5 Jan 2022 8:04 AM GMT
The curtain on the year 2021 - first half of which was engulfed with the second wave of COVID-19 and its second half saw resuscitation of social, political and economic activity in the country – has finally fallen down, and the year 2022 is here with new hopes and aspirations. The year 2021 saw the judiciary opening its activist hands again, to help the poor, downtrodden and...
The curtain on the year 2021 - first half of which was engulfed with the second wave of COVID-19 and its second half saw resuscitation of social, political and economic activity in the country – has finally fallen down, and the year 2022 is here with new hopes and aspirations. The year 2021 saw the judiciary opening its activist hands again, to help the poor, downtrodden and other marginalized sections of society, that always need its help the most. Most importantly, the judiciary ensured during the second wave of COVID-19 that it would not remain a mute spectator like it was during the first wave and went on to issue a series of guidelines on how to deal with the situations caused due to COVID-19.
As usual, the Supreme Court delivered quite a few landmark judgments in the year 2021. But one judgment which if implemented in true spirit will have far reaching positive consequences, is almost forgotten by all sections of society. That judgment is of a two-judge bench of the Apex Court in Laxmibai Chandaragi B. v. State of Karnataka, (2021)3 SCC 360, which was delivered on February 8, 2021, whereby police officials were directed to devise guidelines and train the Police on how to deal with socially sensitive cases like inter-caste marriages.
The factual matrix of the case is that a woman from State of Karnataka and a man from State of Uttar Pradesh fell in love with each other while they were pursuing their professional careers. Consequently, they both married each other in Delhi and later they set up their marital home in Uttar Pradesh. The woman's father lodged a missing complaint with Karnataka Police. Based on this complaint, the Police officer called the woman, who was residing in Uttar Pradesh, to come to Karnataka and record her statement so that they could close the case if it was a consensual marriage. The woman expressed her unwillingness to come to Karnataka as she felt threat to her life from her father and sent a letter to the police stating that it was a consensual marriage and requested the Police to close the case. But, the Police officer insisted that she come to Karnataka to record her statement, failing which the Police would register a case against her husband, further intimidating her that her husband would be arrested and consequently, he might lose his job. She was also threatened by the police officer that she would be charged with stealing things from her parental home if she did not come to Karnataka and record her statement.
Subsequently, the woman filed a Writ Petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court quashed the FIR on the ground that as she had sent the letter to police officer stating that she had consented to this marriage, the missing complaint filed by her father became infructuous.
The Apex Court also remarked that it expected the police authorities to lay down some guidelines and training programmes for police personnel on how to deal with such socially sensitive cases like inter-caste marriages. Such guidelines and training programmes were to be devised within eight (8) weeks of the order, i.e., by 31-03-2021. To know whether the Apex Court's directions had been complied with or not, the author filed an RTI (Right to Information) application on 24-07-2021 in the office of Director General of Police of Telangana State, thereby, requesting them to provide information on whether guidelines and training programmes had been devised in Telangana State pursuant to the Apex Court judgment. The author received the reply on 27-09-2021 (nearly 60 days after making the RTI application which is contrary to mandate of Section 7(1) of RTI Act, 2005 as it stipulates for providing of information within 30 days of receipt of request) wherein the author was informed that no such guidelines had been framed nor any training programmes had been conducted.
At the outset, the author has to candidly state that the RTI information had been sought only from Telangana State. But, the author is sure that other States and Union territories also might not have complied with Supreme Court's direction.
Having seen how the States have breached the above discussed mandate of law with ease, it is important to see why there is a necessity for bringing guidelines and training programmes for police officials to deal with cases pertaining to inter-caste marriages. The places that are prone to couples getting engaged in a relationship are employment places or higher educational institutions where students pursue higher education. And due to an increase in the number of students on an endeavour to pursue higher education and later attain employment and the growing influence of urbanization and youth's inclination to break the conservative shackles, India will witness a steep rise in the number of inter-caste marriages in the coming years.
And most parents and guardians of such inter-caste couples, who still have a conservative mindset, will oppose it tooth and nail. Hence, with this clash between the mindset of conservative parents and modern adults , if the State, which is parens partiae of its citizens,[i] does not rope itself in on time, then there will be a spurt in "Honour Killing" incidents.
Although, there is no statutory definition of the word "Honour Killing" in India yet, but the Law Commission of India in its 242nd Report titled "Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the Name of Honour and Tradition) : A Suggested Legal Framework" has observed that "the words 'honour killings' and 'honour crimes' are being used loosely as convenient expressions to describe the incidents of violence and harassment caused to the young couples intending to marry or having married against the wishes of the community or family members".
Additionally, the Supreme Court in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India,(2018) 7 SCC 192, while issuing guidelines on how to prevent Honour Killings has observed that "Honour killing guillotines individual liberty, freedom of choice and one's own perception of choice". As per National Crimes Record Bureau's (NCRB) report for the year 2020, twenty five (25) cases of "Honour Killing" have been reported in the country. One can only imagine the unreported figure.
Furthermore, In Shafin Jahan v. Asokan K.M., (2018) 16 SCC 368, Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud in his concurring opinion observed at paragraph 86 that: "The right to marry a person of one's choice is integral to Article 21 of the Constitution. The Constitution guarantees the right to life. … Intrinsic to the liberty which the Constitution guarantees as a fundamental right is the ability of each individual to take decisions on matters central to the pursuit of happiness. … Society has no role to play in determining our choice of partners". It is an individual's autonomy to take decisions which are vital for his life.[ii]
Although many State Governments are providing cash incentives to inter-caste couples, thereby showing their encouragement and support for inter-caste marriages, the real support will be felt when these couples are guaranteed protection of their lives and personal liberty and the ability to thrive in society without the constant sword of public shaming and murder hanging over their heads. Since the police is that arm of the State through which law and order is maintained in society, it is important that certain guidelines are framed, besides providing training, for sensitization of police officials on how to deal with and think out-of-box to protect a major couple's constitutionally guaranteed right of choosing the partner of their choice.
[i] In Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India, (1990) 1 SCC 613, the Supreme Court at paragraph 35 held that State is parens patriae of its citizens.
[ii] Common Cause v. Union of India, (2018) 5 SCC 1.