Publication of Notice of Intended Marriage under Special Marriage Act, not Mandatory, as Violates the Right to Privacy

Publication of Notice of Intended Marriage under Special Marriage Act not mandatory, as violates the right to privacy 
In a significant verdict the Allahabad High Court had ruled that, while giving notice under Section 5 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 it shall be optional for the parties to the intended marriage to make a request in writing to the Marriage Officer to publish or not to publish a notice under Section 6 and follow the procedure of objections as prescribed under the Act of 1954

Brief facts of the Case

  • The present Habeas Corpus Petition is filed by Petitioner no.1-wife through Petitioner no.2-husband, claiming that detenue-Petitioner no.1, Smt. Safia Sultana, who after converting to Hindu religion and renamed as Smt. Simran, married Petitioner no.2 as per Hindu rituals. However respondent No.4, her father, is not permitting her to live with her husband. They both are adults, duly married with their free will and desire to live together.
  • Thus the custody of the detenue by her father is illegal. The Court directed for the presence of the detenue and her father. They both appeared in person, wherein, the Petitioner no.1 accepted the averments aforesaid and had shown her desire to live with her husband.
  • The Respondent no.4-father of the detenue also fairly accepted that since she is an adult, has married with her choice and wanted to live with her husband; he also accepts her decision and wished both of them best for their future.
  • This matter could have come to an end at this stage, but, for the views expressed by the young couple while interacting with the Court on their personal appearance, the young couple expressed that they could have solemnized their marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 but the said Act requires a 30 days’ notice to be published and objections to be invited from the public at large. They expressed that any such notice would be an invasion in their privacy and would have definitely caused unnecessary social pressure/interference in their free choice with regard to their marriage.

Issue before the Court

The question rose before this Court is:-

  1. Whether the social conditions and the law, as has progressed since passing of Act of 1872 and thereafter Act of 1954 till now, would in any manner impact the interpretation of Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Act of 1954, and
  2.  Whether with change the said sections no more remain mandatory in nature.

Note- This argument is based on another principle of interpretation, that, an ongoing statute should be interpreted on the basis of present day’s changed conditions and not on old obsolete conditions.

Observation of the Court

  • The Court noted that, since, the issues raised by the petitioners and their counsels involves right of life and liberty of a large number of persons, therefore, this Court is duty bound to consider their submissions. The Court said that it is would suffice to refer to the judgment of the Supreme Court in Shakti Vahini vs. Union of India and others wherein Court held that,

“The concept of liberty has to be weighed and tested on the touchstone of constitutional sensitivity, protection and the values it stands for. It is the obligation of the constitutional courts as the sentinel on qui vive to zealously guard the right to liberty of an individual as the dignified existence of an individual has an inseparable association with liberty. Without sustenance of liberty, subject to constitutionally valid provisions of law, the life of a person is comparable to the living dead having to endure cruelty and torture without protest and tolerate imposition of thoughts and ideas without a voice to dissent or record a disagreement.”

  • Reliance was placed by the Court to the reports of the Law Commission of India and the development of Law till the enactment of Special Marriage Act. The Court also referred various case laws to conclude the present case and observed that it would be cruel and unethical to force the present generation living with its current needs and expectations to follow the customs and traditions adopted by a generation living nearly 150 years back for its social needs and circumstances, which violates fundamental rights recognized by the courts of the day.
  • The interpretation of Sections 6 and 7 read with Section 46 containing the procedure of publication of notice and inviting objections to the intended marriage in Act of 1954 thus has to be such that would uphold the fundamental rights and not violate the same. In case the same on their simplistic reading are held mandatory, as per the law declared today, they would invade in the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy, including within its sphere freedom to choose for marriage without interference from state and non-state actors, of the persons concerned. Further, note should also be taken of the fact that marriages in India can be performed either under the personal laws or under the Act of 1954. In fact, even today, majority of marriages are performed under the personal laws. These marriages under personal laws are performed by a priest of the religion followed by the parties. Such marriages under any personal law do not require publication of any notice or calling for objections with regard to such a marriage. The individuals intending to marry approach the priest who performs the marriage as per the customs and rituals of the said religion. Their orally saying that they are competent to marry is regarded sufficient for solemnizing marriage under the personal laws. In case any party violates any condition of the said personal law, for example, if one of the parties conceals his/her marital status and commits second marriage; marriage is barred under any law (one of the parties is a minor and conceals age or marriage is within the degrees of the prohibited relationship etc.); the consent of any party is obtained by deceit or under pressure; or any other such circumstances arises, the issues are later decided by a court of law. But, the marriage takes place without any interference from any corner, even if it is later to be declared void. However, under Sections 6 and 7 of Act of 1954 the persons intending to solemnize a marriage are required to give a notice and the Marriage Officer thereafter is made duty bound to publish the notice for a period of 30 days and invite objections with regard to the same. Any person can object to the marriage on the ground that it violates any of the condition of Section 4 of Act of 1954. None of the conditions under Section 4 of Act of 1954 is such, violation of which would impact rights of any person in any manner different than the same would in case of a marriage under any personal law. Even if a marriage takes place in violation of any of the conditions of Section 4, legal consequences would follow and the courts can decide upon the same, including declare such a marriage to be void, as they do under the personal laws. There is no apparent reasonable purpose achieved by making the procedure to be more protective or obstructive under the Act of 1954, under which much less numbers of marriages are taking place, than procedure under the other personal laws, more particularly when this discrimination violates the fundamental rights of the class of persons adopting the Act of 1954 for their marriage, the Judge observed.
  • The Court ruled that publication must only on request of parties to the intended marriage, it said thathowever, in case, such individuals applying to solemnize their marriage under the Act of 1954 themselves by their free choice desire that they would like to have more information about their counterparts, they can definitely opt for publication of notice under Section 6 and further procedure with regard to objections to be followed. Such publication of notice and further procedure would not be violative of their fundamental rights as they adopt the same of their free will. Therefore, the requirement of publication of notice under Section 6 and inviting/entertaining objections under Section 7 can only be read as directory in nature, to be given effect only on request of parties to the intended marriage and not otherwise.
  • Thus, this Court mandates that while giving notice under Section 5 of the Act of 1954 it shall be optional for the parties to the intended marriage to make a request in writing to the Marriage Officer to publish or not to publish a notice under Section 6 and follow the procedure of objections as prescribed under the Act of 1954. In case they do not make such a request for publication of notice in writing, while giving notice under Section 5 of the Act, the Marriage Officer shall not publish any such notice or entertain objections to the intended marriage and proceed with the solemnization of the marriage. It goes without saying that it shall be open for the Marriage Officer, while solemnizing any marriage under the Act of 1954, to verify the identification, age and valid consent of the parties or otherwise their competence to marry under the said Act. In case he has any doubt, it shall be open for him to ask for appropriate details/proof as per the facts of the case, the court observed, while disposing of the writ petition.

Case name: Safiya Sultana vs. – State Of U.P.

Citation: HABEAS CORPUS No. – 16907 of 2020

Coram: Justice Vivek Chaudhary

Publication of Notice of Intended Marriage under Special Marriage Act not mandatory, as violates the right to privacy.

Also Read:- The Delay In Producing The Accused Before The Court After A Formal Arrest Through A Prisoner On Transit Warrant Would Violate The Liberty Guaranteed To Him U/A 21

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