Constitutional laws in India

A Critique on The Right To Marry of Hiv/ Aids Patient (The Decaying Citadel of Justice)

21st September 1998 has been a black hole in the judicial and human rights history of India
Written By : Parthsarthy.A.S.Pati - LL.B Vth Symbiosis Law College, Pune-4
Constitutional Lawyers in India
Legal Service
  • The Right To Marry of Hiv/ Aids Patient
    The 21 st day of September 1998 (1) has been a black hole in the judicial and human rights history of India. This day marked the judicial murder of the very basic natural and humanitarian rights of the persons suffering from HIV/ AIDS. Their very right to marry, found a family and procreate was snatched away by the very 'sentinel of justice'. This judicial murder did not stop here. It culminated with the snatching away of the right to privacy of the PWHA (2).

    In the year 2003 the Supreme Court (3) restored the right to marry of the PWHA. This was indeed a welcome step and was received with great appreciation. The Supreme Court restored the earlier position i.e. the PWHA were granted the right to marry and found a family. However one pertinent question, which remains still unanswered- " The right to privacy and confidentiality of the PWHA."

    Therefore the need arises that the proposition laid down in C.A. No. 4641/1998 and the I.A. for clarification/ direction should be evaluated to ascertain the threat, which still persists pertaining to violation of their rights.

    Facts of the Case -
    Mr. X was a doctor in government service from a well-known family in a North East state of India. He was asked to accompany an uncle of a minister of his state on official duty for surgical treatment to a well-known hospital in the southern part of India. During the surgery the uncle required blood. The complainant was requested to give blood. He was asked to be ready and his blood sample was taken. However his blood was not used with out assigning any reason. After the surgery was over they returned back. Later his marriage was proposed with one Ms. Y. Both families and the minister also approved the match. They were officially engaged. The hospital authorities had no knowledge of the proposed marriage. But without any reason they informed the minister that the Mr. X was HIV + ve. The minister told his sister that the marriage would have to be called off. When Mr. X came to know about it he volunteered for the confirmation test. On getting the confirmation he returned and the marriage was called off. However by this time every one knew the sero status of Mr.X. He was severely ostracised and had to quit his job and his home state. Being aggrieved he moved the consumer forum for the breach of duty by disclosure and consequent liability of the hospital. The NCDRC asked Mr. X to approach a civil court. However he preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court. (8)

    Proposition laid down in Mr. X v. Hospital Z (1998) -
    1. Right to marry is a suspended in cases of PWHA.
    2. Infringement of such suspended right cannot be legally compensated.
    3. Disclosure of the 'sero-status' does not violate the right to confidentiality as the life of Ms. Y was saved.
    4. Duty is cast upon the PWHA not to marry by Ss. 269 & 270 of the I.P.C.

    Right to marry suspended

    The Apex Court has held that PWHA have no right to marry. The basis of the finding was that the personal laws provide as a ground for divorce when one spouse is suffering from communicable vulnerable disease. Thus when one party is suffering from communicable vulnerable disease there cannot be a lawful marriage.

    Further the Court held that the object of marriage is sex. As AIDS is a product of undisciplined sexual impulse, sex with PWHA is to be avoided; the Court cannot assist those persons in achieving that object.

    With due respect to the above observations, it is humbly submitted that this observation of the Hon'ble Court is devoid of any merit and made in the gross ignorance of the facts of the case.

    There is no provision in any personal law wherein marriage between two person, either one or both suffering from any form of communicable vulnerable disease is prohibited. Hence on this ground declaring the right to marry as suspended is untenable. Further the Court even did not realise that what if both parties are suffering from HIV/ AIDS.

    The second ground for declaring the right to marry as a suspended right was based on the ground that AIDS is an outcome of undisciplined sexual impulse and to prevent it from transmitting right to marry should be suspended. In this regard I would like to make two clarifications -

    a) sex is not the absolute object of marriage.(4)
    b) AIDS is not solely the outcome of undisciplined sexual impulse. (5)
    It is a sad and terrifying situation if the Apex Court of any land bases its observation on such grounds.

    Compensation for such suspended right

    The Supreme Court has held that, 'infringement of a' suspended right to marry cannot be legally compensated by damages either in Torts or Common law, is our answer to this problem raised in this appeal which is based on the peculiar facts of its own.

    The above ground for rejection of the appeal is totally uncalled, for the real issues before the Consumer Foras as well as the Supreme Court was that there was a breach of confidentiality or not. The Supreme Court on a self conceived imaginary notion, which was totally erroneous, made an observation on the issue of damages for calling off the marriage.

