New trend in HC: Glut of protection pleas from runaway couples

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With nearly 1,000 protection petitions listed every month before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the year 2021 witnessed a new trend in such cases where several couples in “live-in relationship” having “extra-marital relationships” approached the court for protection.

During the winter vacation of the HC in 2021, there were nearly 160 protection matters of couples which came up for hearing from December 27 to December 31.

In a protection matter which was heard by the HC vacation bench on December 27, a live-in couple in extra-marital relationship pleaded through their counsel that the man is aged 32 years of age and is married and out of wedlock, two children have been born, while the woman petitioner, aged 38 years, lost her husband died in 2016, and out of such wedlock, three children were born.

Meanwhile, on a specific query having been put to the counsel of petitioners, it was told to the HC that the man has not secured divorce from his wife and as such, would carry the status of a legally married man. The bench on this held: “This court under no circumstances can approve of such liaison/relationship.”

The HC, however, dismissed their protection plea in the absence of realistic threat to the life and liberty of the petitioners.

Similarly, in a case disposed of in February this year by the HC, a couple from Haryana in an extra-marital affair had approached the HC seeking protection from the woman-petitioner’s husband. The woman petitioner who had not been granted divorce from her husband had been in a live-in relationship with another man petitioner. The HC, however, dismissed their plea for protection saying that it can’t grant any protection to a runaway couple if any of the two partners is not divorced from the previous spouse.

Advocate Vishal Mittal, who had been dealing with protection matters for couples at the High Court said there are increasing cases of couples, who are already married and are in a relationship, and want protection.

Apart from cases involving the couples in extra-marital relationships, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in 2021, witnessed most of the protection matters wherein the couples either major or minor were also in live-in relationships. In one case, a minor girl in was in a live-in relationship with a 19-year-old boy, and had approached the HC for protection. The HC bench ordered that the minor be kept in Ashiana, Sector-15, Chandigarh till attaining of majority by her.

Another counsel Advocate Paramjeet Singh, also dealing with protection matters of couples, told that in the list protection matters by couples, there have also been cases wherein two women living together had approached the HC for protection.

Different views on ‘live-in relationship’

In judgements passed by the HC in 2021, there were different views of different benches in case of live-in relationships.

In one judgment passed in May, where the girl (18) and boy (21) in live-in relationship had moved for protection, the HC bench dismissed their plea saying, “If such protection as claimed is granted, the entire social fabric of the society would get disturbed”.

In another judgement passed in May, one HC bench denied protection to a couple, girl (19), a native of Uttar Pradesh and boy (22), from Punjab, observing: “As a matter of fact, the petitioners in the garb of filing the present petition are seeking seal of approval on their live-in relationship, which is morally and socially not acceptable and no protection order in the petition can be passed.”

In a verdict passed in June, another bench of HC granting protection to a girl (17), and boy (20), said: “The concept of a live-in relationship may not be acceptable to all, but it cannot be said that such a relationship is an illegal one or that living together without the sanctity of marriage constitutes an offence.

‘Drain on resources’

Approximately 40 cases relating to the protection matter of couples are listed daily before the different benches of HC, and even during the lockdown the number of such petitions ad been around 25-30, and when the court was functioning normally, this number was even higher, reaching the 100-mark on several days. A Bench of Justice (retired) Rajiv Narain Raina, in an order passed in 2020, had said that the large number of cases filed by runaway couples before it, seeking protection from their disapproving families, was providing to be a “big burden” and draining its resources. Justice Raina asserted the high court was not meant for such “parasitical non-litigation”.

HC suggested safe houses in districts

Expressing concern over the matters of runaway couples seeking protection, the HC in March this year had suggested for safe houses to be made available in each district of Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh, for runaway couples. Justice Avneesh Jhingan hearing a protection plea of a runaway couple had ordered the three states for creating a website or an on-line module should be provided for such like couples to raise their grievances without being physically present. In case a request is made by the couples during the period of consideration of the representation, they can be provided shelter in safe house.

The Chandigarh Administration in December this year told the HC that a committee comprising deputy commissioner, SP and director, social welfare, has been set up to review the threat perception and consider the boarding and lodging charges for longer stay of runaway couples.

Tackling honour killings

The HC in September 2021, in order to tackle the honour killings of the couple in the states of Punjab and Haryana, directed immediate registration of an FIR in case of a report on violence against inter-caste, inter-religion couples or honour killing, and also setting a six-month deadline for disposal of honour killing cases.

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