We all vision our Nation to be at the top of its zenith, be it economically, culturally, socially or politically. But the obstacles we face aren’t just limited to poverty or corruption or mere resolves. The major issue we face every day is fighting the restricted and orthodox mentalities of people. While it’s the common man/woman who helps the Nation progress, it’s they who pull it back with the burden of their thoughts.
While we could flaunt discussing the legality of Same Sex Marriages in India, and say that the taboo of Inter Religion Marriage has been totally eliminated, the case on the ground isn’t that simple.
Inter-religion marriage is a union between two individuals belonging to different religious communities. In India, inter-religion marriage is a socially and culturally sensitive topic, especially when it involves Hindu and non-Hindu communities. The complexity of this issue arises from the fact that India is a country of diverse cultures, languages, religions, and social customs. The practice of inter-religion marriage is often met with social and familial opposition and can even result in legal complications. India is home to many religions, including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Each religion has its own set of beliefs, customs, and practices, which can influence inter-religion marriages.
The issue of inter-religion marriage has been the subject of debate in India for several years. While some argue that inter-religion marriage can promote social harmony and unity, others view it as a threat to cultural and religious identities. The Supreme Court of India has consistently upheld the right of individuals to marry the person of their choice, irrespective of religion or caste.
In India, inter-religion marriage is governed by different personal laws that vary according to the religion of the parties involved. For instance, the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, governs Hindu marriages, while the Special Marriage Act 1954, governs marriages between individuals of different religions. The Muslim Personal Law governs marriages in the Muslim community. Further, light is thrown on the Societal issues and taboos related to Inter Religion Marriage, briefly explains all the provisions under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, talks about how Inter Religion Marriages are governed under this law and finally a conclusion with some recent judgements and the Author’s views related to the Topic
Stigmas Related to Inter Religion Marriages in India
Inter-religion marriages in India are still considered taboo in many parts of the country. While the issues are prevalent in different spheres of society, all the possible efforts to culminate it have been effective, but not as effective as expected. The situation can be summarized in the following points which put up a clearer perspective of the antagonistic situation:
- Social stigma: In India, inter-religion marriages are often frowned upon, and couples can face social stigma and discrimination from their families, communities, and even the society at large.
- Legal hurdles: While inter-religion marriages are legal in India, couples often face legal hurdles when it comes to obtaining marriage registration and other legal documents. This can be especially challenging when one partner belongs to a minority religion.
- Religious barriers: Some religious communities in India do not permit inter-religion marriages, and couples who belong to these communities can face significant opposition from their families and religious leaders.
- Family pressure: In many cases, families put immense pressure on their children to marry within their own religion, which can cause significant stress and strain on the couple’s relationship.
- Violence and threats: In extreme cases, inter-religion couples can face violence and threats from their families and communities, which can make it difficult for them to live together in peace and safety.
- Lack of acceptance: Despite the legal recognition of inter-religion marriages, many people in India still do not accept such unions as legitimate, which can make it difficult for couples to live and work in certain communities.
- Need for social change: Given the challenges faced by inter-religion couples in India, there is a need for greater social acceptance and support for such unions. This requires a change in attitudes and beliefs about marriage and religion, as well as greater legal protection and support for inter-religion couples
Introduction to Special Marriage Act, 1954 and its Basic Outline
The Special Marriage Act 1954 is a legal framework that provides for the solemnization of marriages between individuals of different religions, castes, and nationalities. It is designed to allow for civil marriages and to create a legal mechanism to register such marriages. It provides legal recognition to civil marriages and protects couples from social stigma and discrimination. The Act has been instrumental in promoting secularism and unity in diversity in India. The Act is applicable to the whole of India, except for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Some of the Key Provisions of the Act which are evident in the Daily Court Procedures are: –
- Applicability: The Special Marriage Act is applicable to any Indian citizen who wishes to solemnize a marriage regardless of their religion, caste, or creed. It applies to any person who is a resident of India or domiciled in the country, as well as to those who are outside India and intend to marry in the country.
- Notice of Intended Marriage: The Act mandates that both parties intending to marry under this Act must give notice of their intention to do so. The notice must be given in writing to the Marriage Officer of the district where at least one of the parties resides.
- Objections to the Marriage: Once the notice of intended marriage is given, the Marriage Officer must display it in a prominent place in the office for thirty days. If no objections are raised during this time, the marriage can be solemnized. However, if objections are raised, the Marriage Officer must conduct an inquiry to determine whether the objections are valid or not.
