By Karthik Shankar:
If anyone wanted more evidence that the Indian state has comfortably plonked itself in our bedrooms, the recent Kerala High Court judgement upholding the rustication of two students for living together is another in a long line of ‘Sanskari’ court rulings. The students, both second year English literature students from Mar Thoma College of Science and Technology, were apprehended by the police on the complaints of their parents. The college then constituted a five-member disciplinary committee, made up completely of senior faculty members, which made the decision of expelling the two students.
At this juncture when the woman filed a petition against the expulsion, the Kerala High Court could have stepped in and reiterated that two consenting adults having a sexual relation and cohabiting is a fundamental right. Instead, the entire judgement reeks of puritanism, is worded regressively and sides with the management of the college.
With regards to the students having cohabiting, the judgement reads, “This is not a mere case of falling in love; but two students taking the drastic step of eloping and living together without even contracting a marriage.” Apparently, the only way young people should act on their sexual impulses in this country is through the benign confines of marriage.
Yet the judgement also notes that the boy was not of marriageable age. In other words, the boy was over 18 but not 21. India is one of the few countries in the world which continues to have a discriminatory policy with different marriageable ages for men and women. Despite 18 being the age of majority in the country, the only rights adults can exercise apparently are voting and picking up arms to defend the country. Obscene acts such as drinking and premarital sex are not part of this bundle of rights. Moreover, what if the man had been of legal marriageable age, would the court have respected his decision to be part of a relationship without a marriage certificate?
The judgement also has the temerity to refer to the college management’s benevolence as they agreed to issue the transfer certificates to the students without referring to the ‘misconduct’. It also ominously reads, “when taking such drastic step for the sake of love, as adults, they should also be ready to face the consequences.”
The Kerala High Court ruling is not surprising. Our courts have often taken a very parochial and patriarchal view of relationships. Last year the Supreme Court ruled that live in relationships subject to certain conditions (which included the woman performing ‘housewife’ chores) will be considered marriage under law. We seem to have an inability to even understand relationships that are not sanctified by religious ceremonies or a piece of government paper.
The judgement also engages in some good old-fashioned castigation of the woman’s choices by pinning the blame of the ‘drastic consequences’ on her ‘impulsive act’. Why does our political and legal machinery act with this nanny state mentality, particularly when it comes to women? Clearly the right of women to live their lives as they see fit is invalidated when it clashes with the wishes of their family members or college administrations.
This curtailment of our bodily integrity happens over and over. It’s justified under various guises. Culture. Honour. Discipline, in this case. The judgement says that “[t]he Management’s concern of setting an example to the other students and ensuring maintenance of discipline in the educational institution cannot be easily brushed aside.” Clearly enforcing a set of dubious behavioural standards takes precedence over the rights of the couple.
At a time when Qandeel Baloch‘s honour killing is sending shockwaves through the subcontinent, we all the more need to fight to create an environment that protects and nurtures those who step outside the rigid dictates of our conservative cultural codes. Given that Kerala is the state where the Kiss of Love protests originated, I can only hope that this becomes another cause célèbre among its youth.