Read Order: Sunita And Another v. State Of Haryana and Others 

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, May 09, 2022: While dealing with a protection plea, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has affirmed that the constitutional right of protection cannot be abridged, except in a manner permitted by law. The Court has opined that the State’s respect for the individual independent choices has to be held high.

While addressing the dynamic of ‘public morality’ and ‘constitutional morality’, the Bench of Justice Vinod S. Bhardwaj expounded that in addition to the Courts’ responsibility to uphold the principles of constitutional morality, there exists a parallel duty to not infringe upon the personal relationship between two free willed adults. 

The Bench further asserted, “This Court finds itself firmly tied down to the principle of individual autonomy, which cannot be hampered by societal expectations in a vibrant democracy. The State’s respect for the individual independent choices has to be held high. The public morality cannot be allowed to overshadow the constitutional morality, particularly when the legal tenability of the right to protection is paramount.”

The petitioners (Sunita-aged 18 years and Pradeep-aged 27 years) approached the Court with a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India for seeking protection of their life and personal liberty of the petitioners at the hand of the private respondents. 

It was their case that the petitioners solemnized their marriage in April 2022 against the wishes of their parents, and in support of this claim, they presented their marriage certificate. 

The Counsel for the private respondents argued that the petitioner concealed a vital piece of information in as much as the first petitioner (Sunita) was married to someone else before she tied knot to the second respondent. Thus, the Counsel opposed the case of the petitioners by submitting that a wrong averment was made by the petitioners in the present petition. 

After considering the rival submissions, the Court opined that the Supreme Court has time and time again observed that it is not the Court’s domain to intervene in the matters of choice or suitability of a marriage/relationship of an individual. Reference in this respect was made to the case of Shafin Jahan Vs. Asokan K.M. 

Pertinently, moving forward, the Court made observations on the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of Indian Constitution. The Court was of the opinion that the relief of protection of life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India cannot be denied to a citizen merely because he happens to commit an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code. 

Justice Bhardwaj asserted that every citizen of the country is entitled to protection of his life and liberty under the Constitution of India even though he may be a hardened criminal or may have committed any other offence and that such protection of law cannot be denied to a person except where the rights of the person or his liberties are to be denied to him by operation of law or in a procedure known to law. 

Further, Justice Bhardwaj expounded that the rule of law has to be held at the highest pedestal and the Constitutional right of protection cannot be abridged, except in a manner permitted by law. The Courts do not substitute matrimonial or relationship choice of an individual who is major, observed the Bench while adding that the conflict or a personal conviction of a Court should not overshadow the statutory and constitutional rights of an individual and rise beyond the constitutional morality that the Courts are bound to protect. 

Additionally, while referring to the Supreme Court, the Court remarked that moral policing cannot be allowed to dictate the actions of the state nor can moral policing by the public at large be allowed or forgiven.  “In addition to the Courts’ responsibility to uphold the principles of constitutional morality, there exists a parallel duty to not infringe upon the personal relationship between two free willed adults”, opined the Court.  

Furthermore, while reflecting on the prevalence of constitutional morality over ‘public morality’, the Court was of the considered opinion that the Court was firmly tied down to the principle of individual autonomy, which cannot be hampered by societal expectations in a vibrant democracy and that the State’s respect for the individual independent choices has to be held high. Public morality cannot be allowed to overshadow constitutional morality, particularly when the legal tenability of the right to protection is paramount, the Court emphasized. 

Also, while referring to the Supreme Court, the Court was of the view that even if any illegality or wrongfulness has been committed, the duty to punish vests solely with the State, that too in attune with due process of law and in no circumstance can the State bypass due process, permit or condone any acts of moral policing or mob mentality. 

“When the Right to life and liberty is even guaranteed to convicted criminals of serious offences, there can be no reasonable nexus to not grant the same protection to those in an legal/illegal relationships”, held Justice Bhardwaj. 

Coming to the present case, the Court, without examining the question of legality and validity of the marriage and expressing any opinion thereon,  disposed of the petition with the directions to the Superintendent of Police, Panipat to look into the grievances of the petitioners and to take appropriate action for protection of their lives and liberty as may be warranted by the circumstances. 

However, it was clarified that in case any criminal case was registered against the petitioners, this order was directed not to be construed as a bar for taking appropriate action by the police authorities in respect thereof in accordance with law. 

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