How a law is com­ing in the way of love mar­riages

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL - Hi­man­[email protected] times­group.com —VIKAS TI­WARI |

Aweek af­ter they eloped, X and Y ran out of money. They had given Rs 15,000 to a lawyer to get mar­ried quickly but he had cheated them. They had not eaten in four days. Des­per­ate and scared, the two needed to es­cape Ra­jasthan be­fore their fam­i­lies caught up with them. X, a Mus­lim, thought it was safer to come to Delhi with his Hindu brideto-be and opt for a re­li­gious wed­ding even though they didn’t want to con­vert.

Iron­i­cally, the Spe­cial Mar­riages Act (SMA), a law meant to fa­cil­i­tate in­ter-faith and in­ter­caste mar­riages, has be­come a hur­dle for cou­ples as it man­dates a 30-day no­tice pe­riod be­fore the mar­riage is solem­nised. Dur­ing that time, the ad­min­is­tra­tion puts out a no­tice to in­form the pub­lic of the mar­riage, with the full name and ad­dress of the cou­ple, some­times even a pic­ture, and also sends a no­tice to the ad­dress of the two peo­ple in­tend­ing to marry.

In a city like Delhi, a pub­lic no­tice may not elicit much re­ac­tion, but in smaller towns with close-knit com­mu­ni­ties it can be a red flag. “Put­ting up a no­tice at the district ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fice or send­ing a no­tice to the per­son’s home makes cou­ples vul­ner­a­ble to vig­i­lante groups,

If SC has recog­nised live-in re­la­tion­ships and there is no bar on that, why do two con­sent­ing adults need to an­nounce their in­ten­tion to marry and take per­mis­sion from so­ci­ety?

LAWYER busy­bod­ies or just peo­ple who think they mean well,’’ says Vikas Ti­wari, a Delhi-based lawyer. For in­stance, if there is a no­tice about a “Sharma’’ girl mar­ry­ing a Mus­lim boy, even the of­fice clerks and pe­ons take it upon them­selves to call up the fam­ily act­ing as “well-wish­ers’’ while vig­i­lante groups de­cide to visit the fam­ily to in­tim­i­date them.

“If the Supreme Court has recog­nised live-in re­la­tion­ships and there is no bar on that, why do two con­sent­ing adults need to an­nounce their in­ten­tion to marry and take per­mis­sion from so­ci­ety? It is com­pletely ab­surd,” Ti­wari says, adding that the no­tice pe­riod should be short­ened. In case ei­ther of the adults is cheat­ing (is al­ready mar­ried) or of un­sound mind or guilty of any vi­o­la­tions, there are pro­vi­sions in law to deal with such sit­u­a­tions, he points out.

Asif Iqbal, co-founder of Dhanak, a sup­port group for in­ter-faith cou­ples, has seen many cou­ples suc­cumb to pres­sure and opt for a re­li­gious mar­riage be­cause they fear be­ing caught and sep­a­rated.

In Delhi, he says, af­ter the ap­pli­ca­tion for SMA has been put on­line the wait­ing pe­riod is close to 40-45 days, ag­gra­vat­ing prob­lems for a flee­ing cou­ple. “In com­par­i­son, if a cou­ple gets ei­ther a nikah or an Arya Sa­maj wed­ding, they can be mar­ried and have it reg­is­tered within a day. In a way you are forc­ing peo­ple to con­vert when there is no real de­sire to,” Iqbal says.

Ti­wari says that get­ting pro­tec­tion is also a cum­ber­some process as in most states cou­ples have to ap­proach the high court, which is both ex­pen­sive and time-con­sum­ing. Des­per­a­tion also makes them easy prey for touts and mid­dle­men who may charge be­tween Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh for a quick-fix wed­ding.

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