    Disclosure of sero status

    The Supreme Court justified the disclosure of the sero status of the Appellant to a minister whose uncle the appellant had accompanying for treatment. Due to this the Appellant was severely and had to quit his home state. The disclosure was justified as the Supreme Court imagined that such disclosure saved the life of Ms.Y, the fiancée of Mr.X.

    With due respect it is again submitted that had the Court before making such observation inquired into the facts there would not have been a miscarriage of justice in such abominable fashion.

    Duty not to marry

    The Court did not stop here rather it proceeded on and declared that there is a duty cast upon the PWHA not to marry. In case they marry they shall face penal consequences imposed by S.269 and S.270 of the I.P.C.

    It is submitted with due respect that such marriage is neither a negligent (6) nor a malignant (7) act. It is also pertinent to note that in cases of discordant couples sexual transmission of HIV can be lowered to 0.01% by safe penetrative sex, by consistent and correct use of condoms. Further in case of mother to child transmission, it is medically possible to reduce the transmission of HIV during pregnancy from 33% to 2%.

    Position as laid down in I.A. for clarification \ direction in C.A. NO. 4641\1998 -
    1) The Court directed the W.P. u\Art32 to be treated as an I.A. for clarification \ directions in C.A. No. 4641\1998.
    2) The disclosure was justified in the circumstances of the case.
    3) The following observation made by Court in C.A.No.4641\1998 were unnecessary as the Court did not give notice to either parties concerned-

    a) right to privacy
    b) criminal liability on marriage
    c) right to confidentiality
    d) the right to marriage is suspended during the period of illness.

    The above observations hit the headlines but not in toto. Everywhere it was reported that PWHA have right to marry, 'right to marry restored'. However, the situation is not as simple as it seems.

    The right to privacy, confidentiality, and disclosure are still not conclusively restored. There is every chance that these rights of PWHA may be invaded and such intrusion may be defended on the basis of the judgement and clarification issued by the Hon'ble Court in C.A.No.4641\1998.

    The Hon'ble Court has held in the C.A. No. 4641\1998 that "...the observations made by this Court, except to the extent of holding as stated earlier that the appellant's right was not affected in any manner in revealing his HIV +ve status to the relatives of his fiancé, are uncalled for .We dispose off these applications with these observations".

    It has been stated clearly earlier that such disclosure was uncalled for. Therefore for the sake of brevity it is necessary that the far-reaching consequences and effects of this observation by the court be examined. The following may be the effects of the observation.

    Ad-hoc Justice

    The law laid down by the Supreme Court is final till the legislature or the Court itself changes it. In this process of doing justice if any injustice is done to the parties then such unjust law prevails till it is impeached. In this case the Hon'ble Court did not conclusively settle the matter but an ad-hoc course was resorted to.

    Whereby the Court did not appreciate the case properly. The need of the hour is to determine the rights and obligations of the PWHA conclusively. The Hon'ble Court could have clearly laid down the law on disclosure by issuing \ framing guidelines for the same.

    A dangerous weapon against the PWHA

    The observation of the Hon'ble Court might have far reaching consequences than what can be imagined at this stage. The Court has clarified that the proposition made in the Appeal pertaining to privacy and confidentiality were uncalled for. However one must keep in mind that the Court has justified the disclosure, on what ground-it has not been discussed therein.

    It is impossible to imagine about the right to privacy and right to confidentiality when the Court has justified the right to disclosure of the sero-status to any third person.

    A need for Reconsideration-
    The observation of the Supreme Court in C.A. No. 4641\1998 and its I.A. for clarification needs reconsideration if it wants to stand tall in the eyes of the law-abiding citizens as a 'sentinel on a qui vive'.

    Reference: -
    1. Mr. X v. Hospital Z - C.A. No. 4641/ 1998 (1998) 8 SCC 296
    2. PWHA- Persons with HIV / AIDS
    3. AIR 2003 (SC) 664
    4. Though sex is an essential aspect of marriage, however it is not the sole object of marriage.
    5. HIV/ AIDS may be communicated even by blood transfusion (through a contaminated needle) and by birth.
    6. see- Rakma { I.L.R Bom. 11}
    7. The Hon'ble Court did not consider the case where two persons suffering from HIV/ AIDS or in a case where one of the couple is discordant and with knowledge of the disease they marry each other and are willing to take preventive measures.

    The author can be reached at: [email protected] / Print This Article

    Also Read:
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    # Freedom of Press - Article 19(1)(a)
    # Exemptions from disclosure of information under RTI
    # Right to Information and Impact on Administration
    # Right to Information Act - Boon or Bane
    # Contemporary congruity of Right to Information: An Intra-national dimension

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