- In the case of Shobha and Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors., the Hon'ble High Court of Rajasthan denied police protection to the runaway couple, stating that there is no proof on record that they were under threat from their family.
- The court stated that if anyone misbehaves or mistreats the couple, the courts and police authorities will intervene to help them. The couple, on the other hand, cannot claim security as an entitlement.
- If the petitioners have decided to marry, Justice Dinesh Mehta has indicated that they must have the fortitude to tell their families and persuade them and society to accept the actions they have taken.
Runaway marriage is a new expression that has evolved in response to a practice that is not widely recognized in society. The term "runaway marriage" was coined by the judiciary to describe couples who seek protection from the courts to keep their marriages together. Couples entering this kind of marriage have sought protection from the judiciary due to social resentment of run-away marriages. In recent times, there have been numerous cases before the court seeking protection to life and liberty by runaway couples fearing harm and/or death at the hands of relatives/family members who have refused to recognize their marriage, consensual relationship, and/or live-in relationship.
In the recent case of Shobha and Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors. (2022), the Hon'ble High Court of Rajasthan denied police protection to the runaway pair, citing that there is no proof on record that they were under threat from their family. The Court went on to say that if somebody misbehaves or threatens them, the courts and police will come to their aid, but the couple cannot demand security as a matter of right. Therefore, this article aims to understand the requisite laws that are in place to safeguard runaway couples invoking their fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution referring to various decisions made by the High Courts and the Supreme Court in this regard.
RUNAWAY MARRIAGES IN LIGHT OF ARTICLE 21 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
Marriage is supposed to be a personal decision between two consenting adults, but this isn't always the case. Many times, couples find themselves forced to comply with their families' requests or face honor killings. In such instances, it is more than vital to use the law to protect such couples. This is when these married couples seek police protection through the High Courts by way of filing writ petitions. The right they want to invoke in these writ petitions is the one protected by Article 21 of the Constitution, which is the right against deprivation of life and liberty by means other than legal procedures.
This right has been time and again recognized as being at the very pinnacle of the set of fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of our Constitution. The Supreme Court of India decided in a nine-judge bench case titled Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr.vs. Union of India and Ors. (2017) that privacy encompasses the protection of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home, and sexual orientation. The term "privacy" also refers to the right to be left alone. Individual autonomy is protected by privacy, which recognizes an individual's ability to control important parts of his or her life. Thus, privacy is inextricably linked to personal choices that determine one's way of life.
INCONSISTENT STANCE OF HIGH COURTS
The High Courts are inundated with petitions filed by runaway couples, in which the girls and boys of majority age seek protection for their lives and liberty, which are purportedly threatened by either parent. The petitions are filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which outlines the High Court's inherent authority and autonomy in handling and deciding cases within its jurisdiction. These cases defend contentious runaway marriages by seeking protection under Article 21 of the Constitution. The High Court, interestingly, makes no judgment on the validity of the runaway marriages, so their legality remains in question.Eloping couples who have performed runaway marriages are granted protection by the High Courts in a straightforward order. This order extends broad and unconditional protection to couples, extending to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, thereby enforcing every individual's fundamental right to life and liberty. The High Court enforces it within its jurisdiction as stated above under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which is where the High Court applies its inherent powers.
Recently, courts across the country have voiced differing opinions in cases where partners seek protection against palpable risks posed by family members or society. Therefore, runaway couples have been denied judicial involvement in some circumstances for reasons such as "live-in relationships must be at the cost of the social fabric," while other courts have ruled that they are entitled to protection and personal liberty. As a result, numerous decisions could be used to support or disprove this argument. A few major decisions are reviewed here for a better grasp of the subject matter.
First, as previously indicated, in the case of Shobha and Anr. v. State of Rajasthan and Ors. (2022), the court denied police protection to the runaway pair, claiming that there was no proof on record that they were under threat from their family. While denying them redress, the Court cited an Apex Court decision in the case of Lata Singh vs. State of UP and Anr. (2006), which held that courts are not meant to protect such couples who have merely gone away from their homes to marry according to their wish.
Furthermore, in the case of Lovepreet Singh & Anr. vs. State of Punjab & Ors. (2020), the Punjab and Haryana High Court eloquently defended and upheld the petitioners' right to life and liberty, refraining from "engaging itself in social mores, norms, and human behavior or introducing personal ideas on morality" in a writ petition based on Article 21. But, less than five months later, in Gulza Kumari & Anr. vs. State of Punjab & Ors. (2021), same Punjab and Haryana High Court denied such protection, stating that the type of relationship sought to be protected was "morally and socially unacceptable."
