The Gujarat High Court, on Tuesday, ordered the immediate release of an interfaith couple who were in custody on account of their inter-religious marriage, while also taking note of the undue fervour by the police in arresting the couple “on account of it being an inter-religion marriage.”
The facts of the case are quite glaring and also shocking, the Bench noted with distress as it directed the couple’s release and granted them police protection.
The Bench of Justices Sonia Gokani and Sangeetha K Vishen also ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the police for detaining the couple. The Range IG, tasked with heading the inquiry, was directed to submit an inquiry report to the DIG.
In the course of its order, the High Court exhorted the police officer to be reminded of the Supreme Court’s golden words in cases pertaining to interfaith marriages and honour killing.
In this respect, the Court referred to Lata Singh v. State of UP and Anr. and Shakti Vahini v. Union of India and Ors.
In Lata Singh, the Supreme Court had taken note of the rise in instances of threats, harassment, and violence against young inter-caste couples and emphasised that an adult is free to marry as he/she likes, given that India is a free and democratic country. Persons objecting to a marriage “cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence and cannot harass the person who undergoes such inter-caste or inter- religious marriage”, the top court had underscored.
Following the couple’s arrest and the consequent remand of the husband, a Habeas Corpus petition was moved in the Gujarat High Court for their release.
When the matter was taken up by the High Court, the Bench found that “the facts are quite glaring and also shocking“ and ordered the couple’s production in Court via video conferencing on the same day.
The High Court instructed the Principal District Judge of the district of Palanpur to produce the husband and wife over video. During this time, the Superintendent of Police in Palanpur was also directed to be present.
After this, the Gujarat High Court issued orders calling for the immediate release of the couple upon their payment of a bond of Rs. 10,000 each. Further, the High Court proceeded to quash the remand order against the husband.
An additional request for police protection was also made by the petitioner, on the ground that the husband was posted at Surat. The Court allowed the prayer, requiring the prosecution to instruct the Commissioner of Police, Surat to allow the couple protection as they travelled to Surat.
The Court has granted an initial protection for four weeks, following which the Commissioner is expected to decide upon whether police protection should be extended.
The couple will also be entitled to apply for police protection a week in advance, as and when they wanted to travel back to Palanpur, the Court additionally directed.
The case is one of several in the recent past where interfaith couples have moved the High Courts in an attempt to seek protection against harassment and violence on account of their faith and/or differing caste.
With the promulgation of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, a number of such cases have been reported from the State of Uttar Pradesh.
In this respect, the Allahabad High Court has granted protection to several couples who sought protection owing to opposition to their marriage across faiths. Recently, the High Court underscored that no one can interfere with the lives of two adult individuals who have decided to live together.
In December last year, the Allahabad High Court had said that a woman who had attained the age of majority has the right to live her life on her own terms. In November, the Court said that the right to live with a person of one’s choice is intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty irrespective of religion.