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HomeNewsSupreme Court invalidates Hindu marriage shorn of rituals

Supreme Court invalidates Hindu marriage shorn of rituals

The Supreme Court made the observation while adjudicating a case of two pilots who sought divorce without having participated in a typical Hindu wedding

The Supreme Court said today that a Hindu marriage should be regarded as a sacred process rather than a mere social gathering or transaction. The court ruled that the customary rituals and ceremonies prescribed under the Hindu Marriage Act must be strictly followed for the marriage to be considered valid even if it has already been registered.

The highest court of the country made a contemptuous remark on the merry-making culture that Hindu weddings have reduced to especially in northern India, saying “song and dance” and “wining and dining” during the ceremony do not qualify it as marriage.

According to Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act, the “ceremonies of a Hindu marriage” are listed and must be adhered to for the marriage to be legally recognized. Failure to comply with these ceremonies renders the marriage invalid in the eyes of the law. The section also states that a Hindu marriage can be solemnised through the customary rites and ceremonies of either party involved.

The Supreme Court bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih further emphasised that a Hindu marriage should not be treated as a frivolous occasion for entertainment or material gain. It is a sacred sanskara and sacrament that holds great value in Indian society. The court urged young individuals to deeply contemplate the significance of marriage before entering into it, recognising its sanctity and importance, taking a serious exception to the “absence of a valid ceremony” in many weddings.

The order of the court, in the case of two commercial pilots seeking a divorce without having performed a valid Hindu marriage ceremony, highlights the court’s stance on the matter. The court has emphasized that marriage should not be reduced to a mere social event or an opportunity for dowry and gift exchanges. It is a solemn and foundational event that establishes a lifelong bond between a man and a woman, forming the basis of a family, which is considered the fundamental unit of Indian society.

“A marriage is not an event for ‘song and dance’ and ‘wining and dining’ or an occasion to demand and exchange dowry and gifts by undue pressure leading to possible initiation of criminal proceedings thereafter. A marriage is not a commercial transaction. It is a solemn foundational event celebrated so as to establish a relationship between a man and a woman who acquire the status of a husband and wife for an evolving family in future which is a basic unit of Indian society,” the Supreme Court said.

Describing marriage as a sacred institution that offers a lifelong, dignified, equal, consensual, and healthy partnership between two individuals, the court emphasized that a Hindu marriage supports procreation, strengthens the family unit, and fosters a sense of unity among different communities.

“We deprecate the practice of young men and women seeking to acquire the status of being a husband and a wife to each other and therefore purportedly being married, in the absence of a valid marriage ceremony under the provisions of the (Hindu Marriage) Act such as in the instant case where the marriage between the parties was to take place later,” the bench said.

The bench stated in its order dated April 19 that if a Hindu marriage is not conducted in compliance with the prescribed rituals, including saptapadi (where the groom and bride take seven steps or seven circumambulations together around the sacred fire), it will not be recognized as a Hindu marriage.

“We further observe that a Hindu marriage is a sacrament and has a sacred character. In the context of saptapadi in a Hindu marriage, according to Rig Veda, after completing the seventh step the bridegroom says to his bride, ‘With seven steps we have become sakha (friends). May I attain to friendship with thee; may I not be separated from thy friendship’. A wife is considered to be half of oneself, ardhangini, but to be accepted with an identity of her own and to be a co-equal partner in the marriage,” the Supreme Court said.

In Hindu Law, marriage is a sacrament or a ‘samskara’ and it is the foundation for a new family, the bench noted, and said, “There is nothing like a “better-half” in a marriage but the spouses are equal halves in a marriage.”

Over time, as centuries have passed and laws have been put into effect, monogamy has become the sole legally sanctioned form of relationship between a husband and a wife.

“The (Hindu Marriage) Act has categorically discarded polyandry and polygamy and all other such types of relationships. The intent of the Parliament is also that there should be only one form of marriage having varied rites and customs and rituals,” the Supreme Court said.

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