An unacceptable verdict in the constitutional sense

Source: The post is based on the article “An unacceptable verdict in the constitutional sense” published in “The Hindu” on 14th July 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Issues related to functioning of Judiciary – Supreme Court

News: The Allahabad High Court recently declined the plea of an inter-faith couple living together, who sought protection from alleged police harassment. The couple claimed that they were being mistreated by local police due to a complaint made by a family member. The court implied that live-in relationships are a “social problem”.

What is the view of Allahabad High court in Kiran Rawat vs State of UP case?

Perspective on Live-In relationships: The Allahabad High Court viewed live-in relationships as a “social problem”. The court believed that traditional law is biased towards marriage and does not intend to encourage such relationships.

Reference to Supreme Court (SC) verdicts and context: The High Court referred to past SC verdicts on live-in relationships, such as D. Velusamy (2010), Indra Sarma (2013), and Dhanu Lal (2015). However, it argued these verdicts were made in the specific context of their respective cases, not to promote live-in relationships in general.

Interpretation of personal liberty and autonomy: The court’s decision implied that marriage is essential for constitutional protection, seemingly prioritizing social and religious orthodoxy over individual rights. It referenced the Muslim law not recognizing premarital or extramarital sex as an example.

Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.PC): The High Court referred to this section, which pertains to maintenance for wives, not “other women”. This reference was seen as irrelevant to the case at hand, focusing on personal marriage laws instead of the main issue of alleged police harassment.

Final verdict: The High Court denied the couple’s plea for protection, a decision criticized for its disregard of constitutional principles and individual rights. For example, the court’s focus on the couple’s live-in status over their fundamental right to not be harassed by police was a point of contention.

What were the previous supreme court judgements on “Live-In Relationships”?

The SC of India has previously shown a progressive stance on live-in relationships. In several verdicts, such as D. Velusamy (2010), Indra Sarma (2013), and Dhanu Lal (2015), the top court acknowledged live-in relationships and asserted that they should not be viewed negatively. It emphasized individual autonomy and personal liberty in these relationships.

The court also clarified in S. Khushboo vs Kanniammal & Anr. (2010) that there is no statutory offence when adults willingly engage in sexual relations outside of a marital setting, implying acceptance of live-in relationships.

Why is the judgement seen as unconstitutional?

This judgement is seen as unconstitutional for a few reasons.

Firstly, critics argue that the court prioritized societal norms over the constitutional principles of individual autonomy and personal liberty.

Secondly, the court seems to have ignored Supreme Court verdicts that are binding on all courts as per Article 141 of the Constitution.

Lastly, the judgement relied on personal marriage laws that were not relevant to the case, disregarding the couple’s fundamental right not to be harassed by the police. The court’s decision is viewed as undermining the principle of constitutional morality in personal relations.

What are the impacts of this judgment?

The impact of this judgment can potentially be significant.

  1. It may deter other couples in live-in relationships from seeking legal protection due to fear of social stigma and judicial bias.
  2. The judgment could also embolden police or societal harassment of such couples.
  3. Furthermore, it undermines the precedent set by the Supreme Court regarding personal liberty and autonomy.
  4. Lastly, it challenges the constitutional principle of individual freedom and could potentially influence future cases involving live-in relationships and inter-faith couples.
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