Marriage and the law (Hindu): India

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The nature of a Hindu marriage

Marriage under Hindu law is sacrament, not contract

Marriage under Hindu law not a contract: HC, Jan 30, 2017: The Times of India

Marriage under the Hindu law is “sacrament“ and “not a contract“ which can be entered into by executing a deed, the Delhi high court observed while dismissing a plea by a woman who had challenged an order refusing to declare her as the legally wedded wife.

The woman had approached the court seeking her appointment for a job on compassionate ground after the death of her alleged husband, a former sanitation staff in a city government hospital, and a direction to the medical superintendent to release consequential benefits and allow her to join duties.

HC noted in its judgment that the petitioner had contended that she had married the man by way of execution of a marriage deed in June 1990 without disputing the fact that he was living with his earlier wife, who had died in May 1994.

“Since inception, the contention of the appellant (woman) had been that her marriage with the man on June 2, 1990 was performed by way of execution of a marriage deed and an affidavit. It is not disputed by her that the man had a living spouse on June 2, 1990 and she expired on May 11, 1994. “Under Hindu Law, marriage is a `sacrament' (solemn pledge) and not a contract which can be entered into by execution of a marriage deed,“ Justice Pratibha Rani said.

No employment on compassionate grounds for ‘second wife’: Delhi HC

Akanksha Jain, No compassionate employment to "second" wife without divorce with the "first", Jan 29, 2017: The Hindu

Under the Hindu law, marriage is a sacrament and not a contract, which can be entered into by execution of a marriage deed, the Delhi High Court observed while rejecting the plea of a woman that she be declared the legally wedded wife of a government servant, now deceased, so that she can get a job on compassionate grounds and avail of the other benefits.

The court noted that when the woman got married to the government servant, Hari Ram, he already had a wife and had not applied for divorce. The second marriage, as claimed by the petitioner, was by way of a marriage deed.

The petitioner, Champa Devi, had initiated the litigation mainly to get an appointment on compassionate grounds as well as the financial benefits payable to legal heirs of Hari Ram on his death. Hari Ram was a sweeper at GTB Hospital.

Marriage deed

Champa told the court that she got married to Hari Ram by way of a deed and affidavit in 1990. “Since inception, the contention of the appellant (Champa Devi) had been that her marriage with Hari Ram on June 2, 1990, was performed by way of execution of a marriage deed and an affidavit. It is not disputed by her that late Hari Ram had a living spouse, Phoolmati Devi, on June 2, 1990, and she expired on May 11, 1994,” said Justice Pratibha Rani.

In the instant case, Champa applied for appointment on compassionate grounds on demise of Hari Ram.

In August 2001, she was offered appointment as safai karamchari on temporary basis at GTB hospital.

Divorce not sought

A month later, she was issued a show-cause notice by the medical superintendent, GTB Hospital, asking her to explain the legality and validity of her marriage with Hari Ram. The notice said that being a government servant, Hari Ram could not have married during the lifetime of his first wife and there was no proof of him having sought divorce from Phoolmati Devi.

Champa Devi contended that since she was the only wife alive at the time of the death of Hari Ram on February 15, 1997, she was entitled to all the benefits payable to his legally wedded wife.

She said she got married to Hari Ram on June 2, 1990. After the death of his first wife, Hari Ram and Champa got married again in June, 1994, at Delhi and then again before the gram panchayat of Mahabalpur village, Farukhabad district, U.P. The marriage ceremony was performed on December 10, 1994, Champa said.

The suit was contested by the Lieutenant-Governor, the medical superintendent of GTB Hospital and the Delhi government. It was submitted that as per office record in 1994, Hari Ram had only one wife named Phoolmati Devi. Hari Ram never gave any intimation about his second marriage.

‘No satisfactory evidence’

“It’s been rightly held that the appellant/plaintiff cannot claim the status of a legally wedded wife of Hari Ram on the strength of alleged marriage dated June 2, 1990. The solemnisation of marriage thereafter at Delhi and on December 10, 1994, at the village of Hari Ram was also not proved by leading satisfactory evidence to this effect. Even the certificate issued by the Gram Panchayat stated the date of marriage as June 2, 1990, with no reference to remarriage,” the High Court held.

HC rejects woman’s plea to declare her legally wedded wife so she can get financial benefits

Marriage within the same gotra

1945 Bombay HC: They are legal

From the archives of The Times of India 2007, 2009

Same-gotra marriage legal, court had ruled 65 years ago

Wavering Netas Should Know About This Bombay HC Verdict

Ronojoy Sen | TNN

From the archives of The Times of India 2007, 2009

New Delhi: The sustained effort by aggressive khap panchayats and their influential political backers to force parties to have a rethink on samegotra marriages is patently illegal. Sixty-five years ago, in 1945, the issue was settled by the Bombay High Court which categorically declared samegotra marriages were legal. And that’s been the law of the land since.

