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Allahabad HC says making public names of people marrying under Special Marriage Act violates privacy, liberty

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The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on Tuesday said the mandatory provision of making public the names of people who wanted to wed under the Special Marriage Act invade their privacy and their liberty, and made such publishing optional. Such publication will also impact the freedom of persons concerned to choose their partner without interference from state and non-state actors. 

The single-judge bench of Justice Vivek Chaudhary passed this order while hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Safiya Sultana through her husband Abhishek Kumar Pandey and another.

The petition said Safiya Sultana, who after converting to Hindu religion, was renamed Simran and married Abhishek Kumar Pandey as per Hindu rituals.

However, her father is not permitting her to live with her husband. They are both adults, duly married with their free will and desire to live together. Thus the custody of Safiya Sultana by her father is illegal. The Court directed for her presence and her father. They both appeared in person, wherein, she accepted the averments aforesaid and had shown her desire to live with her husband. Her father also fairly accepted that since she is an adult, has married with her choice and wanted to live with her husband, he also accepted her decision and wished both of them best for their future.

The couple submitted before the Court that they could have solemnized their marriage under the Special Marriage Act, but the said Act requires 30-days notice to be published and objections to be invited from the public at large. They contended 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.

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

In view of the changed social circumstances and progress in laws noted and proposed by the Law Commission as well as law declared by the aforesaid judgments of the Supreme Court, 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.

In view of law settled in Satyawati Sharma and Kashmir Singh as stated above, it is the duty of this court to revisit the interpretation of the procedure under challenge as provided in the Act of 1954.

The bench observed that making such publication mandatory 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. 

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, the court observed. The court added that, 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. 

“However, 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.

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. 

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.

However, 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 petition.

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