Police need sensitisation on couple’s autonomous life choices: Bombay HC

Bombay High Court Calls for Sensitization of Maharashtra Police Force towards Couples in Conflict with Family

General Facts

On July 19, 2023, the Bombay High Court heard a plea by a lesbian couple seeking protection from their opposing family members, who had filed a “missing persons” complaint to hinder and object to the relationship [1].

By approaching the Maharashtra Police with the complaint, the family was informed about the women’s whereabouts. The couple approached the High Court seeking remedy. The couple had been changing their residence constantly due to threats from family members; they had hence been assured by the state government during a previous hearing that protection would be provided through a constable in plain clothes. However, no such measure was taken. As the Court was informed on July 19 by the petitioners’ advocate Vijay Hiremath, the police had informed the women that they hadn’t received any such order from the High Court, and hence denied the women their guaranteed protection.

While hearing the case, the Court acknowledged the need for such cases to be handled with empathy and sensitivity. The Court also recognized that it is not merely for this singular case, and that sensitization of the police force is needed across the board in the state of Maharashtra.

The bench (comprising Justice Revati Mohite Dere and Justice Gauri Godse will next hear the matter again on July 28.


The Bombay High Court’s order certainly comes at a time when sensitization to people’s struggles – especially when said people are a part of minority communities – is much needed.

Madras High Court Judgement (2021)

However, this is not the first time such an order was made by a High Court; on June 7, 2021, the Madras High Court delivered a landmark judgement [2] by issuing guidelines and directions to the police force, judiciary, the central ministry and other law enforcement/legal aid workers regarding the sensitization of employees towards the LGBTQIA+ community.

Justice Venkatesh’s remarkable 104-page judgement sought to not just address social stigmatization and bias against members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but also provided concrete guidelines to enable change to be brought about. These guidelines were directed towards the police and the government, and sought to establish sensitization programmes within the police and prison authorities, district and state legal authorities, the judiciary, physical and mental health professionals, and government ministries [3].

The Madras High Court realized that such revolutionary changes can take time for a thorough implementation to take place; hence, in order to monitor the developments and ensure the guidelines and properly acted upon, the court kept the petition pending. Indeed, this was a wise move, for it allowed Justice Venkatesh to continue to forge the path of inclusivity and equality for which he had laid the foundation through his initial judgement. A couple months after the June judgement, the Court passed a new order to protect members of the LGBTQIA+ community against harassment and insensitive news reporting on social media [4].

These repeated efforts by the Judiciary to change societal views of the LGBTQIA+ community were proved fruitful with the Tamil Nadu government’s attempt to inculcate the spirit of Justice Venkatesh’s judgement by amending TN Subordinate Police Officers’ Conduct Rules, 1964 [5]. The Rules now include the new Rule 24-c, which explicitly prohibits police officers from harassing LGBTQIA+ persons.

Bombay High Court Order (2023)

The Madras High Court’s judgement was a milestone event, and one step further in the direction towards building and nurturing a society where people are free from prejudice and hatred to love whomever they wish to. The Bombay High Court’s order reflects an acknowledgement of the same, with the Court asking Advocate Vijay Hiremath to use the rules set out by the Madras High Court to suggest amendments for the Maharashtra Police’s manner of handling LGBTQIA+ sensitive cases.

“You see what rules are given by Madras High Court and see rules for Maharashtra Police. Then you see what needs to be done and then make submissions. The implementation can happen effectively if you incorporate the guidelines across the State. We want to look at the broader picture,” said the two-judge Bench hearing the case [1].

And looking at the broader picture is a must indeed – impactful change cannot be contained at the individual level. The foundations of the Bombay High Court’s call for an across-the-board sensitization of the Maharashtra police force towards LGBTQIA+ persons and their lives are strong; being cemented in the clearly influential Madras High Court ruling, there is hope for the manner in which Justices Dere and Godse have approached the issue at hand. After all, even the Constitution of our nation was formulated based on the experiences and realities of constitutions from across the world – clearly, utilizing a well-established and functional framework is beneficial to not just the implementers of the framework, but also those affected by said framework.

Taking action on the lesbian couple’s plea, however, does more than just signify the judiciary’s willingness to accommodate people from all walks of life into the nation – it also implies an acknowledgement of the need to provide the LGBTQIA+ community with appropriate protections to safeguard their rights. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to all, and taking protective measures to uphold LGBTQIA+ rights is a necessary step to ensure access to the right to all people in the nation. Moreover, the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution (which guarantees the right to life and liberty) has been expanded by the Courts to include the right to human dignity and the right to freedom of marriage [6], in addition to the right to privacy (as held by the Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Anr. vs. Union of India & Ors [7] verdict). The Bombay High Court’s order reflects the cruciality of upholding these rights for LGBTQIA+ persons.

Moving Forward

Gender sensitization and LGBTQIA+ rights are slowly, yet steadily, gaining attention and action from the public and the state. With even the Supreme Court of India initiating steps to increase inclusivity of the community’s members not just within the police force and the judiciary (by releasing an LGBTQIA+ Sensitization Module) [8] but also within its own premises [9], a change for the better has already been set in motion. The recent Bombay High Court’s order is a breath of fresh air from the despairing news bombarded at the public on the daily, for along with it comes the proof that Indian society is on its way to become inclusive in action, and not merely in name as it stands today.

(This article has been researched by Nidhi Kaushik, an intern with the organisation.)

Reference List

[1] https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/maharashtra-police-force-should-be-sensitized-to-protect-couples-in-conflict-with-families-bombay-high-court

[2] S. Sushma, D/o. Mr. V. Senthil Kumar and Another Versus Commissioner of Police, Chennai and Others [2021] 5 MLJ 9

[3] https://sabrangindia.in/article/madras-hc-issues-guidelines-sensitisation-stakeholders-lgbtqia-matters/

[4] https://sabrangindia.in/article/madras-hc-bats-lgbtqia-again-issues-more-directions-police-media/

[5] https://sabrangindia.in/article/madras-hc-commends-tn-govt-new-police-rules-glossary-referring-lgbtqia-persons/


[7] Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Anr. vs. Union of India & Ors, (2017) 10 SCC 1

[8] https://feminisminindia.com/2022/12/02/a-guide-towards-inclusion-supreme-court-releases-an-lgbtqia-sensitization-module-for-the-judiciary/

[9] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/supreme-court-initiates-steps-for-inclusive-infrastructure-and-sexuality-sensitisation-for-lgbtqia-community-at-its-court/article66730359.ece



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