[17th June 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: High Court’s take on Marriage Act, an erosion of rights

PYQ Relevance:

Q Discuss the possible factors that inhibit India from enacting for its citizen a uniform civil code as provided for in the Directive Principles of State Policy. (UPSC IAS/2015)

Customs and traditions suppress reason leading to obscurantism. Do you agree? (UPSC IAS/2020)

Mentor comment: Interfaith marriages in India face legal and societal challenges despite protections under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Recent judicial interventions have raised concerns about misinterpretations, impacting couples’ rights to choose partners freely. Such marriages often encounter opposition from families and communities, leading to social tensions. Efforts to protect couples through legal frameworks are crucial amid ongoing debates on religious and cultural sensitivities.

Let’s learn!

Why in the News?

  • A recent order from the Madhya Pradesh High Court has raised concerns about the interpretation of the law regarding inter-faith marriages and the scope of the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
About Special Marriage Act, 1954:

•The SMA was passed by the Parliament on October 9, 1954.
•It governs a civil marriage where the state sanctions the marriage rather than the religion.
The minimum age to get married under the SMA is 21 years for males and 18 years for females.
Need for SMA:
•Issues of personal law such as marriage, divorce, and adoption are governed by religious laws that are codified.
•These laws, such as the Muslim Marriage Act,1954, and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, require either spouse to convert to the religion of the other before marriage.
•However, the SMA enables marriage between inter-faith or inter-caste couples without them giving up their religious identity or resorting to conversion.

Erroneous Considerations

  • Typical Assessment Under Article 226: When a petition for police protection is filed under Article 226 of the Constitution, the High Court usually assesses the violation of the petitioners’ rights and the threat they face.
  • Extended Protection Examples:
  • The Madras High Court granted protection to a lesbian couple, recognizing the dangers they faced.
  • The Punjab and Haryana High Court provided protection to a live-in couple, emphasizing the protection of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Contrasting Focus of Madhya Pradesh HC: Instead of focusing on the threats faced by the couple, the HC focused on the validity of the couple’s impending marriage, disregarding their right to life and liberty.
What is Article 226 of the Constitution?
Article 226 grants the High Courts of Indian states the power to issue writs. These writs are primarily meant for the enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution or for any other legal purpose. The High Courts have the authority to issue writs such as habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari.

Dilution of the Special Marriage Act

  • Contradictory Order: The Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order contradicts the core principles of the Special Marriage Act.
  • Irrelevant Supreme Court Precedent: The court erroneously relied on a Supreme Court precedent related to property succession under Mohammedan Laws, which is irrelevant to the validity of inter-faith marriages under the Special Marriage Act.
  • Misinterpretation of Section 4: The court misinterpreted Section 4 of the Act, which excludes marriages between close relatives, not inter-faith marriages.
  • Act’s Purpose: The Act is designed to facilitate marriage between any two Indian nationals, regardless of their faith.

Present status of Special Marriages:

  • Significance of the Order: The Madhya Pradesh High Court order is significant given the current social and political climate, where inter-faith and inter-caste marriages face vigilantism and right-wing propaganda.
  • Ongoing Petitions: There are ongoing petitions challenging unconstitutional provisions within the Special Marriage Act, such as the prior notice requirement, pending before the Supreme Court.
  • Supreme Court’s Ruling in Shafin Jahan Case:
  • Emphasized the protection of personal liberty and the right to choose a life partner, regardless of faith or caste.
  • Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s judgment highlighted that intimate personal decisions do not require social approval and are protected by the Constitution.

Way forward

  • Disregard of Shafin Jahan Judgment: The Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order disregards the spirit of the Shafin Jahan judgment, which prioritizes individual autonomy, privacy, and liberty.
  • Courts’ Responsibility: Constitutional courts must remember that jurisprudence favours autonomy and personal liberty.


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