I learnt a lot writing this answer.
Some hours of research gone into it.
In my opinion, interesting cases are those that have far-reaching effects on life and laws.
A brief description of quite a few interesting cases I found -
State of Maharashtra, 1959:
A high-profile upper class crime of passion, where Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, a Naval Commander, was tried for the murder of Prem Ahuja, his wife’s lover.
The incident received unprecedented media coverage and Nanavati was at the receiving end of a huge amount of public and community support.
Nanavati was initially declared not guilty 8-1 by a jury, but the verdict was dismissed by the Bombay High Court on referral and the case was retried as a bench trial.
Nanavati was convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to life imprisonment This case was the last to be heard as a jury trial in India, as the government abolished jury trials as a result of the case.
Many see this as a progressive step in our justice system as decisions of juries are often coloured by societal values and norms.
On a side note, Ram Jethmalani, now a prominent lawyer and BJP politician, conducted the prosecution in what was one of his first high-profile cases.
For more details: read the Mid-Day article: History repeats itself
“The accused commander” – Blitz, October 24, 1959
Kesavananda Bharati v.
State of Kerala, 1973:
On April 24, 1973, Chief Justice Sikri and 12 judges of the Supreme Court assembled to deliver the most important judgment in its history.
The hard work and scholarship that had gone into the preparation of this case was breathtaking.
Literally hundreds of cases had been cited and the then Attorney-General had made a comparative chart analysing the provisions of the Constitutions of 71 different countries.
All this effort was to answer just one main question: was the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution unlimited? In other words, could Parliament alter, amend, abrogate any part of the Constitution even to the extent of taking away all fundamental rights? The judgment revealed a sharply divided court and, by a wafer-thin majority of 7-6, it was held that Parliament could amend any part of the Constitution so long as it did not alter or amend “the basic structure or essential features of the Constitution.” This was the inherent and implied limitation on the amending power of Parliament.
This basic structure doctrine, as future events showed (Indira Gandhi attempting to hijack Indian democracy), saved Indian democracy and Kesavananda Bharati will always occupy a hallowed place in our constitutional history.
For further details, read The Hindu: The case that saved Indian democracy
State of Uttar Pradesh v.
Raj Narain, 1975:
Ruling on the case that had been filed by the defeated opposition candidate Raj Narain, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha declared then-PM Indira Gandhi guilty of electoral malpractices, invalidated her win from Rae Bareilly and barred her from holding elected office for six years The decision caused a political crisis in India that led to the imposition of a state of emergency by Indira’s government from 1975 to 1977.
The decision had galvanized opposition parties and strikes by labour and trade unions, student unions and government unions swept across the country.
Protests led by Jayaprakash Narayan and Morarji Desai flooded the streets of Delhi close to the Parliament building and the Prime Minister’s residence.The government argued that the political disorder was a threat to national security.
Using the sweeping powers granted by the Emergency decree, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested, press censorship was introduced and elections were postponed.
During this period, Indira Gandhi’s Congress (R) used its parliamentary majority to amend the Indian Constitution and overwrite the law that she had been found guilty of violating.
The Shah Bano Case, 1985:
Shah Bano, a 62 year old woman from Indore, was divorced by her husband in 1978.
Unable to support herself and her five children, she moved the courts to be granted maintenance from her ex-husband.
Seven years and several judgments later, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of granting Shah Bano alimony.
Largely seen as a threat to Sharia law by some Muslims, what followed a debate over the constitutionality of including different marriage and personal laws for different religion, and resulted in the passing of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, by the government.
The case was significant for several reasons.
In giving its judgment, the Court ordered maintenance with an upper limit of Rs. 500 monthly, under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which applies to all citizens regardless of caste or religion.
Although seen by many as a secular judgment, it invoked a strong reaction from the Muslim community, which felt that the judgment was an encroachment on Muslim Sharia law.
The backlash from the Muslim community prompted the government to begin parliamentary procedures that, in essence, overturned the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Muslim Women Act, 1986, was passed amidst great controversy and debate.
Many argued that it was a way to appease the minority group that was threatening agitation.
Shah Bano’s case brought the need for a secular Uniform Civil Code into the limelight again.
To date, however, individual Personal Laws based on religion are still in effect.
The case remains a ground-breaking one in Indian divorce law and is often used as a benchmark by the courts.
Himmat Lal Shah v.commissioner of Police, 1973:
This case was recently referenced in the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement when Section 144 of the IPC (unlawful assembly) was imposed by the Delhi Police and the lawyer team of Shanti and Prashant Bhushan argued successfully in the Supreme Court over the unconstitutional nature of this action.
The original case dealt with a common citizen’s right to hold public meetings on streets and the extent to which the state could regulate this right.
Freedom of expression and assembly is an essential element of democratic system.
At the root of this system lies the citizens’ right to meet face to face to discuss problems social, religious or political.
This right was upheld in this case.
30 landmark judgements in India : Cover Story
Wikipedia: KM Nanavati v State of Maharashtra
Mid-Day: History repeats itself
The Hindu: The case that saved Indian democracy
Media In Constitutional Framework: Page on Nalsarpro
Indian Emergency of 1975-1977
Wikipedia: Shah Bano case
The Shah Bano Case: A Landmark Case in Indian Family Law | Youth Ki Awaaz
1985: The Shah Bano case became a political tool for the then government : Cover Story
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