosecution had failed to establish any such relation. In answering this question in the negative, the court held that the right to privacy is an inviolable right and that the court must intervene when “structures of injustice and persecution deeply entrenched in patriarchy are destructive of constitutional freedom”. They referred to the court’s 2017 landmark judgement that established the right to privacy as a fundamental right inherent in the right to life, where it was noted that “family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation are integral to the dignity of the individual.” The court, in the present case, reaffirmed a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and to make reproductive choices.

In noting that criminal law could not be used to enforce notions of social morality, it observed that the Trial Court and the High Court had gravely erred in convicting the woman largely on the basis of the fact that she lived alone, had been deserted by her husband and was pregnant.