Inter-faith/ Inter-caste Marriages, Honour Killings and the Special Marriages Act

We grew up reading and memorising the ideals of secularism. Even in our educated families we were taught how to love and respect other faiths and their followers.

This author comes from a town which is an example of communal harmony, Lucknow. There are many people who come from other faiths yet believe in a simple idea of oneness of God. There are many couples as well who marry inter-faith. We even grew up seeing a few people coming and visiting temples despite being of different faiths. We grew up celebrating Holi and Diwali with our friends from different faiths and we remember how we used to celebrate Eid and Christmas with our peers from different faiths.

It is a common emotion in young men and women who are studying in schools together, and then go to college together, to befriend each other. We aren’t taught to go against the flow, where people don’t identity themselves as a Brahmin, or a Christian, or a Mussalmaan or a Sikh, but as humans. Those safe confines of the college’s and their friendship transpires into one of the purest emotions known to humans after the love for their parents and that is love for someone we just land up meeting on our way to somewhere.

These relationships offer some emotional security and a lot of motivation to people at times to keep on going in life. This author has seen many couples from different caste backgrounds and religious backgrounds as well from his own school, college or work place marrying their loved ones after enduring a struggle against the norms set by the society and their families. While this author saw many others getting devastated and ruined because of the early life jolts they got in their love life.

As humans we are supposed to be honest, pure and must have faith. We go with the flow in our friendships with our beloved and sometimes times favour us, and most of the times, our stars are at fault.

This article is for all those who fell in love with a man or a woman who was not of the same caste, or religion and didn’t get to marry their loved one.

Inter-faith and Inter-caste Marriages Legal Position: In India there is no law that bars inter-faith and Inter-caste marriages between two consenting adults. But the families of the man and the woman often don’t agree willingly and there are chances of the man or the woman being killed by their own family. The law actually facilitates inter-caste marriages for Hindus and with the Special Marriages Act the law allows people from different faiths to get married too. Yet, there are certain problems which cause obstruction in the love stories, and this includes the indifference of the police, the closed door approach of the society and no law in place to facilitate inter-faith and Inter-caste marriages.

Honour Killings:

It is one of the most spectacular feature of our society which takes pride for unity in diversity, peace and other lofty ideals, but when it comes to inter-faith and Inter-caste marriages, we as a society turn a blind eye to it. Every religious belief and every caste with their messages of unity and peace behave and act as messengers of hatred and most of the times things turn ugly.

The men and the women have to take recourse to elopement and only to be caught by the police where the lady refuses to have consented to the marriage since she fears her family, and many times we see the man or the woman both being subjected to violence and even getting killed. The social psyche towards love is blind and bars any kind of secularism here. We fail to believe in the oneness of God, and channelise our frustration in keeping the laws made by men to be the will of the divine.

The Supreme Court of India in the year 2018 gave a 54 judgement where the issue of honour killings was taken up but we still did not deal with the problem of providing some legal support to the lovers. On the 27th March,2018, the Supreme Court gave a landmark ruling in the Writ Petition (Civil) No.231 of 2010- Shakti Vahini v Union of India & ors that any attempt by Khap Panchayats or any other assembly to scuttle or preventing two consenting adults from marrying is absolutely ‘illegal’ and laid down preventive, remedial and punitive measures in this regard. The court’s judgment came on a petition filed by a non-government organisation (NGO) Shakti Vahini in 2010. The petitioner had sought directions to States and the Centre to put in place a plan to curb honour killings.
The 54 page judgment was delivered by the three-judges’ bench comprising the Chief Justice of India, Mr. Justice Dipak Misra, Mr. Justice A.M Khanwilkar and D.Y Chandrachud. The court held, “the criminal cases pertaining to honour killing or violence to the couple(s) shall be tried before the designated Court/Fast Track Court earmarked for that purpose. The trial must proceed on day to day basis to be concluded preferably within six months from the date of taking cognizance of the offence. We may hasten to add that this direction shall apply even to pending cases. The concerned District Judge shall assign those cases, as far as possible, to one jurisdictional court so as to ensure expeditious disposal thereof.”

Yet the attitude of the police in such cases is spectacular. They don’t facilitate the cause of love but often try to strike a deal between the two families in conflict as to how they must part ways and finish of the charade of love. The law hasn’t sensitised the individualist and the holistic need of love in a pluralistic society like that of India.

Special Marriages Act:

Now another problem which we see in cases of inter-faith marriages is of conversion. The conversion requirement is mostly found in the Islamic community where they often ask the man or the woman from different faith to convert to be able to marry the Muslim man or woman they fell in love with. This brings to the fore the issue of Love-Jihad which happens since people in love are vulnerable and agree to conditions as grave as conversion just to save their love relationship. Akhila Ashoka @ Hadiya’s case in the Supreme Court deserves a special mention in this regard where the Court did acknowledge the fact that the girl was an adult and could take her decisions but, the Court failed to point out that any requirement for conversion to be able to marry should be declared null and void! The Court should have offered some sanctity to the Special Marriages Act, which is in existence and the must have directed the states to spread awareness about it. But the Court failed to take note of it. And there is some iota of truth to the assertion that love is often used as a tool to facilitate proselytising people in India. In fact the Court must have tried to shake the foundations of the private rigidity of the society by shaking the caste and religious bias in the social fabric of the nation but it failed. Yet we have a law where people from two different faiths can easily get married and have a legal identity with the Act. The states need to offer some incentives to couples who intend to get married t to people from different faiths, and the state should act as an arbiter/ intermediary as well and offer protection to the couple along with some monetary incentives.

Such a system must be put in place for all the Inter-caste couples as well, so that we are able to create a society beyond caste and religious lines. The ground.of conversion in interfaith marriages should be outlawed completely.

Right to fall in love and Right to Choose a partner of their liking is a part and parcel of the right to life under Article 21 and any family our a community mandating conversion or forcing it under the garb of personal laws comes in direct conflict with the Article 9, because in cases of love the essence of free consent is lost completely.

And the law has to do more than just fast-pacing Honour Killing cases and nabbing runaways couples but be more sensitive towards the love birds since, it is not a crime till now to fall in love.