A violent retaliation by society to marriages against the wishes of parents and relatives seems to have caused a deluge of petitions by runaway couples seeking police protection in the Punjab and Haryana high court.
In the past seven working days, the high court has heard 116 petitions of such couples seeking safety of life and liberty, reflecting a far-reaching impact not only on socio-cultural aspects but also the legal system.
As many as 94 petitions were moved by couples from various parts of Punjab, 21 from Haryana and one from Chandigarh.
This is despite the fact that all the district and sessions judges are authorised to grant police protection to runaway couples following the high court's directions in April 2010.
The common element in all these petitions is inter-caste/inter-religion/same gotra (clan) marriages where the youth have failed to persuade their parents to accept their love. Subsequent to which, the couples tied the nuptial knot, knocked the high court doors and walked out with court directions to the respective superintendents of police to ensure their safety.
Advocate Jatinder Jit Kaur, dealing in such cases, says, "It is unfortunate as the cases are increasing day by day. Though I try to convince parents first, but when they do not agree we have to take refuge from the high court."
Sociologist Prof Manjit Singh (retd) is of the view that traditional forces like khaps (community groups) and social customs have a great role to play in such runaway marriages in Indian society that is a segmented society with some segments enjoying powerful positions. "Such couples are helpless. It will take time to mellow down. First, the people who are at the helm of affairs need to understand and the subject needs to be made part of the social curriculum."
Advocate Jatinder Jit Kaur has another aspect of the story to tell. "Over a period of time, tolerance level in parents as well as the youth has come down. Here, the single-family system is also to be blamed as in a joint-family system children can share their problems with grandparents who would definitely succeed in resolving the issue."
Advocates fleecing couples?
There have been many instances where runaway couples even divulged before the court that they had got a complete "package" of solemnising marriage and police protection from the advocates. "We have paid Rs 21,000 to our advocate who facilitated our marriage at a Mohali gurdwara and got police protection from the high court," said 22-year-old Jalandhar resident Satnam Singh, a mechanic, who solemnised inter-caste marriage with his classmate. He said that despite numerous attempts to convince their parents, they were left with the only option.
Protection homes in every district
On July 25 last year, the high court had directed the Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh authorities to provide two rooms as shelter/protection homes at every district headquarters to runaway couples. The court had also ordered for registration of such marriages in all protection homes and to provide legal aid to such couples.