In the wake of the khaps’ defiance of the law, not only have top politicians like Om Prakash Chautala and Naveen Jindal caved in — no doubt to retain the political support of these medieval organizations — but national parties like BJP, too, have been wavering. The BJP on Thursday talked about building ‘‘consensus’’ on the issue, indicating there was scope for modifying the legal view on same-gotra marriages. Even theCongress is said to be keeping its cards close to the chest.

So, even as khaps spit fire at courts for holding such marriages legal, it is instructive to learn about the rigour with which two reputed judges went into the issue in 1945, much before Hindu personal law was codified. They consulted the writings of leading experts and delved into Hindu scriptures to arrive at their verdict.

The case, ‘Madhavrao vs Raghavendrarao’, involved a Deshastha Brahmin couple and the two-judge bench comprised Harilal Kania, the first chief justice of independent India, and P B Gajendragadkar, who became CJI in the 1960s. The essence of the case was whether ‘sagotra’ marriage or marriage within the same gotra was valid under Hindu custom.

The court initially relied on a landmark 1868 case where the Privy Council had stated, ‘‘under the Hindu system of law, clear proof of usage will outweigh the written text of the law’’. However, a custom which was at variance with the written text of Hindu law, had to be ancient, certain and reasonable if it was to be recognized by the court.

Ban on same-gotra marriages rejected

SC throws out PIL seeking ban on same-gotra unions


From the archives of The Times of India 2007, 2009

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a PIL seeking amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same ‘gotra’ marriages, a plea that was earlier raised by khap panchayats that got support from political circles in Haryana.

A vacation bench comprising justices Deepak Verma and K S Radhakrishnan told petitioner Naresh Kadyan’s counsel K T S Tulsi that his client would do better to move the high court concerned which had the power and jurisdiction to decide the issue.

When Tulsi argued that the issues raised in the petition had a pan-Indian appeal, the bench said the HC could decide such matters. This made Tulsi to request withdrawal of the PIL. The bench allowed that with liberty to the petitioner to raise the issue afresh before the HC. Though the SC refused to entertain the PIL on amendment to HMA, another PIL by NGO ‘Shakti Vahini’ was filed in the apex court seeking protection for couples facing threat from khap panchayats for marrying against prevailing social norms.

Seeking a direction to the Centre and the states of Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where honour killings have been practised in one form or the other, the petitioner NGO said it was time the governments at the Centre and the states thought of taking preventive measures against this social evil.

“Such crimes include battery, torture, mutilation, rape, forced marriage, imprisonment within the home and even murder. These crimes are intended to protect the family honour by preventing and punishing women for allegedly violating community norms of behaviour, particularly sexual behaviour. Women have been abducted, arrested or raped and are often blamed for shaming their families. Reasons for honour killings can be as trivial as talking to a man, or as innocent as suffering rape. These crimes are often collective and premeditated,” it said.

The NGO said states should constitute a special cell in each district where couples could approach for safety that should lead to active prosecution of those responsible for honour killings.

Drawing The Line

A vacation bench told petitioner that it would do better to move the HC concerned which had the power and jurisdiction to decide the issue

Another PIL was filed by NGO in SC seeking protection for couples facing threat from khaps for marrying against prevailing social norms

NGO said it was time the Centre and the states thought of taking preventive measures against this social evil

Marriage with minor girl

Cannot be anulled

January 25, 2023: The Times of India

Though the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, prescribes the minimum age of 18 years for women, it does not provide fornullifying marriage with a minor girl, the Karnataka HC said in a recent order. 
A division bench headed byJustice Alok Aradhe made the observation while reversing the decision of a family court in Channapatna in Ramanagaradistrict, which declared null and void the marriage of a woman who was 16 years and 11 months old at the time of her wedding. 

Saptapadi/ Saat pherey

Marriages not valid without them

Rajesh Kumar Pandey, Oct 5, 2023: The Times of India

PRAYAGRAJ: Observing that a Hindu marriage is not valid without the 'saptapadi' ceremony (taking seven rounds around the sacred fire) and other rituals, the Allahabad high court has quashed the entire proceedings of a complaint case, where the husband had sought punishment for his estranged wife, alleging that she had solemnized her second marriage without obtaining a divorce from him.

