The Supreme Court on Monday asserted the right of adults to choose their life partner, saying it was about time society learnt to accept inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, reported the Hindustan Times. The court noted that it would “hardly be a desirable social exercise” for parents to shun their children just because they married outside their caste or community.

The court’s observations assume significance in the wake of controversial ordinances passed by Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh that criminalise anti-faith marriages under the fig leaf of the Hindutva conspiracy theory, “love jihad”.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy was hearing a plea by a couple who married outside their caste, seeking protection from a criminal case lodged by the woman’s father.

The court quashed the first information report, observing that once two adults chose to be with each other, they could not be made accused in a criminal case only on account of their parents’ refusal to accept their relationship.

The woman is from Karnataka, while the man is from Uttar Pradesh. They met each other during their training period in a college, fell in love and decided to get married. The woman’s parents strongly opposed their alliance. Her father filed a missing persons complaint, which was later converted into a first information at Belagavi in Karnataka, reported the newspaper.

The couple then approached the Supreme Court, which had stayed the first information report in December. The court also sought a response from the Karnataka government.

During the hearing on Monday, advocate Subhranshu Padhi, appearing for the state government, informed the bench that the woman was yet to record her statement at the concerned police station in Belagavi, confirming that her relationship with the man was consensual. Hence, the investigation into the father’s complaint was still underway, he said.

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Advocate Prabhat Kumar Rai, who represented the couple, on the other hand, referred to the woman’s letter to the investigating officer and various other senior police officials in Karnataka. These letters disclosed that the couple were married in October 2020, the advocate said, adding that the woman feared for her safety if she were to go to Belagavi to record her statement.

Rai further argued that the right to marry a person of one’s own choice is an integral part of Article 21 on right to life and liberty.

The bench questioned the state government as to why the investigating officer did not accept the woman’s request to record her statement at a place of her choice, so that she could feel safe, reported the Hindustan Times.

The judges also emphasised the need for specific guidelines and a training module for police personnel to deal with “socially sensitive cases”, so that couples can get due protection under the law “should the parents lodge criminal cases against them”.

The court noted that “educated young boys and girls are increasingly choosing their life partner on their own”. This might be viewed as a deviation by the society and the parents, the court added, but the “police authorities were duty-bound to keep such couples out of harm’s way if there was no violation of the law”.

“We hope that the parents of the petitioner no.1 [the woman] will have better sense and accept the marriage to re-establish social ties with their daughter and her husband,” the court added. “That, we think, is the only way forward.”