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Govt defends 30-day notice period for interfaith unions

February 10, 2021 05:31 AM

Govt defends 30-day notice period for interfaith unions
Richa Banka

New Delhi :  The Centre on Tuesday defended the 30-day notice mandated for interfaith couples under the 1954 Special Marriage Act (SMA), arguing before the Delhi high court that the waiting period was fair and reasonable.

The submission was part of an affidavit by the Union ministry of law and justice before a bench of chief justice D N Patel and justice Jyoti Singh in response to an interfaith couple’s plea.

The couple contended that the 30-day period – meant to invite objections to the match – violated their right to privacy and impinged on their fundamental rights by discouraging them to get married. The plea also sought registration of their marriage with immediate effect.

But the Centre disagreed, saying the intention behind the provision was to adequately safeguard the interest of parties involved.

It said if any person raised an objection to an interfaith marriage within 30 days, the marriage officer shall not solemnise the marriage until he inquired into the objection.

“It may not be possible to verify the credibility of such a person if at least 30 days period is not given as mentioned in section 7 of the Act,” the ministry said.

The ministry also countered the petitioner’s submission on violation of right to privacy. “Though right of privacy is now a part of fundamental rights but it is not an absolute right,” the affidavit read. The matter will now be heard after two weeks.

The Centre’s response came days after the Allahabad high court, in a separate case, ruled that public display of notices to invite objections to an interfaith marriage violated the rights to liberty and privacy.

The Centre was silent on the Allahabad high court’s January ruling and instead cited a 2007 Kerala high court verdict to justify its stand. The Kerala HC had said the 30-day period was a matter of substance and a mandatory clause.

The SMA, which allows solemnisation of marriages without religious customs or rituals by way of registration, regulates interfaith marriages in India.

The 30-day notice period is a particularly controversial provision because activists say it puts hurdles in interfaith relationships and encourages vigilantes to scuttle such unions.

In many states, notices with names, addresses and other details are displayed at marriage offices and sometimes even sent to the houses of the applicants 30 days prior to the scheduled date.

The development comes amid a nationwide debate on interfaith relationships, and love jihad, a term used by right-wing groups to describe unions between Muslim men and Hindu women.

Two states, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, have already instituted strict anti-conversion laws that ban religious conversions by force, allurement or marriage – a provision that can be misused to target interfaith couples.

The plea before the Delhi high court sought a specific direction to the Centre and Delhi government to decide the objections, under the act, on the basis of undertaking and certificates issued by any government hospital or any other authority. The plea also sought doing away with the 30-day notice period and registration of the marriage of the petitioners.

But the Centre denied that the provisions violated any constitutional rights. “The conditions relating to solemnisation of special marriage mentioned under the Act is in consonance with the intention behind the Act,” it said

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