The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to entertain a plea by a 42-year-old married spiritual guru from Kerala seeking release of his 21-year-old live-in partner from her parents’ alleged illegal custody.
Refusing to entertain the plea, the bench noted that the petitioner's credentials were suspect. Chief Justice NV Ramana said: "The girl is in fragile state of mind. She is 21 and does not know what she is doing. The man (petitioner) is married with two children". Additionally, another judge on the Bench noted the facts are such and the antecedents of the petitioner are such, that it does not inspire confidence.
The girl’s parents have claimed that she was mentally unstable.
The court then referred to the Britney Spears case, where the pop singer is fighting a legal battle to end the conservatorship by her father and others. Spears has claimed she was compelled to resort to birth control and take other medications against her will, and prevented from getting married or having another child.
The bench observed that in the US unless an adult gives consent, he or she cannot be given any form of medical or psychiatric treatment. "Now, the entire family is on the road because of that, since a mentally unstable person cannot give consent", the Chief Justice said.
In the spiritual guru's case, he had moved the top court challenging a Kerala High Court judgment that had dismissed his habeas corpus plea seeking the release of his 21-year-old partner.
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing the petitioner, submitted that the woman is an adult who is being illegally detained by her parents. The bench responded by saying, "There is nothing illegal. She is with her parents".
Citing a plea on parents' concern about such spiritual gurus, the bench asked Sankaranarayanan, "You also know about some of these gurujis." With this observation, it refused to interfere in the matter.
The bench noted that the petitioner was married with two children, and his mother had also said she did not trust her son. "He is also involved in a POCSO case," the bench added. The apex court asked Sankaranarayanan, "How can we give this girl to this man?"
Sankaranarayanan argued that the High Court had adopted a "paternalistic approach" as it denied an adult woman the right to take independent decisions for herself. He clarified that his client did not seek that the woman be allowed to join him but was only asking for her freedom from the "illegal detention" of her parents.
The counsel added that it was a question of the liberty of the woman. The High Court, he said, had erred in assessing the mental capacity of the woman after interacting with her, although under the provision of the Mental Healthcare Act, it was expected to refer the woman for a medical examination.
The bench replied, "No parent will say that a 21-year-old has a mental health issue. In India people cover up mental health issues. This is a case where we are clear that the woman should not go with the petitioner".
It added it was not a case of illegal detention because the woman was with her parents.
The top court disposed of the matter with a direction to the Registrar General of the Kerala High Court to ask the district judge concerned to interact with the woman and her parents after a month and send a report on her condition to it.