- Solemnization of Marriage: Once the Marriage Officer is satisfied that there are no objections to the intended marriage, the marriage can be solemnized in the presence of three witnesses, including the Marriage Officer. The ceremony must conform to the provisions of the Act and can be performed by a registered Marriage Officer, a Registrar of Marriages, or any person authorized by the government to do so.
- Registration of Marriage: After the marriage is solemnized, the Marriage Officer must enter a certificate of marriage in the Marriage Register. The certificate must be signed by the parties to the marriage, the witnesses, and the Marriage Officer. The certificate is conclusive proof of the marriage, and a certified copy can be obtained from the Marriage Officer upon request.
- Dissolution of Marriage: The Special Marriage Act also provides for the dissolution of marriage by mutual consent or on grounds of adultery, cruelty, desertion, or conversion to another religion. The procedure for obtaining a divorce under the Act is similar to that of obtaining a decree of divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, of 1955.
- Miscellaneous Provisions: The Act also contains provisions relating to maintenance, custody of children, and the rights of children born out of wedlock. It also provides for the registration of marriages performed outside India under this Act.
Inter Religion Marriages under Special Marriage Act 1954
In India, inter-religion marriage can be solemnized under the Special Marriage Act 1954. The Act provides for the registration of marriages between persons of different religions, castes, or creeds. Here are the legal sections and conditions for inter-religion marriage under the Special Marriage Act 1954:
- Eligibility: Any two individuals who are of marriageable age (21 years for the groom and 18 years for the bride) can marry under the Special Marriage Act, irrespective of their religion, caste, or creed. The conditions laid down for the eligibility have been mentioned by Section 4 of the Special Marriage Act 1954, for it also says that they must not be within the degree of a prohibited relationship, and they must not have a living spouse at the time of the marriage.
- Notice of Intended Marriage: The first step is to give a notice of intended marriage to the Marriage Registrar of the district in which at least one of the parties has resided for a minimum of 30 days prior to giving the notice. Section 5  of the Special Marriage Act is responsible for this clause of the law.
- Objections: After the notice is published, any person may file an objection to the marriage if they have a valid reason for doing so. According to Section 7 of the Special Marriage Act 1954, Any person may object to the intended marriage within 30 days of the publication of the notice by filing an objection in writing to the Marriage Officer. The Marriage Officer is required to investigate the objection and decide on the validity of the objection.
- Waiting Period: After the notice is published and there are no objections, a waiting period of 30 days is mandatory before the marriage can be solemnized. Based upon Section 6 of the Special Marriage Act 1954, Upon receipt of the notice of intended marriage, the Marriage Officer is required to display the notice at a conspicuous place in his office and issue a copy of the notice to the parties involved.
- Declaration: Both parties must sign a declaration stating that they are not related to each other within the prohibited degrees of the relationship as specified in the Act.
- Solemnization: The marriage can be solemnized in the presence of a Marriage Officer and two witnesses. The Marriage Officer will register the marriage and issue a certificate of marriage. Section 12 of the Special Marriage Act lays down the conditions for the Solemnisation and Registration of the marriages, which are either inter-religious or inter-caste.
- Registration: The marriage must be registered within 90 days of the solemnization, failing which the registration may be done only with the permission of the Marriage Officer and on payment of a penalty.
It is important to note that the Special Marriage Act 1954 does not allow for any religious ceremony or rites during the solemnization of the marriage. The marriage is considered a civil contract and is governed by the provisions of the Act.
Recent Judgement Related to Inter Religion Marriages
Recently, the Supreme Court turned down a public interest lawsuit recently that contested elements of the Special Marriage Act that require posting interfaith spouses’ personal information ahead of their wedding.
According to Sections 6 and 7 of the law, couples have 30 days before their wedding to invite or consider objections by posting a public notice in a visible place or on the notice board in the marriage officer’s office. Their names, phone numbers, dates of birth, ages, occupations, addresses, and identifying information are all included in the notice’s details.
The appeal against these two Act clauses, as well as the portions allowing anybody to object to the marriage and the marriage officer’s ability to inquire into a couple’s past, was rejected by a bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Bela M Trivedi. According to the petitioner’s attorney, his client wed a guy of a different religion in accordance with the Special Marriage Act. The bench answered, “It ceases to be a PIL if it is your personal cause.