Apart from this, the other concern is that when one of the parties to a relationship is married to a third party, courts have tended to analyze it through the same moral lens that governs social sensibilities rather than proceeding on legal reasons in circumstances when couples seek protection orders. Hence, various High Courts disagree on whether or not a couple in such a relationship should be protected. For instance, the Allahabad High Court in the case of Smt. Aneeta & Anr. vs. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors. (2021) and the Rajasthan High Court in the case of RashikaKhandal& Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors. (2021) have held that a live-in relationship between a married and unmarried person is not permissible and will not be protected by the law. The Allahabad High Court in the former case went so far as to say that "live-in-relationships cannot be at the cost of the social fabric of our country." Directing the police to provide security to them may be interpreted as "indirectly assenting to such illicit relationships," which would place right to life below the country's ostensible social fabric.And, on the other side is the Punjab and Haryana High Court's decision in the case Gurjeet Kaur & Anr. vs. State of Punjab & Ors. (2021), which directed the Senior Superintendent of Police to look into the grievance of the couple regarding their protection and safety from any threat or danger to their life and liberty.
MINOR ENTITLED TO PROTECTION
The question that arises after referring to various court rulings on the protection of runaway couples is whether a minor is entitled to protection under Article 21 of the constitution in a runaway marriage. This can be better appreciated by referring to the ruling of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the matter of Divya v. State of Punjab and others (2020). The court has observed that merely because the runaway bride is not of marriageable age, she cannot possibly be deprived of her fundamental rights as envisaged in the Constitution of India, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has asserted while directing the police to decide a couple’s protection plea before taking necessary action per law.
Further, in the case of Sonia and others v State of Punjab and others (2020), it was determined that marriage, presuming it was performed according to Hindu rites, is in breach of Section 5 (iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, it is seen that Section 5 outlines the legal requirements for consenting parties to solemnize their marriage and the minimum age of a bridegroom and a bride are specified in Section (iii). Meanwhile, Section 11 of the Hindu Marriage Act declares certain marriages that violate Section 5 to be invalidated, and exempts a marriage solemnized in violation of Sub Section (iii) of Section 5 from the ambit of being considered void or invalid.
To put it another way, as stated in Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, if the marriage is challenged, they may be compelled to prove the validity of their marriage before an appropriate forum. But, the issue at hand, however, is not the marriage, it is the denial of a fundamental right to seek protection for one's life and liberty. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution places Fundamental Rights on a much higher pedestal. It must be preserved since it is sacred under the Constitutional Scheme, regardless of the solemnization of an invalid or void marriage or the lack of any marriage between the parties.As a result of the Constitutional obligations placed, it is the State's bounden duty to defend each citizen's life and liberty. Regardless of whether a citizen is a minor or a major, the right to human life must be prioritized. The fact that the petitioners are not of marriageable age in this matter does not deprive them of their fundamental right as citizens of India as stipulated in the Indian Constitution.
It is important to note that the fundamental right provided by Article 21 of the Constitution is open to all people and does not strive to categorize people as saints or sinners. In all circumstances, a person who has a legitimate fear of losing his or her life or liberty through means other than the legal process should be entitled to use this right and seek protection from constitutional courts. Therefore, when evaluating requests for protection, the court should make its decision based entirely on constitutional principles, rather than the judge's subjective opinion or societal morality. We can see that there were varied perspectives by the same courts in different situations, as well as between the different courts, in the cases listed above that were brought on the protection of runaway couples. The Allahabad High Court and the Rajasthan High Court, in particular, have erred in their interpretations of the underlying legal premise involved in such cases. These High Courts appear to believe that extending protection to a person or couple in an adulterous live-in relationship would amount to sanctifying the relationship in the eyes of the law, which is an erroneous interpretation of the law.
To summarize, when societal mores collide with constitutionally granted fundamental rights, courts must ensure that constitutional rights are protected in every situation. It would be an abdication of the courts' obligations to ignore or fail to uphold fundamental rights in the name of some notion of social fabric or public morality.Lastly, as stated the basic right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is placed on a far higher pedestal and must be preserved since it is sacred under the Constitutional Scheme, regardless of the solemnization of an invalid or void marriage or the lack of any marriage between the parties.