By Alisha Dargar
Inter-religion marriages ask marriage between two people belonging to different religions. The youth today wants to form their own decisions and choose a partner they need to spend their lives with, it's natural to seek out that partner during a one that might belong to a special religion. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 provides for the registration of inter-religion marriages. However, there are many other aspects that require to be studied to really understand the functionality of inter-faith marriages in India. The prevalence of inter-faith marriages remains low in India in comparison to western countries, thus it becomes inevitably important to review the challenges faced by interfaith couples. The paper analysis the law alongside various other aspects of inter-religion marriage. An effort has also been made to summarize the challenges faced by the couples.
The evidence of probably the start of inter-faith marriages dates back to the time when Mughals invaded the subcontinent, one among the foremost famous stories of the time is of Jodha-Akbar, a Rajput princess who was married to Akbar to save lots of her father’s kingdom. Subsequently, in colonial times, an Act was passed in 1872 which permitted people to marry no matter religion or caste. However, it faced extreme opposition and will never gain much popularity among the for society as for the foremost a part of society it had been still a taboo.
After Independence, a special marriage Act was introduced in 1954 which held inter-religion and inter-caste marriages legal alongside a special form and registration to such marriages.
In India, marriage registration for Hindus falls under the Hindu Marriage Act, for Muslims it falls under the Muslim Marriage Act, and for inter-religion or inter-caste marriages, it falls under the special marriage Act. The Special Marriage Act allows all Indian citizens no matter caste and religion to settle on their partner and obtain legally married. It’s interesting to notice that within the Hindu Marriage Act and therefore the Muslim Marriage Act registration occurs only after solemnization of the wedding, however, the special marriage Act provides both for solemnization also as registration. The freedom to marry a person of choice no matter religion or caste is complemented by the elemental rights given under the Indian Constitution. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of faith, race, caste, etc. Article 21 protects personal liberty which also includes an individual’s right to marry an individual of one's choice. Article 25 gives freedom to evangelise, profess and propagate any religion of choice which also includes not following any religion.
This fundamental right a not only instrumental in backing the Special Marriage Act but also gives protection to people to follow their own religion even after marriage in another religion.
Article-15 Constitution of India: Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of faith, race, caste, sex, or place of birth
(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of faith, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them.
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of faith, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to—
(a) Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, and places of public entertainment; or
(b) The utilization of wells, tanks, bathing Ghats, roads, and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the utilization of the overall public.
Article-21 Constitution of India: Protection of life and private liberty
No person shall be bereft of his life or personal liberty except consistent with the procedure established by law.
Article -25 Constitution of India: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of faith
(1) Subject to public order, morality, and health and to the opposite provisions of this Part, all
Persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and therefore the right freely to profess, practice, and propagate religion.
THE SPECIAL MARRIAGE ACT, 1954
Conditions concerning solemnization of special marriages.―Notwithstanding anything contained in the other law for the nonce effective concerning the solemnization of marriages, a wedding between any two persons could also be solemnized under this Act, if at the time of the wedding the subsequent conditions are fulfilled, namely: ― (a) neither party features a spouse living
(b) Neither party― (i) is incapable of giving a legitimate consent thereto in consequence of unsoundness of mind,
(ii) Though capable of giving a legitimate consent, has been affected by mental disturbance of such a sort or to such an extent on being unfit for marriage and therefore the procreation of youngsters
(iii) Has been subject to recurrent attacks of insanity
(c) the male has completed the age of twenty-one years and therefore the female the age of eighteen years 5 (d) the parties aren't within the degrees of prohibited relationship: as long as where a custom governing a minimum of one among the parties permits of a wedding between them, such marriage could also be solemnized, notwithstanding that they're within the degrees of prohibited relationship.
THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT, 1961
Definition of “dowry”.—In this Act, “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to tend either directly or indirectly— (a) by one party to a wedding to the opposite party to the marriage; or (b) by the oldsters of either party to a wedding or by the other person, to either party to the wedding or to the other person; at or before [or any time after the wedding ] [in reference to the marriage of the said parties, but doesn't include] dower or mahr within the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTER-FAITH MARRIAGES AND RELIGIOUS
In India, the cultural practice of a woman going to in-laws’ house after marriage and being expected to adjust with their traditions and lifestyle along with the generic notion of performing a religious ritual equals accepting the religion forms the basis of associating inter-faith marriage with conversion.
Couples are expected to be involved in each other’s lives a little too much in India if we compare it with western countries. While eating a different kind of food or not eating with everyone might just be seen as a choice in western countries, it is seen as an outrageous choice and disrespect of elders in India. Therefore both the spouse fined themselves under pressure to accept the lifestyle and traditions of their spouse’s house.
Religious practices and rituals hold a very important place in our society. Most Indians follow religious practices and try to celebrate each of their respective religious festivals, be it Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, etc., which generally involves performing some rituals that include both husband and wife like karwachauth , chaand raat, thanksgiving ,etc. But the problem that arises when performing a ritual is seen as accepting that religion. For e.g. A Hindu household will continue to follow its rituals and would also expect the spouse of their child to be involved even if he/she has different faith and there is also no harm if he/she performs a ritual for their happiness and they generally tend to do so in order to get acceptance in their new home. But unfortunately, it is seen by most as either a disregard of his/her religion or vice versa.
What also contributes is the cultural practice of the children adopting their father’s religion. Therefore, the woman is again expected to teach her kids proper teachings and practices of a different religion than her own. This again becomes a source of pressure for her to convert but by this time she is already viewed by others as someone who has already converted no matter the official status.