The Act had begun to take force in 1954, the court also found, citing Bar and Bench. It asked the attorney, “Where’s your cause of action?” as it rejected the PIL.
Case Laws Pertaining to Significant Inter Religion Marriage Judgements
- Smt. Lata Singh v. State of UP: This case marks the Supreme Court announced that a person has the right to choose their life partner and that inter-caste and inter-religion marriages should be encouraged. The court also directed the police to provide protection to couples who marry against the wishes of their parents.
- Salamat Ansari v. State of UP: Being a legendary case in the history of Family Laws in India, the Judgement of the Supreme Court in the case said that an inter-religious marriage solemnized under the Special Marriage Act is valid and that the consent of parents or guardians is not required.
- Ramesh Kumar v. State of Haryana: In this case, the Supreme Court held that the choice of an adult to marry a person of their choice is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution of India and that interference by family members or society in such marriages is illegal.
- K. Srinivas Rao v. D.A. Deepa: As per the Supreme Court, the Special Marriage Act allows parties to register their marriage without any religious ceremonies, and parties to an inter-religious marriage can choose to follow the customs and traditions of their respective religions.
- Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India: For all those who are well-versed in the case laws of India, they would understand the significance of this specific case. Supreme Court in this Judgement held that a person cannot convert to another religion just for the purpose of marrying a person belonging to that religion and that such conversions are illegal and void. The court also directed the government to enact a law to prevent such conversions
Conclusion to the Unfathomable Taboo of Inter Religion Marriage
Inter-religion marriage has been taboo in India for a long time, and it has been the subject of political and social debate for many years. The laws related to inter-religion marriage have evolved over time to address this issue and provide legal protection to couples who wish to marry outside their religion or caste.
The Special Marriage Act 1954, provides a legal framework for inter-religion and inter-caste marriages in India. It lays down the conditions for the solemnization of special marriages and mandates that the parties involved must give notice of their intention to get married to the Marriage Officer. The Act also provides for objections to the marriage, and the procedure for solemnization of the special marriage.
Despite the legal framework in place, inter-religion marriage continues to face opposition from certain sections of society. Some political parties have also used this issue to further their own agendas. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the public perception of inter-religion marriage, with more and more people accepting it as a personal choice.
The law has also evolved to keep pace with changing social norms. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India passed a landmark judgement, decriminalizing adultery, which was a major step towards recognizing the individual autonomy of adults in their personal relationships. This judgement, along with other legal developments, has provided greater legal protection to couples in inter-religion and inter-caste marriages.
Inter-religion marriage is often met with resistance from society and families, which can lead to social ostracism and even violence. Families may object to inter-religion marriages on the grounds of cultural and religious differences. The couple may also face legal challenges, such as cases of abduction, forced conversion, and even honour killing.
In conclusion, inter-religion marriage continues to be a contentious issue in India, with social and political factors influencing public perception. However, the legal framework has evolved to provide greater protection to couples who wish to marry outside their religion or caste. While there is still a long way to go, there are signs that society is becoming more accepting of inter-religion marriage, and this is reflected in the changing legal landscape.
- Special Marriage Act, 1954
- Maharashtra sets up panel to track interfaith, intercaste marriages, The Indian Express (Dec. 19, 2022), https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/maharashtra-sets-up-panel-to-track-interfaith-intercaste-marriages-8323158/
- Section 1 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954
- Section 4 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954
- Section 5 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954
- Section 7 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954
- Section 6 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954
- Section 12 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954
- Ibid 7
- Ibid 6
- Press Trust of India, Government response awaited on the law on inter-faith marriages, The Hindu (Jan. 24, 2022), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/government-response-awaited-on-law-on-inter-faith-marriages/article38278975.ece.
- Smt. Lata Singh v. State of UP, (2006) 5 SCC 475 (Sup. Ct. 2006)
- Salamat Ansari v. State of UP, (2008) 2 SCC 202 (Sup. Ct. 2008).
- Ramesh Kumar v. State of Haryana, (2017) 12 SCC 588 (Sup. Ct. 2017).
- K. Srinivas Rao v. D.A. Deepa, (2013) 5 SCC 226 (Sup. Ct. 2013).
- Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, (1995) 3 SCC 635 (Sup. Ct. 1995)
This article is authored by Rishaan Gupta, a 1st year Student at National Law University, Delhi.