Allowing a petition filed by Smriti Singh, Justice Sanjay Kumar Singh on September 19 observed, “It is well settled that the word ‘solemnise’ means, in connection with a marriage, ‘to celebrate the marriage with proper ceremonies and in due form’. Unless the marriage is celebrated or performed with proper ceremonies and due form, it cannot be said to be ‘solemnised’. If the marriage is not a valid marriage is not a marriage in the eyes of law. The ‘saptapadi’ ceremony under the Hindu law is one of the essential ingredients to constitute a valid marriage.”

The court relied on Section 7 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which provides that a Hindu marriage may be solemnized in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies of either party thereto. Second, such

Second marriage

Valid even if plea against divorce is pending: SC

AmitAnand Choudhary, 2nd marriage valid even if plea against divorce is pending: SC, August 26, 2018: The Times of India

Though the Hindu Marriage Act prescribes that it is lawful to remarry only after dismissal of any appeal by a spouse against a decree of divorce, the Supreme Court has clarified that a second marriage will not be void if solemnised during the pendency of the appeal.

In a significant interpretation of Section 15 of the Hindu Marriage Act, a bench of Justices S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao said the period of time when a marriage is not lawfully permissible — during pendency of appeal against divorce — did not mean the dissolved marriage continues, and held that nuptials solemnised in this interregnum will not be held void due to being held under an “incapacity”.

Section 15 of the Hindu Marriage Act says when a marriage has been dissolved by a decree of divorce and either there is no right of appeal against the decision or the time for appeal has expired where there is such a recourse to appeal, or an appeal has been presented and dismissed, remarriage will be legally permissible.

‘Breach of Sec 15 doesn’t render a marriage void’

Section 5(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act further says a marriage may be solemnised between any two Hindus if neither party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage.

The apex court set aside a Delhi high court ruling that held any marriage solemnised by a party during pendency of appeal wherein the operation of the decree of divorce was stayed would be in contravention of Section 5 (1) of the act. It passed the order on an appeal filed by a man challenging the HC verdict which declared his second marriage void on a plea by his second wife.

The man had married a second time when his appeal against divorce from his first wife was pending in HC. During pendency of his plea, he had settled the dispute with his first wife and filed an application for accepting the divorce and sought withdrawal of his appeal. But a fortnight before the HC passed the formal order allowing him to withdraw his appeal, he married a second time.

His second marriage also did not turn out to be blissful and matrimonial discord led his second wife to challenge validity of the marriage, saying that it was void as it was solemnised during pendency of the case in HC. A family court dismissed her plea but the HC ruled in her favour and declared the marriage void.

The SC came to the conclusion that violation of Section 15 did not render a marriage void and said “if a provision of law prescribes incapacity to marry and yet the person marries while under that incapacity, the marriage would not be void in the absence of an express provision that declares nullity”.

“The Hindu Marriage Act is a social welfare legislation and a beneficent legislation and it has to be interpreted in a manner which advances the object of the legislation. The act intends to bring about social reforms. It is well-known that this court cannot interpret a socially beneficial legislation on the basis as if the words therein are cast in stone,” the bench said.

“The dissolution of marriage is complete once the decree is made, subject of course to appeal...,” the bench said.

Self respect marriages

A backgrounder

Khadija Khan, August 29, 2023: The Indian Express

The Supreme Court on August 28 observed that there is no blanket ban on advocates solemnising “self-respect” marriages under Section 7(A) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

In doing so, a Bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Aravind Kumar set aside a 2014 ruling of the Madras High Court holding that marriages performed by the advocates are not valid and that “suyamariyathai” or “self-respect” marriages cannot be solemnised in secrecy.

What are ‘self-respect’ marriages?

On January 17, 1968, the Hindu Marriage (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 1967, received the President’s approval and became the law. This amendment modified the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, by inserting Section 7-A into it. However, it extended only to the state of Tamil Nadu.

Section 7-A deals with the special provision on “self-respect and secular marriages”. It legally recognises “any marriage between any two Hindus”, which can be referred to as “suyamariyathai” or “seerthiruththa marriage” or by any other name.

Such marriages are solemnised in the presence of relatives, friends, or other persons, with parties declaring each other to be husband or wife, in a language understood by them. Further, each party to the marriage garlands the other or puts a ring on the other’s finger or ties a “thali” or mangal sutra. However, such marriages are also required to be registered as per the law.

The rationale behind the Tamil Nadu government amending the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, to include “suyamariyathai” or “self-respect” marriages, was to radically simplify weddings by shunning the need for mandatory Brahmin priests, holy fire and saptapadi (seven steps). This allowed marriages to be declared in the presence of the couple’s friends or family or any other persons. In a nutshell, the amendment was made to do away with the need for priests and rituals, which were otherwise required to complete wedding ceremonies.

