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Interfaith marriages and religious conversions

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Special Marriages Act

Mains level : Interfaith marriage and associated issues in India

Forced religious conversions for interfaith marriages cases are widely seen in news these days. And many states are attempting to ban religious conversion for the sole purpose of marriage.

Try answering this:

Q. The recent withdrawal of a TV commercial advertisement showing an interfaith marriage has led to an astonishing blowback. In light of this, discuss the various ethical and rights issues involved in interfaith marriages.

Context

  • Though the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (SMA) was enacted to facilitate the marriage of couples professing different faiths, and preferring a civil wedding.
  • However, some practical problems arise in registering such marriages.
  • The law’s features on prior public notice being given and objections for the safety and privacy of those intending to marry across religions.
  • To overcome this, many settle for marriage under the personal law of one of them, with the other opting for religious conversion (accusingly termed as Love-Jihad).

What are the features of the SMA?

  • Age: The marriage of any two persons may be solemnized under the SMA, subject to the man having completed 21 years of age and the woman 18.
  • Consent: Neither should have a spouse living; both should be capable of giving valid consent, should not suffer from any mental disorder of a kind that renders them unfit for marriage and procreation.
  • Liability: They should not be within the degrees of prohibited relationship — that is, they should not be related in such a way that their religion does not permit such marriages.
  • Registration: Parties to an intended marriage should give notice to the ‘marriage officer’ of the district in which one of them had resided for at least 30 days.
  • Objections: Any person can object to the marriage within 30 days of the publication of the notice on the ground that it contravenes one of the conditions for a valid marriage.
  • Publication: The notice will have to be entered in a ‘Marriage Notice Book’ and a copy of it displayed at a conspicuous place in the office. The Notice Book is open for inspection at all reasonable times without a fee.
  • Inquiry and approval: The marriage officer has to inquire into the objection and give a decision within 30 days. If he refuses permission for the marriage, an appeal can be made to the district court. The court’s decision will be final.
  • Severance from family: Also, the Act says that when a member of a Hindu undivided family, gets married under SMA, it results in his or her “severance” from the family.

Threats after such marriages

  • The provisions relating to notice, publication and objection have rendered it difficult for many people intending to solemnize inter-faith marriages.
  • Publicity in the local registration office may mean that family members objecting to the union may seek to stop it by coercion.
  • In many cases, there may be a threat to the lives of the applicants.
  • There have been reports of right-wing groups opposed to inter-faith marriages for communal propaganda.

Issues with the publication of notices

  • In July, the Kerala Registration department decided to discontinue the practice of uploading marriage notices on its websites following complaints that these were being misused.
  • However, the notices will be displayed on the notice boards of the offices concerned.
  • These provisions have been challenged in the Supreme Court recently on the grounds that they violate the privacy of the couples, their dignity and right to marry.
  • In the case of Hindu and Muslim marriage laws, there is no requirement of prior notice and, therefore, such a requirement in the SMA violates the right to equality of those opting for marriage under it.

States against conversion for the sake of marriage

  • Even though Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) and Karnataka have spoken about a separate enactment, at least two States have legal provisions to the effect.
  • The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, both prohibit conversion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, inducement, allurement and ‘by marriage’.
  • There is a separate section in both laws under which, not conversion for the purpose of marriage, but marriage has done solely for the purpose of conversion, may be declared null and void by a family court based on a suit by either party.
  • The U.P. State Law Commission has recommended a similar Freedom of Religion law in the State and favours a provision under which marriages solemnized solely for the conversion of one of the parties may be nullified by a family court.
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