In a landmark decision, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has affirmed the fundamental rights to life and liberty for live-in couples confronted by threats from their own families.
The case, which centered around a petitioner involved in an extra-marital relationship, was presided over by Justice Arun Monga. The court ordered the Superintendent of Police in Nuh to assess the potential threats to the petitioners and take appropriate action. Additionally, Justice Monga outlined a comprehensive set of guidelines for the handling of such cases, instructing the distribution of these guidelines to various authorities, including the Secretaries, Home Department, and Directors General of Police in Haryana, Punjab, and Chandigarh, with a mandate for these guidelines to be conveyed to every Station House Officer (SHO).
The case revolved around a young woman from Nuh, who, at the age of 16, was coerced into marriage by her parents in 2012. Subsequently, she gave birth to a daughter, now 11 years old, and had two sons, aged 5 and 3. The petitioner said that her husband, who frequently indulged in alcohol, subjected her to regular physical abuse. When she sought help from her parents, they insisted she remain with her abusive spouse. To escape this torment, over a year ago, she started living with a man she had befriended but soon faced threats from her own family, husband, and in-laws. Despite approaching local law enforcement for help, she received none.
Justice Monga emphasized, “The central issue at hand is not the legality of the petitioners’ relationship, which may render them liable for civil and criminal consequences in accordance with the law. Instead, it is whether they are entitled to the protection of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
Furthermore, the court established the following guidelines for law enforcement in such cases:
# Police should balance between the legality of a couple’s live-in relationship and their right to protection under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. Personal choices should be protected, even if they go against societal norms or other laws.
# It’s essential to address the safety concerns of couples not from society or the State but from their own family members.
# In a country governed by the Rule of Law, individuals must not take matters into their own hands. Vigilante justice should be stopped.
# Regardless of the nature of a relationship, fundamental rights, like the right to life and personal liberty, must be protected.