ASPECTS OF INTER-FAITH MARRIAGE
The positive side of interfaith marriages from socio-cultural aspect is that they help in the unification of people, more acceptance in the society, better understanding of other faith’s, overall brotherhood and peace. But the reality in India is too harsh. Interfaith couples are never accepted especially in rural parts of the country. The very own families of interfaith couples turn their enemies and try to eliminate them first chance they get either by disowning them and making them run away or even killing them in the name of honour. No mercy is shown even to their child. The list of such cases is endless and justice waits for most of them.
Another aspect of interfaith marriages is the concept of power and dominance of the groom’s side of the family in India. The bride’s side of the family is expected to meet up all the demands of the groom and his family pretty much most of their life. The groom and his family always have an upper hand as per the culture and practices, especially in rural India. This fear and frustration of the possibility of being dominated by people of other religions who are already seen as outsiders play with the ego and so-called respect of their families. And thus the bride’s side of the family is often more aggressive to eliminate any such possibilities of their daughter’s interfaith marriage.
The difference in culture in regard to food, clothing, lifestyle, social circle, etc. and more importantly, the disregard of other religions’ culture contributes to discouraging people from accepting inter-faith marriages especially for their loved ones as it would be a big change and to be precise a bad change according to them.
Although the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 bans dowry it’s still a prevalent practice across the whole nation in most religions. In inter-faith marriages, taking dowry is not seen as an exploitation of just the bride’s family rather it is seen as exploitation of the whole community on the bride’s side. It is seen as a flow of money to another religious community which also means giving power to them. This is an economic aspect which is stand in the path of inter-faith marriages.
Inter-faith marriages are often criticized by politicians for political motives. Hate-politics and religious vote-banks are a sad reality of India which is very appropriately and openly exploited by the politicians. The fear of more unification in society, increased acceptance and its possible effects on their political position make them spread hate for other religions and create a belief that they are vulnerable and victims of atrocities by other religions. They strongly oppose inter-faith marriages and are sometimes behind the lynching of inter-faith couples.
The other political aspect is that for ages raping and kidnapping women have been seen as a source of giving shame to the men of her family or community. In modern times, when raping and kidnapping have punishments under the law system, a new practice of coercing or wrongfully influencing or forcing a girl from different religion and getting married to her has been observed, in order to get an upper hand or dominance over the family or community of the girl and also increase the population of their own community. Hypocritically, such practices are encouraged by politicians whose politics is based on hate.
It is extremely important to mention the wrongful intentions that are sometimes behind marrying a woman of another religion. Muslims are often accused of ‘love Jihad’- a term that refers to Muslim men marrying women of other religions solely to convert them, an allegation that was for the first time made in Kerala. However, it won’t be correct to say that other religions are free from this evil practice. Religious leaders and also many politicians are often found telling the crowd to convert other religious women to their own religion by marrying them. Heights of shamelessness are achieved when the crowd is even encouraged to assault, rape, and even gangrape women of other religions in order to humiliate that religion’s men. A very disturbing recent practice that has been found in UP is men, in fact, influential men, propagating in large crowds the idea of influencing or coercing young girls from another religion into marrying them, which they claim to be the most efficient and sustainable way of asserting dominance over that religion.
To very clearly mention- this practice is not limited to any one religion, there are people in all religions with such beliefs that propagate and even practice it. The only sufferer in all this is the women and nobody else.
CHALLENGES FACED BY INTERFAITH COUPLES
Challenges for inter-faith couples start extremely early and only a few of them are able to get married. Inter-faith couples are publicly assaulted, tortured, and lynched even on the suspicion of the possibility of a romantic angle. In 2020, an 18-year-old Delhi University student Rahul Rajput was brutally hacked to death by the brother and his friends of a Muslim girl, Rahul was suspected of having an affair with. In 2014, Dalit boy Sonu and Muslim girl Dhanishta hacked to death allegedly by the girl’s family in UP. In 2018, a girl was tied to a tree in broad daylight and thrashed for eloping with a man from a different religion.
Even after decades of their marriage, interfaith couples don’t find acceptance in society especially from their own families. Even a lapse of 9 years did not lessen the hatred harboured by the Muslim family of Brijesh’s wife against their daughter’s marriage to a Dalit man. Brijesh was killed by a 24-year-old Azharuddin when the former was working in his field at Allahabad village in December 2019.
The challenges faced are not limited just limited to the couples but also their family The challenges faced are not limited just limited to the couples but also their family members. The families mainly parents and brothers are humiliated and shamed by society. In more patriarchal societies, brothers and fathers are often even pressurized to commit honor killings of their own daughters.
The generations-long enmity is formed between the families of interfaith couples who choose to elope and leave their families behind to face the repercussions. In rural areas, extreme measures like boycotting or parading the family are also seen. The long-found respect of the family is shattered to pieces even on the suspicion of their child being involved in any such activity.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954 though allows inter-faith marriages but the process requires a minimum of 30 days to solemnize and register the marriage which is a long time for already struggling couples. They are generally caught by their families before registering. The challenges for inter-faith couples in India are endless.
The Marriage laws in India are well-drafted and efficient. In the case of special marriages, there is scope and need of necessarily providing the couple with protection and inhabitation place at least till the registration. Though laws are well formulated the social repercussions faced by interfaith couples are so massive that the law practically fails.
There shall be no denying of committing malpractices in the name of inter-religion marriage but the way to eliminate it and improve the condition is through better education or better public policing. This problem should not be dealt with at the cost of genuine couples. The laws for special marriages will only be successful with overall social development, unification, and brotherhood.
● Universal’s constitution of India-2018 edition
Author: Alisha Dargar
BBA LLB, 2nd Year
UNITED WORLD SCHOOL OF LAW, GANDHINAGAR, GUJARAT