The Supreme Court has, while rejecting a public interest litigation against the Special Marriage Act, wants the status quo to prevail. It is a different matter whether the lady who challenged the Act, which has been in force since 1954, succeeded in presenting a water-tight case. It is indeed doubtful, as it was with relish that the two-member Bench dismissed her plea. In India, marriages are governed by the personal laws of communities like the Hindus, the Muslims and the Christians. Most marriages are solemnised under these laws. But when a person wants to marry from outside of his religion or caste, the Special Marriage Act comes to his or her aid. Under this secular law, any adult can marry any adult from the opposite sex subject to certain biological and legal conditions. Lovers all over India consider the law as their Magna Carta. However, it has a pitfall the personal laws do not have.
Christians have the practice of announcing a forthcoming marriage in the church on two consecutive Sundays before solemnising it. This is to invite objections to the marriage, if any, from the public. In special cases, the bishop has the power to waive such announcements. In the case of Hindus and Muslims, no such conditions exist. However, in the case of the Special Marriage Act, the couple has to give notice 30 days before they can be declared married. It is the job of the government officer concerned to publicise their intention to marry and seek objections, if any, from the public. Most people choose the Special Marriage Act only because they can’t marry under the personal laws for they may belong to different communities or castes. The notice period is to ensure that the man or the woman is not already married and is free from encumbrances. However, it has a flip side to it.
Once they give notice of their intention to marry, their parents, family members, relatives and community members would come to know of it. The 30-day period can be traumatic for the couple, especially the woman, if the family objects to the marriage proposal. More often than not, she does not have the financial capacity or ability to stay away from the family. There have been innumerable cases in which the persons concerned — either the man or the woman or both — were killed under the generic name “honour killing”. Marriage officers in Kerala were freed from the obligation of following the 30-day norm. In the light of the Supreme Court verdict on Monday, the state will have to withdraw the exemption. Khap panchayats may exist only in states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh but the phenomenon is prevalent in every state. The question is why are those who marry under the Special Marriage Act discriminated against, when personal laws are more liberal? Is “love marriage” to be encouraged or discouraged?
Tharoor too has a dream
When Allan Octavian Hume was suddenly struck by the White Man’s Burden and founded the Indian National Congress, he would not have imagined that a blue-blooded morphologist and etymologist would one day aspire to become its president. This never happened in the glorious history of the grand old party except when Shashi Tharoor figuratively, if not literally, threw his hat in the ring. Yes, there was a time when he wanted to be the secretary general of the United Nations. Many likened it to the Nair boy from Palakkad asking for the moon, particularly when he was trounced by South Korea’s Ban Ki-moon. No, he did not jump into the Hudson in New York. Instead, he preferred to measure the depth of the Kallada river in Thiruvananthapuram. Many thought that he had, politically speaking, found his watery grave. However, in 2019, Tharoor had a hat-trick victory in Thiruvananthapuram, once the bastion of the Left.
Call him a ladies' man or whatever, Tharoor defended his love for his late wife Sunanda Pushkar when Narendra Modi taunted him by referring to his “Rs 50-crore-rupee girlfriend”, saying that she was worth much, much more. Modi could not have imagined that Tharoor would one day explain the word ‘pogonotrophy’, as “the act of cultivating, or growing and grooming, a moustache, beard, sideburns or other facial hair”. For once, Modi knew that it was dangerous to poke Tharoor, more so when his party did not have anyone who could match his Tharoorisms. At a time when the Congress is all set to be shipped off for it has lost its moorings in the North as in the South, it is not a bad idea to have one who suffers from Anglophobia, while speaking chaste English, to head the party. Who else can say a better requiem for the Congress?