Getting married? Congrats! Do it legally…
Marriages are considered to be a universal social institution and an integral part of mankind. With the advent of civilisation, it has been observed that the state has regulated all aspects of human lives and marriage is no exception. In India, there is no single legal framework governing the institution of marriage, specifically with the intent of upholding the tenets of religious freedom and safeguarding the fundamental practices of various faiths and beliefs that constitute the country. The legitimation of the nuptial bond of two people happens only after attaining sanction from the existing laws prevailing in the country, which in general parlance are referred to as matrimonial or marriage laws. A unique feature of the existing matrimonial law in India is its vibrancy and diversity in consonance with the country’s heterogeneous population.
Classification of marriage laws on a religious basis
The policy of application of personal laws in marriages was essentially introduced by the first Governor-General of British India, Warren Hastings, in the year 1772, which was then pursued by the British colonials throughout their rule in India. Even after the independence of the country, the Government of India decided to continue with the same legal stance on marriages, making their intention clear of not interfering with the religious sentiments of the people. Marriage laws can be classified under the following headings on the basis of religion.
The matrimony of a Hindu couple is governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 which deals with the registration of the marriage (after its solemnization) of a man and woman belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or Jain community or having proselytize themselves to either of these religions. The inclusion of the other three religions within the ambit of the term ‘Hindu’ is in pursuance of the definition of the term under Article 25(2)(b) of the Indian Constitution.
The important aspects of the Hindu Marriage Act (hereafter, the Act) have been enlisted below:
- The Preamble to the Act per se indicates that the enforcement of this law was solely in correlation to the marriages of Hindus. This is further reinforced by Section 2 of the Act. Moreover, certain conditions have been stipulated under Section 5 of the Act for the legitimation of a Hindu marriage which is obligatory to be followed, as held by the Supreme Court in Gullipilli Sowria Raj v. Bandaru Pavani wherein the marriage of a practising Hindu man with a Catholic woman, despite having been conducted in accordance with the Hindu customs, was deemed void.
The conditions laid down under section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act are as follows:
- There should not be an already existing spouse (of either of the parties) alive at the time of formalization of the marriage.
- No party is incapacitated to give consent to their marriage due to unsound mind.
- Despite the capability of giving consent to marriage, neither of the parties suffer from any mental disorder to a limit that may make it difficult for them to bear children. In Lakshmi Narayan v. Santhi,it was held by the Supreme Court that in order to hold a woman as incapable of marrying due to any mental illness, it is necessary to prove that such an ailment incapacitates her from leading a normal married life.
- Neither of the parties has been a victim of repeated insanity attacks or epilepsy.
- The legal age permitting marriage between a man and wife are being met; 21 for men, 18 for women.
- The parties should not be a part of a prohibited relationship, defined under Section 5(4) of the Act. A marriage falling under either of these relationships shall be deemed void:
- Existence of lineal ascendancy of one party to another.
- One party has been a spouse of either the lineal ascendant or descendant of the other.
- The wife was initially a spouse of the brother, father, mother’s brother, grandfather, or grandfather’s brother of the prospective husband.
- Incestuous relationships, like brother-sister, aunt-nephew, uncle-niece, wards of the brother and sister or of two brothers and two sisters.
- However, an exception to the aforementioned conditions lies in the importance given to customs in the personal law. If a custom permits or warrants either of these, they shall be pursued and be deemed legally legitimate.
- Section 18(b) of the Act provides for the penalisation in case a married couple is found to be guilty of practising a prohibited relationship. They are either supposed to pay 10,000 rupees as fine or endure simple imprisonment of one month or both, as the Court deems correct.
Importance of Ceremonies in Hindu Marriage Act, particularly ‘saptapadi’:
- The solemnization of a Hindu marriage happens in accordance with the rites and ceremonies practised by the parties as per Section 7 of the Act. In Reema Aggarwal v. Anupam, the apex court held that these ceremonies are necessitated to be proved. An essential rite is that of saptapadi or a round of seven steps by the couple around the sacred fire, wherein the last step marks the completion of the ceremony and thus the binding authority of the marriage. In Santi Deb Berma v. Kanchan Prava Devi (Smt.), the Supreme Court overturned the judgement of the High Court and ruled that saptapadi is an essential ceremony of a Hindu marriage, and the absence of adequate evidence to prove the performance of the same makes the second marriage undertaken by the respondent in this case as not legally valid under the Act of 1955.
Forms of Marriages:
- The Act does not recognize any forms of Hindu marriages. According to Shastric texts, there are a total of eight forms of marriages, namely the Asura (where the bride is sold off by the father), Gandharva (love marriage, based on sensual desires), and Brahma (where the bride is given as a gift by the father), Daiva (wherein the suitor was an official priest), Arsha (where the groom presented a cow and bull or two cows and two bulls as gift(s) to the bride’s father for religious purposes), Prajapatya (marriage in order to repay the debts or obligations to the Prajapati for reproductive purposes), Rakshasa (forced marriage with someone kidnapped or held captive) and Paisacha (lowest form, where the damsel is made love with when she is not in her senses). Out of these, only Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, and Prajapatya forms are valid under ancient laws. However, the Hindu Marriage Act does not provide for any form of marriage and just lays down conditions for a legally valid marriage.
Registration of Hindu Marriage under the Act:
In Seema v. Ashwani Kumar, the Supreme Court of India mandated the compulsory registration of marriages in the country and directed the government to ensure the same. Registration under the Act provides for the documentation by the Registrar of only those marriages that have been solemnised already in accordance with the law and adequate religious ceremonies. After the verification procedure of all the requisite documents of the parties has been done, they are given a fixed date for the registration. The parties are obligated to be present before the Sub-Registrar. After the satisfaction of the magistrate and meeting of all the required procedures, the marriage is registered and the certificate granted without any further delay.
*If you are not inclined to perform the marriage with the religious ceremonies you can opt for SUYAMARIYATHAI THIRUMANAM or SEERTHIRUTHA THIRUMANAM.