Marriage is an institution which is generally honoured by two people. However, when the government tries to intervene, they complicate things. In India, marriage remains connected with a lot of cultures, rituals and traditions.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954, aims to facilitate the marriage between two persons belonging to any religion or creed. The only criteria is that the man has to be more than 21 years old, while the woman must be at least 18 years of age.
It would be normal for anyone to imagine that this act would have revolutionised the way people got married in India – which generally happened along lines of religion and caste. However, many provisions in the act are inconsistent, and thus, the law fails to achieve the objective of liberating people from the constraints of tradition.
The first problem is that it requires the two parties to submit identity proofs, and then wait for 30 days after applying for marriage. The worst part is that it makes it mandatory for them to submit all the documents in the marriage registrar’s office given. Now, a majority of registrar offices in India are not modernised, which makes it mandatory for one to submit the documents manually. This may force the couples to apply to the registrar at their office, which may well be in one’s hometown.
If the registrar permits it, he has to send the notice to the marriage officer to publish the details of marriage, and this often gets scrambled in red-tapism. This mandatory notice to publish again makes it difficult for runaway couples – and it often alerts the relatives who can likely cause trouble and make life miserable for them. The practice kills the secrecy required for such marriages which are frequently opposed by family clans. When women approach the law, they are rebuked for breaking the community’s honour and are often sent back to their families. It’s no wonder that we hear about incidents of honour killing so frequently.
I feel that this act is not friendly for runaway couples. This makes it difficult for them in a country, where people don’t easily digest the marriage between people of two different religions. The publication of the marriage by the marriage officers (as required by the act) dilutes and often jeopardises the marriage itself. The need for three witnesses to the marriage is another such hurdle, apart from the multiple declarations required by the law.
Another problem is that if any member of an undivided family from Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain community decides to marry, it will affect their claim to the religion concerned. Why can’t people of any religion marry and practise it, independently? Politicians don’t seem to be in favour of making this act more couple-friendly. Maybe, they are more interested in dividing people over religion and caste in the name of politics?
A couple who managed to get married in this fashion told me, “Officers don’t sympathise with the couples. They too think of them as a blot on the community, who bring dishonour. Very often, they try to scare and terrorise you.”
This reflects the magnitude of the problem, which the authorities need to address immediately.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.