'Saga of Violence': Bombay HC Grants Round-the-Clock Protection to Persecuted Inter-caste Couple

Since their elopement in February last year, the couple has been violently persecuted by members of the woman's family and Gujarat's Ahir community, to which the woman belongs.

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New Delhi: The Bombay high court on Thursday, November 5, directed the Mumbai police commissioner to provide round-the-clock protection to an inter-caste couple as well as to their in-laws and witnesses to their marriage following over a year of violence, persecution and abuse at the hands of the woman’s family and caste community, Live Law reported.

The interim order was passed by a division bench of Justices S.J. Kathawalla and Surendra Tavade. It detailed the harrowing experiences of the couple since their elopement in February last year.

The couple alleged various wrongdoings at the hands of the Ahir community, which the woman belongs to, as well as at the hands of her family members, which include the man’s father being beaten with a bat, the woman being ‘sold’ to another man who she was forced to marry and who allegedly sexually assaulted her and even that the woman was assaulted and publicly humiliated by a mob of 150 men from the Ahir community in Gujarat.

While the couple reside in Mumbai, they originally come from the Chaubari village in Gujarat, an Ahir stronghold. The man belongs to the Brahmin community.

The court’s directions come after the couple had submitted a letter petition last week in which they had detailed their experiences of abuse since their elopement. Consequently, the court had asked advocates Deepa Chawan and Manjari Shah to draft the petition and represent the couple.

Also read: Gujarat HC Orders Action Against Officers Who Didn’t Investigate Murder ‘for Intercaste Marriage’

Timeline of Events

The series of events from the time of the couple’s elopement to the filing of the present petition were detailed in the court order as follows: 

Presupposing the anger from the woman’s family and community, the couple eloped from their residence in Mumbai in February, 2020 and returned ten days later. 

In March, the woman was forced to file a false rape case against the man, following which the man was arrested and remained in jail for four-and-a-half months.

While the man was in prison, the woman was forcibly taken back to Gujarat where she was engaged against her wishes to one Amit Savji Varchand.

Thereafter, the woman and her family returned to their residence in Mumbai’s Jogeshwari in December. On December 24, the couple got married in Thane.

After their marriage became known to the girl’s family, her brother, maternal uncle and the local Shiv Sena Sakha Pramukh told the Powai police that they were unconcerned about the marriage and had nothing to do with the girl.

However, on the evening of December 24, the man received a phone call from an unrecognised number in which he was threatened by someone who claimed to be a family member of his now wife.

Thereafter, the couple went to the Powai police station and filed a complaint on the threat to life that both she and her husband faced. Their statements were recorded by the police.

On December 29, the community heads and the village sarpanch, accompanied by one of the man’s relatives visited the couple and told them that their marriage had caused discord between the two communities in Chaubari village. The woman was thus told to visit Chaubari in order to ease the caste violence that was taking place.

The woman thus went to Chaubari to inform her community that she married the man of her own free will. However, on January 1, 2021, she was met by a crowd of around 150 men, mostly from the Ahir community, who expressed outrage at her inter-caste marriage and publicly berated and humiliated her.

The woman alleged that she was physically assaulted by five or six of the members of the crowd, two of which she recalled and named in the letter to the court. 

Thereafter, the woman claims that she was forced to file a complaint at Gujarat’s Bachao police station alleging that her husband had forced her to marry him through blackmail and extortion. For the next three months, she was repeatedly forced to file frivolous complaints against her husband every day.

On January 7, the man attempted to file a police case against the men who had taken his wife back to Chaubari, but in vain. He was also threatened for doing so.

In April, the woman managed to get to Jamnagar and call her husband to explain the situation to him. Thereafter, on May 7, her husband filed a writ petition seeking that a writ of Habeas Corpus be issued for his wife to be produced.

Also read: Gujarat HC Reunites Inter-Caste Couple Who Were Forced to Divorce

Why the habeas corpus petition was dismissed

The writ petition was heard on May 21 through video conferencing on account of the pandemic. However, the woman claimed that, while she attended the hearing, her father, brother, the local community heads, the village sarpanch and several members of the Ahir community were present in the room and coerced her into making false allegations against her husband. What’s more, the Airpods she was using were being shared by her brother and a video of her was being recorded with the threat of the wrath of the entire Ahir community.

As such, she was forced to make false allegations against her husband, claiming that he had compromising photographs of her which he threatened to circulate among his friends and thus forced her to marry him through blackmail. She was even forced to say that the police complaint the couple lodged in April was made under similar duress. 

Here the court noted that, “This court, without realising what was happening at the other end, accepted the statement of petitioner No. 1 (the woman) and dismissed the writ petition.”

On May 24, the woman was forced to marry Varchand, who claimed to have “purchased” her. Following the marriage, the woman claims that she was repeatedly assaulted by him, both physically and sexually, which included grievous assault, injury to her private parts and injuries inflicted by cigarette butts. She was forced to endure this abuse for several months.

On August 13, the woman managed to escape Chaubari and return to Mumbai. She went to her husband, who was residing with his family. On the same day, the couple went to the local police station to brief them on their situation.

Over the following months, the woman’s family began making threatening phone calls to two witnesses to the couple’s marriage whose names were not divulged by the couple for fear of their safety.

On September 13, Varchand along with other unidentified people allegedly  assaulted the man’s father with a cricket bat and stump at the couple’s residence in Powai. A police complaint was filed and Varchand was arrested and released on bail a few days later.

On October 26, police personnel from the Bachao and Powai stations visited the couple’s residence and served a notice to the man’s mother on a purported complaint against the woman for stealing Rs 50,000 in cash as well as seven or eight lakh worth of jewellery from Varchand’s residence. The complaint alleged that the woman had fled to Mumbai after stealing these items and summoned her to the Bachao police station within a period of seven days.

While the notice bore signatures of some officials, it did not have the official stamp of the police station.

The Bombay high court order

The couple did not travel to Gujarat and instead filed the current petition with the high court.

Taking note of the facts of the case, the court said that, “The facts set out in the petition clearly reveal the threat to the life and well being of the petitioners.” The court also noted that the couple received no protection from the local police.

Thus, the court directed the Mumbai police commissioner, additional police commissioner, the deputy police commissioner, zone X and the local senior inspector of police to provide round-the-clock protection to the couple, the man’s parents and the witnesses to their marriage. 

Apart from the aforementioned persons, the court directed that a copy of the order is to be forwarded to Aruna Pai, the chief public prosecutor, the director-general of police, Gujarat and the senior inspector of the Bachao police station. The court instructed these officers to present a copy of the order before Gujarat courts in case other officers or the woman’s family seek any orders against the couple.

The woman’s family members; her father, brother, Varchand, the community heads and the village sarpanch have all been summoned before the high court on November 10.