Poonam Rani and Ors. v. State of UP and Ors. Writ C No. 1213 of 2021

1.PROTECTION ORDERS

On the 20th of January, 2021, a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court granted a protection order two women in a live-in relationship. I have previously argued[1] that protection orders are privacy enhancing tools for queer women. Live-in relationship related litigation is a unique category of litigation that queer women face in the queer community. In this blog, I will discuss why protection orders can be an important legal instrument for queer women in live-in relationships and then specifically discuss the case at hand and the protection order granted therein. Protection orders can be utilized not just by queer couples but more generally by members of the queer community.

Recorded cases in India have seldom shown that transgender women or gay men in live-in relationships do not face similar challenges. Research has shown that even if adult women have left their homes of their own volition and left a note stating so, families have felt empowered to take legal action. Legal instruments that they have used to prosecute their cases have included habeas corpus petitions, wrongful confinement, abduction and kidnapping petitions against the partner of their runaway daughter/relative. Women experience physical and emotional invasions from their families when they decide to reside with their partners (and this is true in the case of heterosexual relationships as well). For example, in the Sreeja case, Sreeja’s partner, Aruna is admitted into the local mental hospital at the parents’ request. Similarly, in the Shampa Singha v. State of West Bengal case, Mary’s family admitted her to a drug rehabilitation centre after she started living with partner (WP 23120(W) of 2018). Once the legal process begins, cases have shown that the physical liberties of the women are further curtailed through violations of their procedural and substantive rights. For example, the Sreeja case shows that Aruna is taken into illegal police custody following a missing person complaint by her parents. Similarly, in the Monu Rajput case, Neeshu was taken into illegal police custody following the wrongful confinement case that was filed against Monu after Neeshu left her home.

2. PRIVACY ENHANCING EFFECTS OF PROTECTION ORDERS

Given these situations, protection orders can go a long way to provide physical and mental security to queer live-in couples and can also act as an instrument which not only recognises their right to choose a partner in exercise of their sexual orientation and live with that partner, but also offers protection from the physical disruptions of this right. Lawyers who handle such matters have reported that such orders offer an immediate physical relief to the concerned women. Thus, protection orders enhance the privacy of the beneficiaries in three ways. First, the Puttaswamy case has recognised that sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy. Through the protection offered by the orders, the queer women involved are enabled in their exercise of sexual orientation, i.e. they can exercise their sexual orientation by choosing a partner of their choice and living with that partner. Second, such orders help the women remain free from physical threats and violations, thus being able to retain bodily privacy, which is essential to the exercise of any further rights. Finally, such orders are privacy enhancing in the sense that they secure a space for the queer couple, free from unwanted intrusions, where they can experience and grow their relationship.

3. THE CASE AT HAND

In the Poonam Rani case, two adult women who were in a romantic relationship with each other, had decided to live-in and had been doing so for a couple of years. They were facing resistance to their decision from their families. The nature of the resistance in not delineated in the judgment. The counsel for the couple argued their right to life was threatened by the family resistance and that unless a protection order was granted to them, they would suffer irreparable loss and injury. The counsel for the State did not oppose the relief sought. Before granting the protection order, the Allahabad High Court reiterated certain important points from the Navtej decision which were crucial to the case at hand. The court noted that the right to sexual orientation which is a fundamental right as recognised by Puttaswamy and reiterated by Navtej, included within itself the right to seek and choose a partner. Accordingly, the court directed the Senior Superintendent of Police to provide appropriate protection to the couple in case they approach the police station and to ensure that no harassment is caused to them.  


[1] Page 13-14.

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