But the Act requires a 30-day notice period during which time the marriage application with names, addresses and phone numbers are on public display. It’s this provision that is now being challenged in the Supreme Court for violating an individual’s right to privacy.
“The personal laws and practices of Hindus and Muslims don’t require a notice period, so why should it be there in a secular law?” asked Kaleeswaram Raj, senior advocate who has challenged the provision.
The provision leaves couples marrying against their parents’ wishes vulnerable to family reprisal. It’s also a red flag for vigilante groups. “This procedure has unintentionally facilitated the use of violence against the couple for religious and fanatic reasons,” said Kaleeswaram.
Earlier this year, Kerala decided to stop publishing marriage applications online after a few groups and individuals posted details of as many as 120 interfaith couples on Facebook claiming that they were a part of a ‘love jihad’ conspiracy.
The original intent of providing 30-day notice, notes the 2018 Law Commission report, might have been to provide transparency. But online access to such notices or over-eager registrars taking it on themselves to inform parents about the couple, have ‘defeated the purpose’ of the Act, often leaving couples with having to choose between a runaway temple marriage or conversion, notes the report.
Not every marriage meets with societal approval but this does not necessarily make it wrong. Marriages within the same gotra, for instance, are banned by extra-constitutional khap panchayats leading to so-called ‘honour’ killings at one end and social boycott at the other.
But at the heart of the issue is the autonomy of adult daughters in a patriarchal society where arranged marriages remain the desirable norm. Memories of the 26-year-old Hadiya, and the Kerala High Court’s observation that “as per Indian tradition the custody of an unmarried daughter is with the parents, until she is properly married,” remain.
Hadiya’s marriage was eventually restored by the Supreme Court, but serves as a cautionary reminder that Indian society, including sections of the judiciary, are not prepared to grant daughters independence. Not when it comes to their choice of partner.
First published in the Hindustan Times on September 19, 2020