No Offence Your Honour, But Your Kerala Live-In Ruling Is Prudish
A breakdown of Kerala HC’s ‘legal’ judgement, upholding the expulsion of a student for living with her boyfriend.
On Friday, the Kerala High Court dismissed the petition of a female student of Mar Thoma College of Science and Technology, Chadayamangalam, Kerala, who was fighting her dismissal from college for being in a live-in relationship with a classmate in Thiruvananthapuram.
The petitioner (20) along with her boyfriend (19) were apprehended by the police after both their families filed a missing persons complaint. The college, fearing disruption in the discipline of the institution, asked the students to halt their education mid-way and were asked to leave the college.
Though it is a legally sound judgement, there’s one problem. It’s more about the personal prejudices of the honorable judge, than about the legality of the case or the absence of it.
Here’s a breakdown.
What Do You Mean, “Eloped”?
The High Court upholds and bolsters the decision of the College to dismiss the petitioner, based on the fact the two had “eloped” and assumably fell from grace when the police found them for their worried parents, living together. How two legally major persons who mutually consented to live together had “eloped” is not explained or opined upon. At best, they were two people who didn’t have a glowing relationship with their parents for having to hide it. At worst, they were still two consenting adults who chose to move out of their houses and live together.
A missing persons report from harrowed parents of two consenting adults doesn’t count as a crime unless offending the morality of the sanctimonious authorities is a valid parameter.
Where Is the Crime?
The court puts on record that the petitioner was one year away from completing her bachelor’s degree in english language and literature, and was an excellent and bright student.
To its credit, the court did push for the students’ re-entry, but only “with conditions”, thank you very much.
The college deemed their behaviour simply too unprecedented and appalling to even consider this proposal. After all, what would they do if the tendency to fall in love and live with your mutually consenting adult partner spread like the plague in college?
The court, once again, makes it clear that it shares the concerns over indiscipline in college after a detailed enough hearing, assuming ‘discipline’ still means training a set of people to adhere to a code of behaviour, and using punishment to correct disobedience.
Granted, being a private college, it has a legally sanctioned administrative discretion to make this decision. But what if that very code of behaviour on which this mighty high ground is being held by the college and the court is subject to personal biases, and not necessarily related or conducive to administering free and fair higher education?
In 2013, the Supreme Court acknowledged live-in relationships to be neither a crime or a sin, and an “intensely personal” matter. Then, does the Kerala HC not have a moral obligation to foster a more open, harmonious society within the purview of their jurisdiction and quash the orders passed by the college on the grounds of vague, personal ideas of morality, pre-marital sex, and other strictly private exchanges between to heterosexual adults (one problem at a time)?
What’s Marriage Got to Do With It?
Besides the accusation of eloping making a guest appearance yet again, an essential argument of the college was that the boy was not 21 years old, and hence, not old enough to enter the sacred institution of marriage that is the fundamental unit of the Indian society.
But who brought up the topic of marriage, anyway?
‘But You Were Okay With it At First...’
The court then places on record the fact that the two agreed to receive their Transfer Certificates (TC) without any reservation and “without referring to the allegations of the misconduct”. It was only after initially agreeing, the court said, that the petitioner moved the High Court – which, in an objective hearing of facts based on the interpretation of the law, really should not have been a factor in ruling against the petition.
What Rule Was Broken?
At last, a legal precedent in the judgement: the court refers to the case of the Headmaster of the Polikave High School vs Murali, a student who had been expelled for indiscipline. In sub-section 6 of the same judgement, the court places on record that the word “discipline” is not defined in the Kerala Education Act, which by extrapolation leaves it subjective, open to interpretation.
And the two constituents of “principles of natural justice” being referred to are essentially the last two lines of same paragraph repeated in latin: nemo iudex in causa sua (ruling without bias) and audi alteram partem (fair and open hearing of both sides). Except for the continuous repetition of how the college was fair and detailed in its inquiry, complete with a five-member committee and a complete ignorance about its possible bias, what are the rules or the code of conduct of the college that were flouted by the students? What law, if at all, did they break?
A “Drastic Step”?
This paragraph of the verdict when removed from its context sounds like a chiding from a conservative, orthodox father. “Without even contracting a marriage...” reads like it is missing an exclamation mark of prudish disbelief at the end. The language gives away the fact that perhaps this judgement is more about shocking the sensibilities of the judge, than justice itself.
The concluding paragraph acknowledges the “drastic consequences” (not explained) of the actions of the petitioner. What follows is a repetition of the entire judgement: they read the report of the committee and the orders of the principal and considered the fact the students had eloped (again) and were living together. Based on these factors, the court was “not inclined to exercise any discretion in favour of the petitioner.”
That was that, and the case was closed. The two students stand expelled, and their educations, and possibly reputations, permanently hampered. In the most literate state in the country with a rising trend of live-in relationships, in the country where live-ins have been norm for tribals for centuries now, this judgement is more about the Honourable Judge’s ideas about ideal relationships, than about interpreting the law in a forward-looking and just manner.
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