Author: Devika Walia.
AIR 2006 SC 1158.
NAMES OF PARTIES
Petitioner: Smt. Seema;
Respondent: Ashwani Kumar.
Justice Arijit Pasayat;
Justice S.H. Kapadia.
Is a marriage a contract or a sacrament? When the subject of marriage is being discussed in law school, this is one of the first questions that are made of the students. In contrast to Hindu law, which views marriage as a deeply sacred rite, Muslim law views marriage as a simple contract. All marriage-related laws are covered under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, which is applicable to all Hindus (including Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists), but not to Muslims, Parsis, Christians, or Jews.
Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 lays down the essential conditions for a Hindu marriage, which are as follows :-
- No living spouse of either of the parties at the time of solemnization of marriage.
- Neither of the spouses should have an unsound mind, making them incapable of giving their consent.
- Neither of them should have any mental disorders that prevents them from marrying and having children.
- Neither of them should have insanity attacks or epileptic attacks.
- Bride must have attained the age of 18 years and groom of 21 years at the time of their marriage.
- The spouses must not be in a prohibited relationship with each other, until their customs provide for the same.
- The spouses must not be “sapindas” to each other, until their customs allow.
According to the provisions of Section 7 of the Act , Hindu marriages are performed and solemnized in accordance with the customary and pious rites and rituals of the bride and groom. One such custom being “saptapadi”. In simpler words it can be said that when a marriage between a bride and groom is solemnized as per the rites and all of the conditions mentioned in Section 5 are fulfilled, a marriage is then known as a valid marriage which gives both the husband and wife certain rights and duties.
Prior to the pronouncement of this judgment in 2006, marriage registration was not necessary. However, while this case was pending, the Supreme Court mandated that all husbands and wives register their marriages after learning about the numerous atrocities that women were suffering from a lack of documentation of their union. This was because most marriages in India up until the early 2000s were not registered.
- In 2005, the original petition was first filed before the Haryana District Court due to constant fights and arguments between Seema and Ashwani.
- The matter was pending in the Court of Additional District Judge Delhi, when an interim order dated 15th April 2005 was passed, putting a stay on the proceedings.
- A transfer petition was made to the Supreme Court where one of the first and foremost question was that whether the marriage between the petitioner (Seema) and the respondent (Ashwani) was a valid marriage or not.
- As this petition was being heard by the Supreme Court, it was observed that as the registration of marriage is not mandatory under the provisions of Section 8 of the Act, it became a laborious task to prove the existence of marriage between the spouses. The lack of official records of solemnized marriages was a loophole for many.
- As Section 8 (1) empowers all State governments to make rules regarding the registration of marriages, hence various states have various laws governing marriages. Also, as per Section 8 (2), if the State is of the opinion that registration of marriage should be made mandatory, the contravention of the same would attract fine. However, only 4 Acts in India mandated the registration of Hindu marriage at that time.
- Several States and Union Territories were given notice, and the learned Solicitor General and Mr. Ranjit Kumar, learned senior counsel, were asked to serve as Amicus Curiae to aid the Court establish rules regarding the registration of marriage. Unfailingly, every State and Union Territory expressed their stance that marriage registration is strongly recommended.
- Whether the registration of marriage should be a mandatory provision or not?
- Whether this mandate is constitutional or not?
Answering to the issue of whether making registration of marriage a compulsory procedure is constitutional or not, the Court referred to entries 5 and 30 of List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, which reads :
“5. Marriage and divorce; infants and minors; adoption; wills, intestacy and succession; joint family and partition; all matters in respect of which parties in judicial proceedings were immediately before the commencement of this Constitution subject to their personal law. Vital statistics including registration of births and deaths.”1
Entry 5 empowers both the State as well as the Central government to make laws related to marriage and divorce, which clearly includes the rules related to registration of marriage. Furthermore, the term “vital statistics” in Entry 30 also includes information about marriages and hence includes registration of marriage.
The cardinal need to make the provision of registration of marriage mandatory was seen by the Apex Court when during the pendency of this matter, countless other disputes were brought to light where due to the lack of evidence of solemnization of marriage, women were greatly and adversely affected. The Supreme Court clarified that mere registration would not a proof of a valid marriage but it would act as a strong evidence in marital disputes where the rights and duties of the spouses are to be determined.
