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The case in focus this time around isn’t peculiar solely by its nature but rather in terms of the balancing of laws on liberty, human rights and justice. It brings into question the effect that the roles of societal ideology have to play whilst also determining the ever-broadening idea of free will. To be more specific, how much free will is, quite literally, free by nature of encumbrances?
The ethos of Indian culture, going so far as to include most of Asia as well, is entrenched deep into parental acceptance, familial responsibilities, and the like. This is all unlike the west where independence is the singular quality that dominates majority opinion. With that in mind, cases where one seeks to stray away from normalized, vastly accepted, preconceived notions of sticking to tradition, has often led to what is expected of a rational human, born and raised in an atmosphere that promotes exactly that- a perception of shock, disbelief, disapproval. And while in neither case is one set of credo better than the other, one could argue that the levels of tolerance vary greatly. Whether for better or worse is to be seen.
BACKGROUND OF THE ISSUE
The facts extend to the State of Kerala, where the petitioner- a doctor by profession- who as a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists attained qualifications from London, renounced the world and what it had to offer for a more spiritual state of living. During the course of which, he was said to have met a woman. Her parents had sought his help hoping that counselling sessions would aid with her bouts of depression.
It was alleged that using said guise, the petitioner developed an obsessive relationship with the detenue and claimed her as his ‘spiritual live-in partner’ and ‘yoga shishya’. This led the parents to believe that their daughter needed treatment and withdrew her from any further sessions with the petitioner. In retaliation, the Petitioner filed a Habeas Corpus plea at the Kerala High Court seeking for the removal of the detenue from her parental home.
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WHAT IS THE KERALA HIGH COURT’S ORDER?
The High Court’s decree indicated refusal to remove the girl from her parent’s custody despite her insistence for the opposite. The court based much of their decision after ordering for a report on the Petitioner’s antecedents whilst also using the Hadiya case as a line of distinction.
Through the enquiry conducted, it was noted that the Petitioner was a married man who was the father to two children. The first floor of his family house was said to be turned into an ashram, where he lived. The mother of the Petitioner, in an unsigned statement, expressed disapproval and suspicion over his activities and was thus not convinced about the so-called spiritual life that he led.
The High Court also unearthed a case where the Petitioner was accused under the POCSO act where it was alleged that he misused his credentials and sexually abused the victim at his residence. However, the victim later retracted her allegations and due to a lack of factual evidence, the petitioner was no longer a suspect to the crime.
However, regardless of what was discovered, the High Court wished to attain certainty that the girl was indeed capable of making her own decisions. To do so the honorable division bench tried to persuade her to interact with a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst in order to gain expert opinion. This was met with complete refusal. When tied along with the interactions held with the girl herself, as well as the obsessive behavior coupled with hysteria that was witnessed alongside no evidence of physical abuse as alleged by the girl, the High Court decided to invoke the Doctrine of Parens Patriae.
The Doctrine of Parens Patriae stands for “Parent of the Nation” in latin terminology. In Law, it is used to denote the powers that are bestowed upon the State to intervene in matters where the parent is abusive or negligent in nature, thus acting as the parent of any child or individual who is in need of protection. The Constitutional courts of the country may exercise such jurisdiction only in exceptional circumstances where the parties are mentally incompetent, are minors or if it is proved that the parties have either no parents/ guardians or an abusive/negligent parent/ guardian.
The High Court thus held that on finding the girl mentally incapable of making her own decisions, it would be best if she were to be retained at her parental home as they remain the best persons to address any issues relating to her mental health. They also stated that given the Petitioner’s antecedents, he cannot be trusted with the custody of a 21 year old girl on the mere grounds of tutoring her on spirituality.
HABEAS CORPUS PLEA IN APEX COURT
The Petitioner thus went on to file an appeal in the Supreme Court, challenging the decision of the High Court. The idea of a Habeas Corpus plea rests upon the ideal of producing a body that has been illegally detained, before the court. The element of illegal detainment is said to have stemmed from the statement of the detenue that was recorded wherein she expressly stated that she was held against her will and subjected to physical violence and thus wished to return to the Petitioner. It was also averred that the girl’s independent free will was not taken into consideration at all by the court.
Despite the harassment alleged by the girl evident from the emails sent to the petitioner as well as to the Kerala State Human Rights and Women’s Commission, the Appellant impressed on how much of it was ignored in the decision making process of the division bench of the Kerala High Court that oversaw the matter.
The Petitioner’s contentions can be summed up in four main points:
The first being that the Petitioner himself was not seeking for the subject to live with him but rather to be set free from the constraints placed upon her and the lifestyle she chooses to lead by her parents.
Secondly, the subject is a brilliant student with an enviable academic record to prove it. It was contended that she was a well-educated, adult woman who was perfectly capable of thinking on her own and making decisions about her life.
It was further contended that the parents of the detenue were moved by fury due to the choices she made to pursue the Vedantic Principles of Moksha, Sanyasa and Divine Yoga with the Practitioner, thus leading to a curtailment of the subject’s freedom to choose her own way of life and living as per her own personal preferences. This thus defeats the purpose of the High Court invoking the Parens Patriae doctrine which is only meant to be exercised in exceptional cases for the benefit of the person in need of protection.
The fourth contention lay on the grounds of the inquiry made by the High Court as to the Petitioner’s antecedents which went against the spirit of the Hadiya Case. The plea went on to expressly state the following,
“the song of liberty is sung with sincerity and the choice of an individual is appositely respected and conferred its esteemed status as the Constitution guarantees” and that “parental love or concern cannot be allowed to fluster the right of choice of an adult.”
Favourable arguments on either side may be crafted, however, given the factual circumstances of the case it remains highly unlikely that the courts of law would seek to promulgate a decision based upon hypotheticals. The doctrines of law rest upon deep symbolisms of justice founded upon concrete evidence leaving only room for the best possible outcome. The Kerala High Court stands as the genesis to the Hadiya case upon which a partial reliance was felt in the Honourable Justices’ concluding remarks influencing judgment tonality.
The plea itself remains pending before the Supreme Court as the bench sought to let the High Court deliver its judgment first. Whether one chooses to side with either party and whether the case will delve further into the rights of life and liberty enshrined in the Constitution is yet to be seen.
Author: Nengchonghoi Bora
Editor: Kanishka Vaish, Editor, LexLife India.