SC’s Top Cases 2021: Non-Discrimination

The Supreme Court used principles of intersectionality, indirect discrimination and reasonable accommodation in their decisions in 2021.

In 2021, The Supreme Court incorporated the principles of reasonable accommodation, indirect discrimination and intersectionality into its jurisprudence on discrimination.

On February 11th 2021 the Court delivered its judgment in Vikash Kumar v UPSC. In this case, an individual with a writer’s cramp was denied a scribe for writing the UPSC exam because he did not fall under the definition of a person with a ‘benchmark disability’ under the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016. It was held that limiting access to a scribe would violate the framework of the law and such services should be provided regardless of whether the person has a benchmark disability or not. 

The Court highlighted that the State has an obligation to provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ and additional support to persons with disabilities.

On March 25th, in Lt. Col. Nitisha v Union of India, the Court held that the policies granting permanent commission for women in the army amounted to indirect and systemic discrimination. While the medical fitness criteria for permanent commission was the same for men and women, the test for many women was conducted later in their careers in comparison to male officers, as female officers only became eligible for such positions in 2020. The Court laid down five principles for the application of indirect discrimination in Indian law and held that any delay in conducting the medical fitness tests cannot disadvantage women when deciding whether to grant them permanent commissions.

The SC’s expansion of their understanding of discrimination continued in Patan Jamal Vali v State of Andhra Pradesh (2021). Here, a man from a dominant caste was accused of sexually assaulting a blind woman who was a member of a Scheduled Caste. The Court held that the provisions for rape under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) allowed principles of intersectionality to be applied when deciding the sentence. The Court proceeded to convict the accused under the IPC and sentenced him to life imprisonment.