The Punjab & Haryana High Court this week took note of the sheer volume of petitions filed before it by inter-caste couples seeking police protection and sought suggestions to address the trend (Lovepreet Kaur v. State of Punjab).
The Court observed in its order,
“The non-acceptability of inter-caste marriage is a social problem which needs to be dealt at multifarious levels. The inter-caste is not the only reason for non-acceptability of marriage, there are numerous other socio-economic reasons acting as hurdles for the young couples for selecting life partner of their choice.”
Justice Avneesh Jhingan made a number of observations on the issue while dealing with a petition filed by a couple who married against the wishes of their families and sought assurance from the Court that no coercive action be taken against them.
In this case, the Court directed the police officials to record the statement of the petitioners and provide them shelter in a safe house until the next date of hearing.
The judge observed that such petitions are filed as a matter of routine, noting that in most cases, there is no proof of submission of the representation given by the parties.
“The petitions of such nature are either disposed of, without commenting on the validity of the marriage and directing the official respondents to consider the representation or notice of motion is issued to the official respondents. In latter case by the next date, the police officials record the statements of the petitioners. By and large the statement is that there is no threat perception existing. The net result is that the petitions involving really serious and eminent threat get mixed up in number of petitions filed in routine,” the Court went on to note.
Another aspect highlighted by the Court was the fact that such couples who apprehend threats to their life must travel all the way to the Court, further exposing them to such threats.
In this background, a judgment passed by a Division Bench of the High Court in Asha and another v. State of Haryana and others was brought to light. In that case, the Court had directed District & Sessions Judges in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh to provide interim protection to inter-caste couples who approach them.
Despite this direction, Justice Jhingan observed, couples were still finding it necessary to approach the High Court for relief.
“Over the period the picture that emerged is that despite directions of this Court, for one reason or the other the couples are still approaching this Court. In other words, despite direction of Division Bench, the issue is not addressed.”
Pertinently, the Court stated that it was impossible for it to gauge the genuineness or the extent of threat perception in such cases, and that the onus was on the police to determine the same. Having said that, the Court said that it would be failing to perform its duty if grievances of such petitioners are not redressed in a time-bound manner.
In its previous order, the Court had asked the Advocates General of Punjab and Haryana, as well as various office bearers of the State Legal Services Authority of both states as well as the Union Territory of Chandigarh to be present before it. The suggestions made by these lawyers to deal with the issue included:
- Safe houses should be made available in each district of both the States, as well as in Union Territory, Chandigarh.
- A website or an online module should be provided for such couples to raise their grievances without being physically present.
- Providing of 24×7 help desk at Tehsil level for filing of such representations by aggrieved persons or through someone can be of great help.
- An existing cell in the police department can be deputed or a new cell can be created which can deal with the representation in a time-bound manner, in any case not beyond 48 hours.
Additional Secretary of the Punjab State Legal Services Authority Dr. Mandeep Mittal informed the Court of the presence of one-stop centres (Sakhi centres) run by the Punjab government that work for the welfare of women victims. Taking this submission on board, the Court suggested,
“It would be appropriate to mention here that scope of working of these centres can be enhanced and their services can be utilised for dealing with the issues of such couples.”
The Court also suggested that the Legal Services Authority can set up a 24×7 help desk for such couples with telephone service and internet connectivity at the local level.
The aforementioned lawyers then agreed to sit together, exchange inputs, and try to find a practically workable mechanism to solve the issue. The Court also directed the Additional Chief Secretaries (Home) and Directors General of Police of both the States to provide their full assistance and co-operation while the issue is being considered.
“The entire endeavour of the exercise is that some sort of workable mechanism is put in motion to ensure the protection of life and personal liberty as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Further that only in exceptional cases, the couples have to take trouble to approach this Court alleging infringement of the rights,” the Court concluded.
The matter will be next heard on March 22.