In addition, the registration of marriage requires certain particulars including the age of the bride and groom. Therefore, this would help in curbing the perils of the social evil of child marriage. Hence, the Supreme Court, through this landmark judgment made the provision of registration of marriage mandatory. The following guidelines were also issued to the States and Union Territories by the Court :-
- “The procedure for registration should be notified by respective States within three months from today. This can be done by amending the existing Rules, if any, or by framing new Rules. However, objections from members of the public shall be invited before bringing the said Rules into force. In this connection, due publicity shall be given by the States and the matter shall be kept open for objections for a period of one month from the date of advertisement inviting objections. On the expiry of the said period, the States shall issue appropriate notification bringing the Rules into force.
- The officer appointed under the said Rules of the States shall be duly authorized to register the marriages. The age, marital status (unmarried, divorcee) shall be clearly stated. The consequence of non-registration of marriages or for filing false declaration shall also be provided for in the said Rules. Needless to add that the object of the said Rules shall be to carry out the directions of this Court.
- As and when the Central Government enacts a comprehensive statute, the same shall be placed before this Court for scrutiny.
- Learned counsel for various States and Union Territories shall ensure that the directions given herein are carried out immediately.”2
In the light of the contemporary scenario, this landmark judgment has played a pivotal role in safeguarding the rights of many women and girls across the country. By making the act of registration of marriage a compulsion, the Supreme Court has not only tried to correct a loophole which existed hitherto but also to an extent, has attempted to fight the social evil of child marriage which has predominantly existed in our country. Subsequent to this judgment, in 2012, the Delhi High Court was also in the favour of compulsory registration of marriage and observed “that compulsory marriage registration would deter guardians from marrying off their underage children as a written record of their ages would show the illegality of such weddings.”3
As it was accurately argued by the National Commission for Women in it’s affidavit, that a law for making marriage registration mandatory must be enforced not only for proving the solemnization of the wedding but also to safeguard young girls from child marriage as registration would ensure that the minimum age prescribed by law is being adhered to. The other benefits of such law suggested by the National Commission of Women included; no spouse would be compelled to consent the marriage, no child can be sold by his/her parents in exchange for money under the pretence of marriage, obstructing the practice of bigamy or polygamy, empowering married women to assert their rights in their marital house and widows to assert their rights after the death of their husbands, such as inheritance eights, etc.
At the onset of the hearing of this case, it appeared to be a simple martial case between a husband and wife which arose out of multiple differences between the couple which led to numerous fights between them. However, as the hearing proceeded, it enlightened the Court with much deeper problems that existed in the country due to the loopholes in the existing statutes.
In my opinion, with the passing of this judgment, the Supreme Court very rightly made the registration of marriage a mandatory provision.
Later on in 2005, a bill was introduced by the Union Government known as the “Compulsory Registration of Marriage Bill, 2005” with the notion that citizens of this nation needed to be informed of the social system and associated laws.
Marriage, as per the Hindu Law is a sacrament which is performed and solemnized in conformity with the customs, rituals and ceremonies of the spouses. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 governs all Hindus, including Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. In order to solemnize a valid marriage, there are a few essential conditions under Section 5 of the Act that need to be fulfilled by both, the bride and the groom. Only after fulfilling those conditions and performing the marriage rituals in conformity to the customs, a marriage is known to be a valid marriage. The essential conditions, however, did not mention mandatory registration of marriage. The Act enabled the State governments to make appropriate rules relating to registration and only if the State wished to, it can provide for mandatory registration.
This provision acted as an escape clause for many, as in the absence of registration, the existence of marriage was being questioned and due to the lack of records with the government, it became a difficult to prove it and assisted husbands to deny their wives their marital rights.
With the pronouncement of this landmark judgment, the Supreme Court not only provided a shield to married women who faced hardships and were denied their marital rights such as the right to reside in her matrimonial home, maintenance, etc. but also safeguarded minor girls from atrocities like child marriage, being sold off by their parents under the guise of marriage, forceful marriage without the consent, etc. This judgment is only one out of the innumerable examples of the persistent and vigorous efforts of the judiciary in preserving the rights of the people of the country by accurately interpreting the provisions of law in order to combat the evils of the society.
- The Constitution of India 1950.
- Seema v. Ashwani Kumar AIR 2006 SC 1158.
- Lajja Devi v. State NCT Delhi 2012 SCC OnLine Del 3937.