It was less than a year ago that the Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to take action against police personnel who harass people from the LGBTQIA+ community or those belonging to NGOs supporting them. But the Madurai bench of the same court has now questioned the locus standi of a gay man to file a habeas corpus petition for his partner, who has allegedly been locked up by his family. Justices PN Prakash and Vijayakumar questioned how the boyfriend could file the petition as they're not 'married', and has told him to not be present in court when his partner is produced before them.
Abbas (26) and Ajith (18) [names changed] have been in a relationship for the past eight months. When Ajith’s family came to know about their relationship earlier this year, they allegedly subjected him to conversion therapy and tortured him. Speaking to TNM, Abbas says that Ajith was tied up in chains, beaten up, and given shock treatment in medical facilities and unknown places. "He came from his house to live with me on May 8. But the very next day, his mother called him and lied that she would accept him and us, so he returned to his family. That was the last I saw him. He was taken to Theni, Tirunelveli and other places, was beaten, given medicines. Even the police were on his mother's side, as she is influential," he says.
On May 11, Abbas says he received a call allegedly from Vadassery police threatening to arrest him. He also says that he heard Ajith's distressed voice during the call, and believes he was being assaulted. However, when he called back the alleged police officer, the person on the other end claimed he was not a policeman, and that someone else must have used his phone. When Abbas and his lawyers contacted the police station concerned, they denied making any such calls.
The very same day, Abbas sent official complaints to the SP, and Inspectors of Suchindram and Vadassery police stations. On May 12, Abbas filed an online police complaint via the TN police portal. The case was allotted to the Suchindram police station.
On May 13, a police officer from Vadassery contacted Abbas and allegedly hurled homophobic abuses at him. After that episode, on May 22, a police officer from Suchindram station called Abbas to be present for an inquiry on May 23, based on a complaint filed by Ajith's mother that the boy was a minor. The very same night, Abbas was attacked by unknown persons.
However, Inspector Sailakshmi of Suchindram police station denied the allegations that Abbas was abused over a call. "The case is in High Court and we can't talk about it now," she said. However, when asked about the case filed by Ajith's mother, she said, "The age of the boy is yet to be ascertained. We have asked for the documents."
Meanwhile, on checking the line status of the case, Abbas found that the complaint he filed was already investigated and disposed of.
It was then that Abbas decided to knock on the doors of the court and submitted a habeas corpus petition, which was filed on June 6 by his lawyers Sathiya G and Sanjesh Mahalingam. However, it came up for hearing regarding its maintainability only on June 22. A bench of justices PN Prakash and Hemalatha questioned the age of Ajith and demanded an age proof, and the locus standi of petitioner to file the petition, to decide whether the petition can be taken up. The lawyers submitted the Aadhaar copy of the detenue to prove his age of majority, and after checking it, the bench decided to admit the petition.
On June 29, when the case was taken up for urgent hearing, the bench of Justice PN Prakash and Vijayakumar asked the counsels for the petitioner, "What is your locus standi to file this case, there is no marriage or... You say that he is your friend.” It is to be noted that marriage between same sex couples is not legal in India.
When Abbas’s lawyers cited the recent judgment supporting a lesbian couple in Kerala, the judges responded saying that the case had 'media coverage’. While the judges initially assumed that it was a suo motu writ petition taken up by the Kerala High Court based on media reports, the counsel for the petitioner clarified that though the HC had intended to take suo motu cognisance, an advocate for the petitioner apprised the court of the habeas corpus filed.
The court has now ordered Ajith to be produced before them on Thursday (June 30) — however, they’ve said that Abbas should not be present in court at the time. "When the alleged detenue is in my chamber, the petitioner shouldn't come", the judges ordered.
"Either both Ajith's mother as well as his partner should be ordered not to be present, or both should be allowed. Being present in many similar cases, I have seen the latter happen. However, this order in which only the partner is asked to refrain from being present is biased," says L Ramakrishnan from the health and human rights NGO SAATHII, who also volunteers as a peer counsellor with the Orinam collective.
He further adds that even if the case rules in favour of the petitioner Abbas, there is an inherent threat to his life. "He was attacked by Ajith’s family at least twice and he sustained injuries in the attacks. Now, even if Ajith is set at liberty, there is no assurance that his family will leave this issue," he says.
Meanwhile, Inspector Of Suchindram submitted that she physically went to Ajith's house, ascertained his physical safety, recorded a statement from the detenue that he was residing with his mother out of his own volition and no harm had come to him. She also submitted a statement allegedly signed by him and a video recording of him admitting the above. However, Abbas's lawyers apprised the court of a video received from Ajith and offered to submit the same; in the video, Ajith is seen saying that he was coerced into giving the above statements to the police, they said.