That the Punjab and Haryana High Court has had to make the availability of safe houses for runaway couples in each district of Punjab and Haryana as also Chandigarh mandatory is a sad reflection of a misogynist culture. That so many such homes are required is testament to the deeply entrenched socio-cultural mores of caste, creed and clan. The HC is swamped by a huge number of petitions filed by young couples seeking protection of life and liberty from families dead against their union. The court reportedly hears 100 such petitions every day and even during the lockdown, there was a daily count of 20-25 cases. This underscores the regrettable fact that oppressive and regressive norms have prevailed despite the overall education-driven progress.
The killing or forcible separation of young couples who dare to defy the social norms prevailing in the name of family honour remains a social evil in this region, cutting across educational and financial strata. In a big relief to the men and women in love, the court has since 2002, when the first runaway couple approached it, always endeavoured to ensure a mechanism that upholds Article 21 that guarantees protection of life and personal liberty as sacrosanct. The verdicts, over the years, have put right to life on a higher pedestal, regardless of the legality of the couple’s marriage or even in cases of live-in relationships.
Interestingly, on one occasion last June, the court sought to play the concerned family elder as it cautioned the runaway couples that real life was not the ‘Bobby-like’ reel world. The fairytale dreams of many a smitten adolescent come crashing down when they face the harsh realities of life and intimacy as well as affection turn into hostility. Sound advice to keep the youngsters grounded along with ensuring shelter, help desks and legal aid to couples tying the knot against their families’ wishes is the required judicious mix.