In its recent order, the Supreme Court allowed a petition challenging a Madras High Court order dated May 5 where the court had ordered the initiation of disciplinary action against the advocates who solemnised such marriages in their offices and issued marriage certificates to consenting adults.

What did the top court say?

In the case of “Ilavarasan v. Superintendent of Police”, a Bench of Justices Ravindra Bhat and Aravind Kumar was hearing an appeal of a man called Ilavarasan against a Madras High Court order passed in May 2023, rejecting his habeas corpus petition to present his wife before the court.

The petitioner had claimed that he had performed “suyamariyathai” with his wife, who was currently under her parents’ “illegal custody”. Refusing to accept the “self-respect” marriage certificate issued by the advocate, the Madras High Court dismissed Ilvarasan’s habeas corpus plea. Thus, he was compelled to move the top court, which successfully admitted his plea.

In doing so, the court overruled the 2014 ruling of the Madras High Court in “Balakrishna Pandian v. The Superintendent of Police”, where it was held that marriages performed by the advocates are invalid and that “suyammariyathai” or “self-respect” marriages cannot be solemnised in secrecy.

The Madras High Court had held in its 2014 ruling: “We are very clear in our mind that even the protagonists of the Suyammariyathai/Seerthiruththa form of marriage did not visualize marriages being solemnised in secrecy. The very idea of performing marriages with celebration is to publicly declare the marital status of the parties. Even Thanthai Periyar used to conduct Suyamariyathai form of marriages publicly so that the world recognised the status of the couples. Hence, celebration of marriage is not antithetical to Suyammariyathai/Seerthiruththa form of marriage.

Therefore, we are of the opinion that a marriage conducted in secrecy with few strangers around, be it Suyammariyathai form, will not amount to solemnisation, as required under Section 7 & 7-A of the Hindu Marriage Act”.

Further, the top court also relied on its 2001 ruling in “Nagalingam v. Sivagami”, which said that there is no blanket ban on advocates to solemnise marriages under Section 7(A) of the Hindu Marriage Act (Tamil Nadu State Amendment Act).

What has the top court ruled on ‘self-respect’ marriages in the past?

In “S. Nagalingam vs Sivagami” (2001), a bench of Justices DP Mohapatra and KG Balakrishnan recognised the petitioner’s marriage with his wife to be a valid one despite the ceremony of “saptapadi” or seven steps around the sacred fire, not taking place.

Clarifying that the parties in the present case did not consider the “saptapadi” ceremony to be as essential as per their personal law, the court said that Section 7-A of the Hindu Marriage Act (Tamil Nadu State Amendment) would apply instead.


Forcible application does not mean marriage: HC

Dev Kumar Pandey, Nov 23, 2023: The Times of India

PATNA: The Patna high court has held that merely putting vermilion on a woman’s forehead under coercion does not constitute a marriage under Hindu law. A Hindu marriage is not valid unless the same act is voluntary and accompanied by the ritual of ‘saptapadi’ (seven steps taken by the bride and groom around the sacred fire), a division bench comprising Justices P B Bajanthri and Arun Kumar Jha ruled.

The bench on November 10 annulled a “forced” marriage, observing that the appellant, Ravi Kant, then a signalman in the Army, was abducted in Lakhisarai district of Bihar more than 10 years ago, and forced to apply vermilion on the respondent bride’s forehead at gunpoint.

“From bare perusal of the provisions of Hindu Marriage Act, it is obvious that the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken (around the sacred fire by the bride and groom). Conversely, if ‘saptapadi’ has not been completed, the marriage would not be considered to be complete,” the HC stated.

The appellant was abducted along with his uncle on June 30, 2013, when they had gone to offer prayers at a temple in Lakhisarai. Later that day, Ravi Kant was forced to “marry” the respondent.

Ravi’s uncle tried to lodge a complaint with the district police, who allegedly did not entertain him. Subsequently, Ravi filed a criminal complaint before the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Lakhisarai. He also moved the family court for annulment of marriage, which dismissed his plea on January 27, 2020.

Hearing his appeal, the HC bench said the family court’s findings were flawed and expressed surprise that the priest who gave evidence on behalf of the respondent had neither any knowledge about ‘saptapadi’, nor was he able to recall the place where the marriage rites were performed.

See also

Age of marriage: India

Child marriage: India

Marriage and divorce: Indian Muslims

Marriage and Hinduism

Marriage and the law (Hindu): India

Marriage and the law (Inter-faith): India

Marriage and the law (Muslim): India

Marriage and the law: India

Marriage statistics: India

Marriage, Love and Caste: Telugu

Panjab Castes: 07-Marriage and intermarriage between tribes

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