The legal fraternity has often put balm on the wounds of couples hounded by their relatives for marrying against their wishes. This sorry state of affairs can be ameliorated by a more liberal approach to life
By Nayantara Roy
The judiciary has often come to the rescue of distressed couples and given them hope of a better life. On August 17, Chief Justice of India TS Thakur came to the rescue of a young couple who had married against the wishes of the woman’s parents. They had fallen in love and got married in July this year, and settled down to live in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. But the wife, a working woman, was confined to her home in Chennai by her parents.
According to advocate Kawaljit Kochar who argued the case for them in the Supreme Court, the wife had gone on a work trip to Hyderabad where she met her father. He took her to Chennai on the pretext that the family was reconciled to their marriage and would have a proper ceremony for them. Instead, they kept her confined in their home. She was beaten but was able to smuggle a photograph of herself with bruises to her husband via a visitor.
When her husband tried to contact the family, he was threatened and told that he should not attempt to come to Chennai. As the husband had moved from Noida to Delhi for a few days, both the Noida and Delhi police refused to register an FIR citing lack of jurisdiction. Eventually, his advocates filed a habeas corpus petition before the Supreme Court. While jurisdiction would have vested in the Madras High Court, Kochar explained that the apex court could also be approached under Article 32 as the wife’s right to life under Article 21 had been violated.
“Honor” killings by parents or relatives have seen the death of many young people who marry against the wishes of their family. There is a difference in the type of killings depending on the power construct. Deep seated patriarchal values have resulted in daughters being killed by their parents or other relatives.
However, once apprised of the seriousness of the matter, Kochar said Chief Justice Thakur speeded up the process. Chennai’s police commissioner was asked to aid the registrar-general of the Madras High Court in getting access to the petitioner’s wife in order to record her statement and verify the truth of the allegations. When she affirmed that she was being confined against her will, she was escorted to a safe-house and brought to Delhi where she was produced before the Supreme Court and reunited with her husband.
This story had a fairytale ending of sorts with the CJI acting as the fairy godmother. Without his intervention and the quick thinking of the husband’s lawyers, this story could have had a different ending. Strangely, unlike other similar tales, this couple was from the same community. Yet, there was vehement opposition from her parents.
Other stories have not ended so well. “Honor” killings by parents or relatives have seen the death of many young people who marry against the wishes of their family. There is a difference in the type of killings depending on the power construct. Deep seated patriarchal values have resulted in daughters being killed by their parents or other relatives. On the other hand, when the victim is the male, it is usually the family of the girl or other members of the community who carry out the killing. In all cases there is total disregard for the law of the land and the rights of an adult.
It’s not just family members who carry out such killings. Whole communities get involved in the lives of two adults, even when their own families are not opposed to their marriage. In June 2001, Manoj Banwala and his wife, Babli, were killed by a khap panchayat in Kaithal district in Haryana for having made a sagotra marriage.
In November 2014, Bhavna Yadav, a 21-year-old Delhi University student, was strangled by her parents for having married a friend against their wishes. In 2002, the killing of Nitish Katara by Vikas Yadav, the brother of the girl who allegedly wanted to marry him, grabbed headlines. Yadav is the son of UP politician DP Yadav.
It’s not just family members who carry out such killings. Whole communities get involved in the lives of two adults, even when their own families are not opposed to their marriage. In June 2001, Manoj Banwala and his wife, Babli, were killed by a khap panchayat in Kaithal district in Haryana for having made a sagotra marriage. In April, this year, parents of a Hindu-Muslim couple in Mandya district near Mysuru in Karnataka sought police protection for the wedding as caste groups and Hindu activists were threatening the families.
In July this year, Madras High Court pulled up the Tamil Nadu administration for not being able to control an attack on Dalit colonies in Dharmapuri district by upper caste groups. The attacks were triggered by the suicide of the father of an upper caste girl who had married a Dalit boy against her father’s wishes. The boy was also found mysteriously killed by the side of railway tracks.
Conservative groups don’t see marriage as an individual choice but as the joining of an entire family with another. Extend that to a community and you get busybodies ready to commit murder.
Other countries such as Pakistan suffer from this malaise as well. While the death of Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani model and actress, at the hands of her brother has been reported widely, there are other instances of honor killings such as that of Aqsa Bibi and her husband, Shakeel Ahmed. Both had a court marriage against the wishes of Bibi’s family. Her brother kidnapped them and shot them both, this, despite his sister being pregnant.
In 2004, Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed, a 17-year-old British Pakistani girl in the UK, was suffocated to death in 2004 with a plastic bag by her father while her mother sorted out blankets and sheets, bin bags and tape with which to dispose of her body. The reason was that she did not want an arranged marriage. In 2012, a UK court sentenced her parents to life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years.
It is obvious that in India, having laws alone won’t help. It is important to build awareness among the general public, the police force and in educational institutions about the benefits of having a more liberal outlook to life.
Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, chief justice of Madras High Court, put the problem in a nutshell when he said: “In a democratic country like ours, we are even unwilling to give the major boy and girl the right to determine whom they want to marry. Not only that, life and property are lost in the meaningless fury of one community against the other, reflecting a sorry state of affairs of the society.”
However, the judiciary can provide succor to such distressed couples as was seen in the Noida case.