HC shocked at Malwani cops’ hotel raids

MUMBAI: A fortnight after the police raided hotels in Malwani, targeting unmarried couples, the Bombay high court on Thursday expressed “shock” while hearing a PIL filed by a Khar businessman on the incident.

“What is happening in Maharashtra? It is shocking,” remarked a division bench of Justice V M Kanade and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi.

Public prosecutor Sandeep Shinde sought time to respond to the petition. “The raids were based on complaints by local residents. After going through the material, it will have to be checked if the raids were justified or not,” said the prosecutor.

The HC gave the state two weeks to file its affidavit and has scheduled the matter for the next hearing on September 3.

The petitioner, Sumeer Sabharwal, alleged that the police had violated the couples’ “right to privacy” and sought an inquiry into the raids. “The raids were nothing but police high-handedness,” said advocate Shilpi Jain, who, along with advocate Vinay Rathi, represented the petitioner.

“The right to life and personal liberty is a fundamental right that was violated by the police. There were no complaints by the hotels and the police (should) not have dragged the couples from their rooms to the police station and fined them.”

The petitioner has urged that action be initiated against the police for misuse of power. It has also sought compensation for the couples who suffered “loss of honour and dignity and were submitted to immense mental torture” by the intrusive action. “The police took upon itself the role of ‘moral policing’ without any legal justification and grossly abused its powers,” the petitioner said.

The advocates claimed that the incident had affected Mumbai’s image as a cosmopolitan city. “Mumbai is considered as a safe city for women. Many women come to Mumbai on work and stay in hotels. Now there will be fear because of misuse of power by the police,” said advocate Jain.

On August 6, the Malwani police had raided hotels in Madh Island and Aksa, and rounded up nearly 40 couples from their rooms. They were taken to the police station, humiliated and fined.

The uncalled-for police action invited criticism and subsequently Mumbai’s police commissioner ordered a probe into the raids.