Courts must stop accepting complaints from Indian parents about their daughter’s choices.
There are lessons for everyone, including the Indian judiciary, in the lethal mix of casteism and patriarchy on full display this week in Telangana, in the horrific murder of Pranay Perumalla and attacks on Madhavi Chary and B. Sandeep.
Like a real life retelling of Nagraj Manjule’s film Sairat, a 24-year-old Dalit Christian Pranay Perumalla was hacked to death in an alleged honour killing case. Just days later, another father who did not approve of his daughter’s inter-caste marriage has attacked his daughter Madhavi and her 21-year-old husband Sandeep who is a Dalit.
The shocking incidents have sparked a debate on the Indian parental fixation with dictating every aspect of their daughter’s life, and most importantly— her marriage.
Judiciary playing patriarch
It seems a joke, but in India parents routinely file writ petitions in a constitutional court when their daughters marry against their wishes. What’s worse is that our judiciary entertains these cases and has even developed jurisprudence on parental controls.
When courts propagate a culture that simply refuses to accept a woman’s agency, men like Amrutha’s father, prime accused in the murder case against her husband Pranay, are only emboldened.
The Supreme Court heard Hadiya’s father Ashokan’s lawyer more than they heard Hadiya herself. Despite the court’s ode to liberty and decisional autonomy of a woman in the Hadiya verdict, the troubling probes by the National Investigative Agency into other marriages suspected to be cases of ‘love jihad’ is still ongoing.
Hadiya’s case last year was also not one off. High courts routinely entertain cases filed by parents, and while the law is clear on respecting the decisional autonomy of an adult, some judges have strayed from it. This leaves a woman’s rights to mere chance.
In 2014, when Greeshma Ullas, a doctor was locked up in the house by her parents, the court washed its hands off the case saying parental custody is not illegal detention since it is “ultimately for the good of the ward”.
The Kerala High Court, around the same time that Hadiya was fighting her case, subjected 19-year-old Nasni to a psychiatric evaluation on her parent’s request even as she repeatedly told the court that she wanted to marry a man of her choice.
Last year, the Madras High Court also said that parental custody is not illegal and cites troubling precedents from the Kerala High Court to justify its decision.
“We cannot accept as a general principle that the parents are in all circumstances bound to concede absolute decisional autonomy to their children, even if they have attained majority and remain helpless even in situations where their wards have taken wrong and immature decisions, which will be disastrous not only to the wards themselves but also to the family itself,” notes another 2014 Kerala High Court ruling that has been used as a precedent for all such cases.
Last month, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered a man convicted of rape and abduction of a minor girl to pay compensation to the survivor and to her parents. The minor had to abort a pregnancy caused by the rape but ostensibly, the court decided the parents must also be compensated because the incident was known to everyone in the “small town of Faridkot and their community”.
By compensating the parents, the court has acknowledged the dangerous Khap panchayat ideology that a daughter is the torch bearer of a family’s honour.
Pranay Perumalla’s case also holds up a mirror to mainstream media that tells Dalit stories through the upper caste lens or ‘explains’ gender violence from a patriarchal perspective. The centre of the story is the oppressed, not the oppressor.
Pranay was killed, so the story cannot obviously be about how Amrutha’s father must be feeling.
When noted journalist Uma Sudhir says it is “heart-breaking to see a daughter brought up with much love wishing her father hangs to death” she is simply whitewashing caste and Amrutha’s agency from the case. These dominant narratives that exclude victims from their own stories is what gave rise to the #MeToo movement or the “lists”.
Gender crimes are always justified in the garb of protecting the so-called Indian culture and family values. There can be no place for a voice of sympathy for Amrutha’s father, when he is accused of plotting a murder because of his deep-rooted caste prejudices. The call for understanding what the parents are thinking whose daughter married as per her wishes must end when the father turns a murderer.
Pranay’s gruesome murder is by no means going to put our caste-ridden society on a course correction. But the judiciary and the media— the watchdogs of our rights and freedoms—cannot afford to not take note of what they are doing wrong.
Just last week, Chief Justice Dipak Misra in a ruling on the anti-dowry law wrote that the courts must not assume there is a battle between the sexes. But can we call out the court’s role in fanning the stifling patriarchy of Indian parents?