Redefining Intimacy and Individual Liberties: Unravelling the Kiran Rawat Judgment

by | Jul 25, 2023

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About Mohd. Fahad Ansari

Mohd. is interested in constitutional law and public policy. He works to promote reproductive and health rights, especially for tribal women in India. He is an avid reader of politics, sociology and public policy.

In a shocking recent judgement Kiran Rawat v State of UP, the High Court of Allahabad, India dismissed a writ petition from a cohabiting couple. The couple sought to safeguard themselves against retribution from their respective families, on the grounds of privacy and the right to personal liberty free from unwarranted intrusions. This post offers a critical assessment of the verdict, highlighting its glaring disregard for the extensive body of constitutional jurisprudence championing individual liberties crafted and refined by the Indian Supreme Court over decades.

Challenging the Boundaries: Reimagining Intimacy and Faith

In its analysis, the Court considered the sacred tenets of the Quran, which denounce premarital sexual relations and mandate penalties for transgression. However, the way in which Islamic jurisprudence was invoked in the present case, regardless of its accuracy, is unjustified under the circumstances. Firstly, Muslim law does not apply to an interfaith union, by virtue of its composition, as both parties are required to embrace the Islamic faith. The Court’s assumption of future conversion to Islam – leading to the application of Quranic Law – was inappropriate.

Secondly, the Court did not give sufficient consideration to the complex legal principles surrounding premarital intimacy. In Shahin Jahan v Asokan KM, the apex court ruled that marital choices, including the decision to marry and the selection of a life partner, exist beyond state control. These choices reside within a realm of privacy, beyond the scope of matters of faith.

The Court’s examination of premarital sexual relations reveals the apprehension of the judiciary to endorse non-marital domestic unions. Nevertheless, it is imperative to critically reassess and redefine domestic relationships and familial arrangements within the contemporary context. As acknowledged by the Supreme Court in the landmark Navtej Johar case, procreation no longer stands as the solitary rationale for companionship in the modern era. This principle firmly communicates tolerance for premarital cohabitation.

Jurisdictional Dilemmas: Balancing Rights and Social Solutions

The High Court’s jurisdiction, conferred by Article 226 of the Indian Constitution is vast, endowing unfettered judicial authority to uphold fundamental rights and avert their violation. In this context, although the Court duly recognized that cohabitation represents a facet of the constitutional right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, it deemed the exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 inappropriate. Furthermore, the Court declined to invoke this extraordinary power, asserting that the resolution of this societal “issue” should be pursued through social mechanisms rather than judicial intervention. Moreover, the Court stipulated that only a clearly evidenced grievance – such as severe harassment or threat to life – would invoke its attention. In the present case, the interfaith couple sought societal recognition of their relationship, rather than specific legal protection.

Yet, in this instance, the couple had indeed been subject to harassment from law enforcement authorities due to their interfaith relationship, on the pretext of complaints lodged by their relatives. The imposition of such a high threshold for judicial intervention in cases manifesting the infringement of fundamental rights is a clear derogation of duty. It is therefore to be hoped that this case will be subject to an appellate process, should the parties opt for it, or that another similar case will come before the courts again in the near future, providing the opportunity to reexamine the court’s reasoning.

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