The petition stated that the tasks of the commission promote the message that a citizen can choose to marry anyone they want, but if you marry outside your faith or caste, the State will be watching, monitoring and suspending your fundamental rights, and tracking you.
ON Friday, a petition in the Bombay High Court, challenging the Government Resolution (GR) dated December 13, 2022 by the Maharashtra state government that seeks to establish an Interfaith Marriage-Family Coordination Committee in the state, was filed by Samajwadi Party’s Member of Legislative Assembly in Maharashtra, Rais Shaikh. The committee seeks to coordinate and track interfaith and inter-caste marriages, and to ‘counsel, communicate and resolve issues’ between such married couples and their families.
The GR authorises the committee, consisting of departmental and district-level officers, to obtain information on interfaith or inter-caste married persons on whether women in such interfaith marriages are in touch with their families, addresses of parents where women are not in contact with them, and to counsel such parents if they are not willing to communicate. It also empowers the committee to review inter-caste marriages in the state, whether registered, performed in religious places or by elopement.
Shaikh says in his petition that the committee, formed following the gruesome murder of Shraddha Walkar in Delhi, is allowed to intervene at the behest or recommendation of any person, which will result in unaccountability and arbitrariness.
According to the petition, the GR is violative of Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25 of the Constitution. It alleges that the GR seeks to further the incorrect narrative that instances of women in distress in their marriages and requiring protection only take place when she marries outside their religion, caste or faith. The petition stresses that the protection which the GR seeks to extend to women can be sought under existing laws like the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the Indian Penal Code.
The petition emphasises that the GR is discriminatory against a particular religion, and encourages division by creating a false narrative and negatively influencing public perception of a particular religious sect. It states that the GR was passed unilaterally without following due procedure. Shaikh alleges through the petition that the GR is the state government’s attempt to forbid interfaith marriages, and a precursor to laws related to purported love-jihad marriages, which have been stayed in other states.
Shaikh’s plea points out that “…the discourse around marriage in India revolves around wishes of the parents, local vigilantes and the society at large.” The GR allows control over the lives of young people who have decided to choose their own partners by making the information about such couples easily accessible without them having any control over who has access to their private information, the plea states. It urges that no marriage of two consenting adults must be under such scrutiny or subject to constant scan and supervision.
According to the petition, maintenance of records of couples getting married outside their religion or faith by unilaterally seeking information from religious places and through the registration and stamp duty department, as empowered by the GR, is violative of the right to privacy of the couple who do not wish to make their marriage public, and the right to choose.
On the GR allowing obtaining information on interfaith marriages that have been effectuated by elopement, Shaikh says in his plea, “it is a social evil and a demonic practice that in the country at large, parents, the society and community leaders sit in judgment over whether a couple should be [married], stay married and/or to even continue to be married.” By highlighting that in extreme cases married couples have been subjected to honour killing by local panchayats and their families, the plea warns that maintenance of such a list will put the couple’s lives in danger, as no consent would be sought from them before seeking information.
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The petition questions the requirement of the committee to enquire of couples whether they are in contact with their parents, alleging it to be intrusive and amounting to harassment. Further, the plea forewarns that the GR, in empowering the committee that consists of politically motivated people with no former experience in counselling to provide such counselling to families of the couples, might cause further estrangement of such families.
The petition urges that the GR should be quashed and set aside on the ground that it results in the cessation of privacy for a couple that marries outside their caste or faith, and propounds the message that “…a citizen can ‘choose to’ marry anyone they want, but if you marry outside your faith and/or caste, the State will be watching, monitoring, and suspending your fundamental rights, and tracking you…”
Shaikh’s plea further points to the assumption implied in the GR that adult women who choose and consent to marry someone from another faith need to be ‘saved’, and emphasises it to be in violation of the Constitution. The petition alleges that the GR is ultra vires the Maharashtra State Minority Commission Act, 2004 as it seeks to discriminate against interfaith marriages involving the minority communities, as well as Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth and residence) and 153B (imputation, assertions prejudicial to national integration) of the Indian Penal Code as it may promote enmity between different groups.
The petition, thus, prays for directions to recall or withdraw the GR and to quash any directions, proceedings and actions initiated in furtherance of the GR. It also prays for the Bombay High Court to stay the effect and implementation of the GR pending the final disposal of the petition.