Couples who wish to marry under the Special Marriage Act must serve a 30-day notice during which their personal details are on public display. This violates their privacy and leaves many vulnerable to parental and community reprisal.
In October last year soon after ‘S’ informed the district magistrate’s office in Lucknow that she wanted to get married under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), she received an unexpected invitation at home: to visit the local police station.
The police met her, her partner and her father to conduct an ‘inquiry’. Why get married in court? Was the father ok with her decision? Fortunately for ‘S’, he was, even though the Act does not require parental permission, only consenting adults.
“In Uttar Pradesh it is routine to call couples and often their parents to the police station, particularly in cases of inter-religious marriages,” said Lucknow-based lawyer Renu Mishra.
Enacted in 1954, the SMA was for those who wished to marry outside their religion’s personal laws and customs, caste and, often, parental consent.
Lt Col Seema Singh and Lt Col Sandhya Yadav tell me how 11 officers fought tirelessly from 2008 to make history for women in the army. Their behind-the-scenes account includes tales of chocolate, congeniality and chai.
When 11 women Army officers first filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in December 2008 to challenge a policy that restricted them to short service commissions, Lt Col Seema Singh’s daughter Garima was just eight or nine years old. “She used to accompany me to court whenever I went,” Singh, now 47, said.
On the day the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to keep women officers out from permanent positions (see accompanying story), Singh’s daughter was also present in court, now as a final year MBBS student. “My male colleagues were also present and brought Cadbury chocolates for us as presents,” she said over the phone. “There was never any animosity with our brother officers. We were only looking for gender parity with them.”
In fact, Singh’s husband was, like her, an ordinance officer. “There was conflict in the house because he would get so much more than I did,” she said. Her husband quit the army in 2017.
In IndiaSpend, I look at the state of India’s shelter homes for children to discover endemic abuse and, worse, absolute apathy.
She has no memory of her early childhood, no recollection of her biological parents and no idea of how or why she got separated from them when she was about three years old.
What she does remember is the day she arrived at the Udayan Home for girls in south Delhi.
“I had then been living at a government-run shelter for some years,” said Ritu, who often uses Udayan as her last name. “I must have been around six years old when this lady came to take three of us away, to give us a life. It was so exciting. I had never sat in a car. Never been anywhere. I was curious about everything.”
Now 25, Ritu is one of the exceptional ones who grew up in a shelter home and found a family. She calls Kiran Modi, the founder of Udayan homes, her bua (aunt, or father’s sister) and the two girls who came to Udayan with her, sisters.
“I had a perfectly normal childhood, going to school, going to the park to play and getting the kind of pampering any child would get in a loving home,” said Ritu, who played basketball for her school team. “I was so pampered and so protected that when I left Udayan, I was scared about how I would cope in the outside world.”
Not every child placed in an institution is as lucky.