The police received a missing person complaint from *Ananya’s parents days after she left her house in Kozhikode in early October.

Representative image of a couple sitting together. Both the women have their backs to the camera.Image for representation
news Moral Policing Sunday, October 25, 2020 - 17:52

Around 11.45 am on Saturday, three persons landed at Regina*'s (name changed) doorstep in Chennai’s Nungambakkam area. They started inquiring about Ananya* (name changed), a 22-year-old from Kerala who had been living with Regina in her house for the last 21 days. An hour later, the three persons, who were police officers — two from Kerala and one from Chennai's Nungambakkam police station — put Ananya in a vehicle and drove away to the Nungambakkam police station. Ananya’s father, too, was reportedly waiting for her in the vehicle.

Regina and Ananya are a lesbian couple who got into a relationship after they met each other on the video-sharing platform TikTok. While 21-year-old Regina is from Tamil Nadu, Ananya is a native of Kerala. On learning about their relationship, Ananya’s family opposed it, prompting her to leave the house and live with Regina and her mother in Chennai.

The two police officers from Kerala, including a female police officer, who knocked on Regina’s door, travelled more than 500 kilometres to take Ananya away — an adult who, according to her partner, lawyer, and an NGO working with them, willingly left her home and is in a relationship with a partner of her choice. The couple had received a missing person complaint from her parents days after Ananya left her house in Kozhikode district of Kerala in early October.

“Ananya and I are in a relationship. She has been living with me for 20 days and she came with me on her own volition,” Regina said in a video she recorded after the incident.

When the police showed up at her house, Regina and Ananya contacted a lawyer and a member from the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), a Chennai-based organisation that extends support services for women and persons from the LGBTQI+ community. While the couple’s lawyer Akila RS, and a person who works with PCVC tried to intervene and speak with police officials, the officials allegedly refused to answer their calls or hear what the couple had to say. Before the lawyer or social worker could reach Regina’s house, the police drove away with Ananya.

“She is a major and can choose not to go back. But she was taken away. They (the police) asked me certain questions. They said they needed to produce her (Ananya) before the Magistrate in Kerala and then let her off according to what she says. The senior official said I could tell the court whatever I had to say, but they have to produce her in the magistrate court in Kerala,” said Regina.

Lawyer Akila says that in the case of inter-state coordination between police, it is enough if the police could verify if the person is voluntarily living with their partner or is kept against her will. "In this case, the Tamil Nadu police should have ascertained from Ananya if she was living in Chennai voluntarily. They should have completed the investigation, recorded her statement and informed the Kerala police. Besides, there was sufficient age-proof to show she is an adult. However, that did not happen. They did not allow her an opportunity to seek legal counsel and get advise on the legal course of action; Ananya’s parents and the police probably pressured her into going to Kerala to appear before the Court."

Senior lawyer Sudha Ramalingam pointed out that the police could have taken her statement and video and produced it before the court, but taking her away was unwarranted.

Nungambakkam police told TNM that Ananya had informed them that she was ready to depose before court that she was living in Chennai on her own will.

Ananya was produced in the court on Sunday. She has been sent back home with her father, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DySP), Thamarassey, told TNM.

“Since it was a Sunday, the woman was produced before the Magistrate via video conferencing. She said she will stay with her parents for 10 days,” the DySP said, adding, “She told the female police officer that she will stay with her parents for 10 days and return to Chennai.”

He said he will investigate if the police officials denied legal counsel to Ananya.

A troubling pattern

Ananya-Regina’s case is not an isolated one and the pattern is far too common — the parents file a complaint stating their daughter is missing and the police, despite ascertaining she left voluntarily, proceed to get her back to the family.

It is a prevalent pattern where the personal freedom and liberty of a young woman is disregarded. The police also know that it is not in consonance with the law, but they still do it. There are so many such cases, especially with LGBTQ+ community and interfaith consensual relationships, where the police take the side of the parents, pointed out Akila.

In the case of Hadiya alias Akhila, the Kerala High Court had admitted a habeas corpus filed by her father in August 2016, following which, the court swiftly nullified Hadiya's marriage to her Muslim partner, Shafin Jahan. However, in 2018, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court judgment and maintained that Hadiya has the right to make her own choice. The three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra also pointed out that “the freedom to choose the religion of one’s choice or a life partner was at the heart of Indian plurality”.

Despite this judgment (and many others) by the apex court, which upholds an adult’s freedom to make certain choices, it seems like the police and family continue to take the moral high ground, especially in a case like Regina-Ananya, where the individuals are LGBTQ+.

“In all such cases, we don’t know if there is corruption involved or if the police are taking a moralistic position, or it could be a combination of both. But the police are exceeding the bounds of the law,” said Akila.

In Hadiya’s case, apart from filing a missing person case, the Kerala police also added offences of promoting enmity between groups on religious grounds, among others. In Regina-Ananya’s case, they were denied legal access and Ananya was taken back to Kerala.

Incidentally, such incidents where the woman is taken away against her wishes take place during weekends, Akhila pointed out, which prolongs justice or legal assistance to the woman.

“What the police or courts don’t understand is that when the woman is taken back to the family, they are much more vulnerable. Their safety, including mental well-being, is compromised,” she added.

“Nobody can second-guess your decision, especially when you are a sexual minority or are in an interfaith or intercaste marriage or whatever is considered an ‘unsuitable arrangement’. This stems from the fact that the virtue of the woman belongs to the family. This is the paradigm that enables all such incidents,” pointed out Akhila.

Stating that the police should respect autonomy, especially bodily autonomy, which is what the Constitution explicitly states, she said, “it is definitely not valued or respected by the police, parents and people in general.”

*Names changed

(With inputs from Saritha S Balan)

Read: Understanding LGBTQ+: An exhaustive explainer on gender and sexual identities