This 19-year-old is in love with a 20-year-old man, but their relationship has become a bone of contention between the woman, and her mother and brother because the 20-year-old is a class 10 dropout who makes a living as a carpenter in Mohali.
In May, the teenager moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking protection from her family. Disposing her petition, the HC directed the Mohali police chief to ascertain the truth and take appropriate action. The police determined that the couple, who lives together at the man’s residence, was under threat and asked them to contact their local SHO at the first sign of trouble. The couple is waiting for the man to turn 21 so that they can get married.
This young couple from Mohali is among hundreds of others from Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh who have moved the HC seeking “protection” from their families over objection to their relationship. Nearly 1,000 “protection” petitions are listed each month for hearing before the Punjab and Haryana HC. Most pleas are filed by couples aged between 18-40 years, both married and unmarried, and with and without children, who want to live together or marry a partner of their choice, but live in constant fear and in hiding.
An assessment of the HC Vacation Bench’s cause list in June 2022 revealed that of 4,500 cases filed, nearly 840 were “protection” petitions. In June this year, of 4,100 cases before the Vacation Bench, 766 were protection petitions. The HC goes on vacation for four weeks in June and hearings are conducted by the Vacation Bench.
Advocate Vishal Mittal, who has been assisting runaway couples seeking protection from the HC, said, “Over the past two years, most couples approaching the HC are from rural areas. The women are usually aged between 18-25 years and the men 20-25 years. Nearly 40 cases are filed by these runaway couples on average each day.”
“Besides these youngsters, protection petitions are also filed by couples who are married to others but are in a relationship with each other. Since they want to live together, they move the HC after the police authorities concerned fail to provide them any protection, which is their fundamental right,” he said.
The lawyer said runaway couples have been approaching the Punjab and Haryana HC for nearly two decades now in connection with protection petitions. While the pleas were earlier filed anticipating threats from their families and honour killing, the petitions these days by couples in extramarital relationships seek protection from their families so that they can live together.
Dharminder Singh Nigha, an HC advocate, said, “There could be many other runaway couples who wish to live together but don’t end up approaching the HC. Then there are couples where girls are below the age of 18 years. These couples approach the HC to seek protection from their families since they cannot get married at this stage.”
Nigha added that couples approaching the HC don’t usually disclose their permanent or current addresses due to threat from their families. He said there have been times when a couple filing their plea in the HC were traced to the court premises by their kin.
Meanwhile, the Chandigarh Police said it receives around 12-15 protection pleas after disposal from HC every day with directions to assess the threat perception of the petitioners and provide security as per law.
An officer of the Chandigarh Police said the team assesses each and every application received, and records the statements of the couple and their parents. The threat perception is assessed and a report is sent to the HC in this regard, added the officer.
Chandigarh Police SSP Kanwardeep Kaur said, “It is our mandate to provide security to the citizens. Whenever such cases are received, we take them seriously. We follow due procedure and after verification of credentials, a report is submitted before the HC.”
As per an assessment of the Punjab and Haryana HC website and cause lists, nearly 40 protection petitions by couples are listed daily before the different Benches. While the number of such cases is around 25-30 before the Vacation Bench, the number touches 100 on several days when the court is functioning.
In an order passed in 2020, a Bench of Justice (retired) Rajiv Narain Raina had said the large number of cases filed by runaway couples seeking protection from their families was proving to be a “big burden” and a “drain” on the court’s resources. Justice Raina had asserted that the HC was not meant for such “parasitical non-litigation”.
According to Rajesh Gill, a former Punjab University sociology professor, the rise of petitions by runaway couples pose a dilemma between morality and legality. “These cases reveal a clash between cultural norms and the law, often involving minors or unresolved marriages, complicating court judgments,” the professor said.
Gill argued that constitutional rights, including protection of life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution should take precedence over cultural considerations.
Meanwhile, different Benches of the Punjab and Haryana HC have held varying views on protection to live-in couples, with the plea being granted in some cases and dismissed in others.
Stating that, “State Government cannot shirk from its duty to ensure safety of its citizens”, the Punjab and Haryana HC had in April 2023 directed the Chandigarh Police SSP to decide representation of two women seeking “protection of life and liberty” since their families disapproved of their “relationship”. The petitioners, aged 24 and 21, who worked with private companies, had known each other for the last three years.
The HC had observed in the matter that, “Article 21 of the Constitution of India specifically provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. The State is duty bound to ensure the safety of its citizens.”
In June 2022, granting protection to a live-in couple where the woman was married, the Punjab and Haryana HC had said that “the time is to shift perspective from didactics of the orthodox society”.
In a judgment passed in May 2021, the Bench had dismissed a plea by a woman (18) and a man (21) who lived together and had moved court seeking protection. The HC had said that “if such protection as claimed is granted, the entire social fabric of the society would get disturbed”.
In a judgment passed in June 2021, a Bench granted protection to a girl (17) and a man (20) saying that “the concept of a live in relationship may not be acceptable to all, but it cannot be said that such a relationship is an illegal one or that living together without the sanctity of marriage constitutes an offence”.
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