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Allahabad High Court: Upholding Personal Liberties & Individual Rights Amid Grim Times

On this Constitution day, let’s talk about the Allahabad High Court and how it’s maintained the sanctity of the judiciary lately, by standing tall and true to its reputation during grim times.

At a time when the Apex court is at the centre of criticism for failing to protect the rights and personal liberties of citizens, a High Court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has maintained its legacy of not bowing down before the ruling dispensation. At a time when hundreds of important Habeas Corpus petitions remain unheard in the Supreme Court, a High Court in Prayagraj takes suo-motu cognizance when a case like Hathras tragedy takes place.

On June 12, 1975, this High Court convicted the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices and debarred her from holding any elected post. This very verdict by the High Court led to the imposition of emergency in India.

On this Constitution day, let’s talk about the Allahabad High Court and how it’s maintained the sanctity of the judiciary lately, by standing tall and true to its reputation during grim times.

“We don’t see Priyanka & Salamat as Hindu & Muslim”

A few days ago, the Allahabad HC struck a blow to Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, who has been trying to bring in legislation on “Love Jihad”. The monk turned politician is eying for a law that will criminalise inter-faith marriages involving conversions.

The Allahabad HC cancelled a case filed against a Muslim man by the parents of his wife, who converted to Islam last year to marry him. “Interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals,” the top court observed in a judgement that is considered important amid the fiery debate over “love Jihad”.

“We do not see Priyanka Kharwar and Salamat Ansari as Hindu and Muslim, rather as two grown-up individuals who – out of their own free will and choice – are living together peacefully and happily over a year. The Courts and the Constitutional Courts, in particular, are enjoined to uphold the life and liberty of an individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the two-judge bench said.

In August last year, Salamat Ansari and Priyanka Kharwar married against her parents’ wishes. Just before the wedding, Priyanka converted to Islam and changed her name to “Alia”.

Priyanka’s parents, in the same month, filed an FIR or First Information Report against Salamat, accusing him of crimes like “kidnapping” and “abduction to compel a marriage”. The charges also included stringent POSCO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act), claiming that their daughter was a minor when she married.

The Allahabad High Court, on November 11, ruled on Salamat’s petition requesting that the FIR be cancelled. Rejecting the arguments by the UP government as well as the woman’s parents, the top court in its 14-page order, said: “The right to live with a person of his/her choice irrespective of religion professed by them, is intrinsic to right to life and personal liberty.”

The judges, invoking the constitution, observed: “We fail to understand that if the law permits two persons even of the same sex to live together peacefully then neither any individual nor a family nor even state can have an objection to the relationship of two major individuals who out of their own free will are living together. The decision of an individual who is of the age of majority, to live with an individual of his/her choice is strictly a right of an individual and when this right is infringed it would constitute a breach of his/her fundamental right to life and personal liberty as it includes right to freedom of choice, to choose a partner and right to live with dignity as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

“Death must be so beautiful”

When the Hathras tragedy victim breathed her last and the UP police burnt her body in dead of the night without the presence of her family members, it was Allahabad HC that took suo-motu cognizance and summoned the top officials of Uttar Pradesh government and DM and SP of Hathras in this case by issuing the notice.

Taking cognizance of the issue on, a bench of Justice Rajan Roy and Justice Jaspreet Singh ordered a notice to be issued to the authorities. The court expressed displeasure with the alleged inhuman and cruel attitude of the Hathras police towards the victim and sought a response from the state government in the matter.

The bench also asked the victim’s parents to come to the court to apprise it of their version of the incident and ordered the Hathras district administration to arrange for their travel to the court.

The court even quoted Oscar Wilde to illustrate the meaning of dignity in death. “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses wearing above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace,” they pointed out.

“The rights of individual citizens in the Country and the State especially that of the poor and the downtrodden such as the family members of the deceased victim and the deceased herself are paramount and the Courts of Law are under a bounden duty to see that the said rights available under the Constitution are protected at all costs and the State does not in its misplaced endeavour for political or administrative reasons transgress the limits of its powers to encroach and violate such rights, especially in the case of poor and the weak. We would like to examine as to whether the economic and social status of the deceased’s family has been taken advantage of by the State Authorities to oppress and deprive them of their Constitutional rights?” the Allahabad HC asked.

The Hathras victim was cremated at midnight by police, allegedly not allowing family members to be present for cremation.

“Unwarranted interference in the privacy of people”

The court of Chief Justice Govind Mathur took suo-motu cognizance and asked if the government was not encroaching on personal space and liberty of citizens by putting of posters of alleged Anti-CAA protestors.

The bench comprising of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha said that the state action of putting up the posters of alleged CAA Protestors was “highly unjust” and that it was an absolute “encroachment” on personal liberty of the persons concerned.

The Lucknow administration had put up hoardings at major cross-sections in the city, with details of about 60 people who have been issued recovery notices for their alleged involvement in violence during CAA protests on December 19, 2019.

The High Court directed the Lucknow administration to remove all hoardings displaying photos and personal details of those accused of violence during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. It said the state government’s move to put up posters was an “unwarranted interference in the privacy of people” and violative of the Constitution.

The Lucknow administration had put up hoardings at major cross-sections in the city, with details of about 60 people.

“The address gives a call for national integrity and unity”

Kafeel Khan was arrested in January 2020 for an anti-CAA speech he delivered at the Aligarh Muslim University on 12 December 2019.

The Allahabad High Court, on September 1, quashed Dr Kafeel Khan’s detention under the National Security Act (NIA) and passed damning remarks against the state authorities who ordered his detention.

The bench comprising of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh, in its judgement, said the district magistrate who passed the detention order against Khan “had selective reading and selective mention for few phrases from the speech ignoring its true intent”.

It also said that there was a “serious lack of objective material on record” for a “valid subjective satisfaction with the detaining authority” against Khan.

The bench held that prima facie, the speech is not such that a reasonable man could have arrived at a conclusion as the inference drawn by the District Magistrate, Aligarh, who passed the detention order against Dr Khan in February this year.

“The speaker was certainly opposing the policies of the government and while doing so certain illustrations are given by him, but that nowhere reflects the eventualities demanding detention. A complete reading of the speech prima facie does not disclose any effort to promote hatred or violence. It also nowhere threatens the peace and tranquillity of the city of Aligarh. The address gives a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens. The speech also deprecates any kind of violence. It appears that the District Magistrate had selective reading and selective mention for few phrases from the speech ignoring its true intent,” the bench noted.

The Allahabad High Court quashed Dr Kafeel Khan’s detention under the National Security Act (NIA) and passed damning remarks against the state authorities who ordered his detention.

Violence against AMU students

In 2019, amid growing displeasure with the Uttar Pradesh government for its handling of the anti-citizenship law protests, the Allahabad High Court had stepped in to take cognisance of several allegations about the state’s deteriorating law and order situation.

The High Court, in one of the orders issued in 2019, directed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to probe alleged police violence in the Aligarh Muslim University campus during anti-CAA protests.

After the submission of report by NHRC, the court ordered the Yogi government to adhere to its recommendations, which included compensation to six students who were grievously injured and identification of policemen “involved in stray incidents of damaging motorcycles and unnecessarily caning the apprehended students which has no bearing on the task of controlling law and order”.

Caught on camera: police smash motorcycles standing outside AMU after protests erupted at the university.

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