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THE MARRIAGE OF DISCORD

Despite the law and court’s directions, the governments of the day push their puritanical agenda on inter-religious marriage

In India, particularly in smaller cities, interfaith marriages are opposed by families and society at large. What is worrisome is that there is tacit support from law enforcement agencies for this conservative attitude of the elders. Though the law provides that two consenting adults can marry each other irrespective of their caste, creed or religion and there is a Special Marriage Act to facilitate such interfaith marriages, more often than not, religious norms, societal pressures are in conflict with the rights provided by the Constitution. Many times, things get out of hand, with young couples even murdered for exercising their legitimate choices.

In this scenario, the only saving grace are the courts. They have steadfastly protected the fundamental rights of young couples.
Recently, many cases have come to the fore where even the law enforcers, who have a sovereign duty to protect people’s rights, have turned a blind eye towards interfaith marriages. Instead of providing security, police in some cases joined hands with the social pressure groups and family to intimidate young couples to opt out of marriage.

The most recent case that came to light took place in Ghaziabad where Hindu man Kumar was detained for three days by UP Police because he had married a Muslim girl. Though, this particular case is an aberration, it is the reverse of what has been described as ‘Love Jihad’ — that is, a Hindu girl marrying into a Muslim family as part of an alleged plot to convert Hindu girls. The couple live in constant fear (see box).

Love and war

Last year, the Supreme Court ordered the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate cases of ‘Love Jihad.’ The apex court was hearing an appeal against the decision of the Kerala High Court to annul the marriage of Shefin Jahan, a Muslim, who had married a Hindu girl Akhila, her converted name is Hadiya. NIA found that Jahan was allegedly in contact with two of the prime accused in the Islamic State (ISIS) through a Facebook group involving Social Democratic Party. And that Hindu girls are being brainwashed into marrying Muslim men, a sort of ‘psychological kidnapping’ as part of a larger sinister plot.

The Supreme Court quashed the Kerala High Court judgment that annulled the marriage under Article 226 of the Constitution. NIA was asked to pursue their investigation towards a logical conclusion. “Hadiya alias Akhila is at liberty to pursue her future endeavours according to law. We clarify that the investigations by the NIA in respect of any matter of criminality may continue in accordance with law,” ordered the Supreme Court bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud.

“It is obligatory to state here that expression of choice in accord with law is acceptance of individual identity…The social values and morals have their space but they are not above the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom…To have the freedom of faith is essential to his/her autonomy… choosing a faith is the substratum of individuality,” ordered the bench.

But not much seem to have changed on the ground, and now even court premises are not safe. Last week in Ghaziabad, a Muslim man in his mid-twenties was thrashed by a group of right-wing activists at a marriage registrar’s office. He was there to register his marriage with a Hindu girl. The Sihani Gate Police Station of Ghaziabad has booked 11 youths in this connection.

Reverse Love Jihad

The term ‘Love Jihad’ was in the news from all over the country as some sinister exercise to convert Hindu girls to Islam by way of matrimony. In Western UP, many people were arrested in this connection. It was portrayed as an existential crisis of Hinduism, to the extent that some of the right-wing fringe groups suggested ‘reverse Love Jihad’ to deal with this impending crisis.

In December last year, Ajju Chauhan, the head of Uttar Pradesh unit of Hindu Jagran Manch — an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — announced that it intends to marry 21,000 Muslim women to Hindu men in six months as a way to counter Love Jihad. A sort of uni-directional interfaith marriage was recommended where the husband would be a Hindu and wife a Muslim. The strategy was to approach Hindu families that have boys of a marriageable age and try convince the boy to necessarily marry a Muslim girl. It was not just encouragement, they were also promised financial support. Given this pronouncement, the Ghaziabad police shouldn’t have objected to Kumar, a Hindu, marrying Nisha, a Muslim.

In Hadiya’s case, the Kerala High Court had nullified her marriage to Jahan. But when a similar matter was brought to their notice in October last year, in which a Hindu woman and a Muslim man tied the nuptial knot, the court took a different position. The case was projected by the parents of the girl as ‘Love Jihad’ whereas the man, claimed it as ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (when a Muslim decides to ‘return’ to the Hindu fold, on the premise that his forefathers had been converted to Islam). In this case, the Hindu woman from Kannur had eloped with a Muslim youth. A month later, she was detained in Sonepat, Haryana and was sent back to her family.

Back in Kerala, the woman was lodged at a yoga centre in Tripunithura in Ernakulam to, allegedly, force her to give up the relationship with the Muslim youth. The girl alleged that the yoga centre was run “to coerce the inmates (Muslims) to return to Hindu religion” and she was tortured there.

The bench comprising justices V Chitambaresh and Sathish Ninan observed on a habeas corpus petition filed by the husband: All interfaith weddings cannot be viewed as ‘Love Jihad.’ The bench applauded the “extraordinary courage” shown by the girl in face of “attempt of her parents to deflect the course of justice by misleading litigations.” Further the court said, “We are appalled to notice the recent trend in this state to sensationalise every case of inter-religious marriage as either ‘Love Jihad’ or ‘Ghar Wapsi’ even if there was platonic love between the spouses before… We caution that every case of inter-religious marriage shall not be portrayed on a religious canvas and create fissures in the communal harmony otherwise existing in the God’s Own Country –— Kerala,” and upheld the marriage.

Abuse of the Act

The Special Marriage Act of 1954 provides a way to register the marriage of two individuals of different faiths. As per the act, couples intending to marry have to give 30 days’ notice in writing to the Marriage Officer of the concerned district. The Marriage Officer must keep the notice in a Marriage Notice Book, which is a public document. The idea is to ensure that “neither party has a spouse living” or is “incapable of giving a valid consent…in consequence of unsoundness of mind”, and that they are majors. The marriage is allowed or rejected (in case there are valid objections) by the Marriage Officer at the end of 30 days.

In addition to the conditions laid down in the Act, Haryana government has a 16-point checklist, or the Court Marriage Checklist (CMCL), the fairly draconian clauses for interfaith couples seeking to marry under the Act. Among them is a provision that allows officials to send the notice for objections to the “home address” or permanent address of the applicants. Further, the couple are mandated to get a notice published in a national newspaper stating their decision. The CMCL exposes the young couple not only to the hostility of families opposed to the marriage, but also communities and vigilante groups.

Not all are ready to comply. A to-be-interfaith couple, one residing in Gurgaon, the other living in Faridabad, approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court to prevent the Gurgaon Marriage Officer from sending notices about their proposed marriage to their parents nor force them to publish their plans in a newspaper.

The High Court ruled that the Haryana government’s CMCL for registration of a marriage under the Special Marriage Act is ‘violative of the right to privacy’ and an act of excessive executive action. Justice Rajiv Narain Raina said that the procedure for marriage “must reflect the mindset of the changed times in a secular nation promoting inter-religion marriages instead of the officialdom raising eyebrows and laying snares and land mines beneath the sacrosanct feet of the Special Marriage Act, 1954”.
Also, in April 2009, Delhi High Court directed the Marriage Officer in Delhi not to send notices as is “breach of the right to privacy”.

Marriages are made in heaven, they shouldn’t be destroyed on earth.