The unremitting tiff between tradition and personal liberty has often led to excesses resulting in abuse of law emanating from both the sides. The Central Information Commission in an RTI Appeal has dealt with this issue and has tipped in favour of the rule of law. With the rising scourge against love marriages and diktat’s of the kangaroo courts, the information commission has issued recommendations to the State and Union governments to make provisions to ensure safety of the lovers intending alliance and at same time issue public Order for adherence of interested parties.
Ms. Shahshi filed an RTI requesting details regarding rules and procedures of registration of marriages. The applicant raised concerns on the rise in fraudulent marriages which youngsters enter into, on account of immaturity. She stressed on the need of concurrence of parents to avoid any such mishappening and requested the state to take upon itself to intimate the parties by a public Order beyond just the corridors of official premises.
The Information commission in its decision, gave due regard to the legitimate parental concern. However, taking a vantage view of the situation Central Information Commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu, called for active state intervention to protect the spirit of Article 21 of the constitution by ensuring the right to life and liberty of the individuals. He also stressed on the importance of the ‘marriage registration notice’ to enable the interested parties raise objections, if any. As per the recommendations, it is suggested that the form should facilitates as the prime step towards their safety by incorporating several safeguards such as allegations of threat and request for protection. Due inquiry must be held by SHO post any such intimation.
“It is the duty of public authority to provide information, to actively disclose, disseminate and publish, as widely as possible, information of such general public interest. The state has a duty to prevent fraudulent or sham marriages or marriages between non-permissible relationships, or void or voidable marriages, in view of increasing problematic or fraudulent marriages. He hoped that greater transparency by issuing a widely published notice of marriages under Special Marriage Act will help young couple to avoid these risks. If not issuing direct notices to the parents of proposed couples, the cyber notice on official website of the office of Registration of Marriages is within the procedure prescribed by law”, states the Order.
The Order also highlighted that while several statutory provisions are available to prevent likely fraudulent and forced marriages under the Special Marriage Act but it does not have any safeguards for the inter-caste couples intending betrothal against parent’s wishes. In such scenario a public Order can prove to be fatal for the groom or bride. This needs to be addressed by parallel safeguards in the law.
The Commission has relied on the Supreme Court Judgment in Arumugam Servai vs State which declared the Panchayats like the Khap and Katta to be illegal and liable to harshest punishments and in Vishwa Lochan Madan vs Union of India which declared that fatwas of Shariyat courts were not enforceable. Taking cognizance of the rulings, the Order puts the responsibility on the state to ensure that such groups do not cause harm to youngsters intending love marriage.
The Order deals elaborately with the provisions of “the Prohibition of unlawful Assembly (interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliance)Bill, 2011” . It exalted the Bill for its due recognition of the problem and declaration of all offences under it as cognizable and non-compoundable. It expressed displeasure with the fact that such a bill lapsed and is forgotten as of today.
“The government has a responsibility to prevent fraudulent or illegal or invalid marriages on one hand and to protect genuine lovers from the violence of parents and caste/religious heads. State’s responsibility extends to provide safe circumstances to youth of the nation to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right of choosing life partner and to register their marriages, if legal, after giving due Order to interested parties to raise and verify their objections ” stated Information Commission upholding the spirit of the constitutional rights and responsibilities. It has placed the onus on the state to ensure safety and liberty of couples intending matrimony against society’s wishes and also to ensure the validity of such engagements as well.
The Commission recommends both the Governments¬ Union and States, to consider:
a) Incorporating a column or leaving sufficient space for declaration in the application form for registration about reasonably apprehended threat to their life or liberty for exercising their choice and request for protection, and direct Marriage Officers to get the report from the concerned Station Housing Officer after due enquiry of the allegations of threat and secure their lives, if SHO concludes the threat is prima facie real, or
b) Take any other adequate measures to offer protection to would be partners, including taking up the draft Bill referred above with necessary changes.
The Commission, as per Section 19(8)(a)(iv), also directed the public authority i.e., the Marriage Officers or SDMs, to:
a) incorporate declaration about apprehended threat in the application form, and provision for due enquiry by SHO,
b) provide necessary protection in the standard operative practice or procedure,
c) add a warning against assaulting the liberty of would be partners in the form of Order for solemnization & registration of marriage, and
d) ensure wide reach to the mandatory Orders to be issued under law, by placing the same on the official website, in an easily accessible link, highlighting under the title of ‘marriage registration notices’ as that is mandatory duty of public authorities under Section 4(1)(d) to facilitate the interested persons (including parents or guardians) to know and raise objections, if any, to safeguard the interests of the partners to the proposed marriage.