Aishwarya Narayanan from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad writes about the importance of the role that the Judiciary plays in shaping social movements involving rights, gender discrimination and religion.


In modern democratic systems that follow the Montesquieuan notion of separation of powers, Courts have traditionally been considered neutral interpreters of the law and arbiters of disputes. However, with the passage of time, Courts have played an increasingly important role in shaping social movements, particularly when important and complex questions involving rights, gender identity and religion have been involved. The interaction between the society, the judiciary and the legislature has not always been uniform, with each of the three drawing from and influencing the other- the relationship to this extent can be termed reflexive. The ability of Courts to both influence and respond to social movements has been analysed by using three landmark cases: Shah Bano case, the Aruna Shanbaug case and the Naz Foundation case. These three cases illustrate the various ways in which judicial pronouncements affect social movements. Both action and inaction on the part of the judiciary might give rise to social movements, which in turn might provide an impetus for progressive (or, in certain cases, regressive) law-making. However, this interaction is not always a two-way interaction, and is often influenced and shaped by external factors, most prominently the media which plays the role of the intermediary in this triadic relationship.