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Thursday, June 04, 2020

Chandigarh: Lockdown locks out runaway couples with faint hope of help from courts

Despite minimal functioning, HC has been able to step in to extend help in few cases

Written by Sofi Ahsan , Saurabh Prashar | Chandigarh | Published: April 22, 2020 12:20:18 am
Thermal screening test at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh due to Coronavirus on Friday, March 13 2020. (Express photo)

In normal times, the Punjab and Haryana High Court would daily hear at least 20-30 cases of couples from Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh seeking police protection, mostly after defying the caste barriers put up by families. Most of them would then end up in protection homes. But with the nation under a strict lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, many such couples are finding it difficult to either find places to stay put safely or knock the court’s doors for justice.

But the high court, despite minimal functioning, has been able to step in for a few. On Tuesday, HC dismissed a Sirsa woman’s petition seeking custody of her 17-year-old daughter, who has remained lodged at a childcare home in Sirsa since she ran away and married against the wishes of her family. Her mother argued before court that the girl would be safer at her parental home during the existing circumstances.

The court spoke to the teenager through WhatsApp and she declined to return to her parental home. She also expressed her willingness to go to the matrimonial home. She had married a youth in 2018 and approached the High Court seeking protection.

“She comes across as a confident young lady and has categorically refused to return to her parental home, while submitting that she is being well taken care of. Even otherwise, she is going to attain majority in a few months in August 2020, if birth certificate of her parents is to be relied upon. Currently she is more than seventeen and half years of age,” the court said in the order, adding there was no imminent threat to her at the child home.

A 19-year-old woman, who is five months pregnant, and her partner, 29, last week approached the High Court seeking protection. She told the court that she is unable to go to the house of her partner due to the lockdown and is facing threats from her family.

The High Court, in the order passed on April 15, asked the police to visit the 19-year-old petitioner’s given address, record the statements of her family members and submit a report about her threat perception. She had given the address of her brother and sister-in-law and claimed she was living there. “When we went there, the girl was already gone. We have involved the cyber cell to trace her as we have to comply with the court order,” SHO, Panchkula Sector 5 Police Station, Lalit Kumar told The Indian Express.

The court in the same case also noted the 29-year-old man was already married to another woman since 2011, but he and her wife are not residing together, adding it was not clear whether their marriage was annulled or not. The 19-year-old woman and the man had been in contact for the past two years, as per their petition. Speaking to The Indian Express, their lawyer said, “They are putting up in Panchkula only. They were apprehending threats from her family and society in general. Her parents are not alive”.

Another 16-year-old was found abandoned in front of the PGI in Chandigarh on Sunday. The Class XI student had eloped with a boy recently and stayed with him for almost a month in different parts of Chandigarh. When the Child Helpline found her after receiving a phone call, she told them she is scared of going home as her “parents are suspicious about her character and she would rather be admitted in a children’s home”.

“The victim claimed that the boy is 18-year-old. She had left her house with him in the first week of March. Her parents had already lodged a missing complaint at a police station in Chandigarh. Apparently, things turned difficult for the victim and the boy due to the lockdown. Our investigation revealed that she was dropped outside PGI by an advocate friend of the boy,” said an official, who was part of the rescue mission.

While she was put in quarantine at one of the hospitals in Chandigarh for 14 days as a precautionary measure in wake of fears of coronavirus spread, the police has registered a case against the boy, with whom she had eloped, under the POCSO Act and IPC 376 as the couple had physical relations and she was a minor under law.

A man from Jalandhar filed a habeas corpus before the High Court last month seeking release of a woman from a Nari Niketan there. Though not a runaway couple case, the writ seeking her release was filed by her “paramour’s friend”. She could not be produced before the court on Saturday last week due to the lockdown. The state government objected to the petition and said she has not been detained illegally and was sent there on her own wishes. However, it added that she now wants to leave the place.

The court in the order said, “Under the present scenario when there is an increase in the number of cases infected by deadly coronavirus and as per government instructions, the people have been asked to remain at the places where they are and to avoid moving about, I find it proper and appropriate if she remains in Nari Niketan for the time being, though suitable orders can be passed later on, in the light of facts and circumstances of the case and the situation prevailing at that time.”

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