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Innocent Admission

SC cites Britney case, nixes guru’s plea for custody of woman

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New Delhi, July 6, 2021-
The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to entertain a plea by a 42-year-old spiritual guru from Kerala seeking release of his 21-year-old live-in partner from her parents alleged illegal custody.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana cited the case of pop star Britney Spears, who has been fighting a legal battle in the US to free herself from the conservatorship of her father.

Refusing to entertain the plea, the bench also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy noted that the petitioner’s credentials were suspect. The Chief Justice 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, Justice Roy noted the facts are such and the antecedents of the petitioner are such, that it does not inspire confidence.

Citing the Spears case, 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.

Spears has been under the comprehensive conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears, following her breakdown around 12 years ago. Recently, billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk had spoken up in support of the pop icon.

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. POCSO is an abbreviation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, which was enacted in 2012.

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 making an assessment of 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. (Agency)

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