Lessons From The Law
In a notable development in Law of Writs in late 1980s, the Supreme Court showed its readiness to issue writ of habeas corpus against private persons to save battered women. Deviating from Vidya Verma v. Dr. Shiv Narain Verma, where it had declined to issue writ of habeas corpus in a situation of private detention on the ground that the protection of right to life and personal liberty is available only against the state and not against private actions, in State of W.B. v. O.P. Lodha, the Court traversed a different path in a case of alleged private detention. Here in response to a letter, which is said to have been written by a woman alleging illegal confinement against her wishes by a man, the Supreme Court directed the latter to immediately produce the detenu before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Jamshedpur. Although the letter was later discovered to be a forged one, the seriousness with which the Court responded to the problem women was a trend setter, the delay of one and a half months in placing the letter by the Registrar was strongly objected by the court. The Apex Court observed, “It is making a mockery of the judicial process if a matter where a woman complains of illegal confinement is not treated as important enough to be placed before the court forthwith. If a matter of this nature is not considered as urgent enough for being listed on priority basis, no other matter deserves to be listed on priority basis.”
The potential role of Nilima principle can be seen in the background of notorious wife-seller’s case of 1994. In 1986 one Nasrin, wife of Shabir was said to be missing. The husband did not complain with the police nor allowed Nasrin’s mother to complain. In 1993 Nasrin’s mother came to know that Nasrin was in a brothel to which she had been sold by Nasrin’s husband himself. The mother sought the help of U.P. police in vain, to recover her daughter. With the help of National Federation of Indian Woman Organisation she pursued for a Magistrate’s order for raid of brothels. That was also unsuccessful as Nasrin had been shifted to Rajasthan. Finally she filed a petition for habeas corpus before the Supreme Court, alleging the police inaction. The Court directed the U.P. police to produce the woman within five days, failing which contempt proceeding was threatened. Ultimately the Rajasthan police produced Nasrin after 15 days. The case illustrates the significance of habeas corpus remedy in society ridden with crimes like kidnapping, forceful confinement, keeping in brothel etc. When the close relative like husband resorts to selling of wife to brothel, and with the connivance of police the brutal act is suppressed it is remarkable that the remedy of habeas corpus comes as the solitary hope of dignified life.
Author is Senior lecturer at KCEF Law College Pulwama