Frying Pan: ruthless fathers, busybody cousins and violent religious organizations. Fire: Oily touts, corrupt bureaucrats and grouchy priests. A look inside the labyrinth of India’s eloped lovers economy. By Neha Dixit
Pic: Love on two wheels by Ishan Manjrekar, used under CC BY Cropped from original
In January 2014, Samit, a 30-year-old film editor in Delhi got a phone call. His girlfriend Mohini was 24 and worked as a sub-editor in an Assamese newspaper in Guwahati. The phone call was from her father who’d just found out about their secret long-distance relationship. “He told me that if I didn’t call off the relationship, he’d inform his ULFA contacts and get rid of both me and Mohini,” Samit says.
In 1996, a Supreme Court judgment included a discussion of the value of “inter-caste, inter-religion, and inter-region marriages” for promoting national unity. The decision cited the Special Marriage Act of 1954 as well as the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, which could be used for such marriages (the latter encompasses a broad definition of ‘Hindu’, and can be used for marriages between Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs).
The SMA was originally Act III of 1872. It was introduced by Henry Sumner Maine, a British comparative jurist and historian. Maine is well known for his thesis that in ancient societies individuals were tied to the status of traditional groups. In the modern one, the thesis argues, individuals are seen as autonomous agents who are free to make contracts or associations with whomever they choose.
Religion and Personal Law in Secular India, a 2001 book edited by Gerald James Larson mention that independent India introduced an element of choice while retaining personal laws through the SMA, 1954: “The Special Marriage Act of 1872 had provided a code of general law under which couples could choose to marry and divorce, but in order to utilize this option, they had to affirm that neither was a Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim. In effect, they had to renounce their religion and property relations with their families. In 1954, Parliament passed a new Special Marriage Act that eliminated the onerous renunciatory costs of availing of civil marriage.”
The SMA, 1954, allowed individuals the freedom to defy both caste and religion in the case of marriage. While the bill was being argued, the SMA was seen as being for the westernized urban elite, while the Hindu Marriage Act, was seen as being for the larger majority. At the time, several MPs objected that the law was destroying society by facilitating inter-caste marriages and hurting the idea of family by introducing divorce.
Religion triumphed over rationality and our application was accepted.
Published by Yahoo Originals and Grist Media on July 23, 2014