Much Ado About Ceremony: Supreme Court Judgment In Dolly Rani vs Manish Kumar Chanchal

The Supreme Court, in Dolly Rani vs Manish Kumar Chanchal 2024 INSC 355, held that for a valid marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act, the requisite ceremonies have to be performed and there must be proof of performance of the said ceremony when an issue/controversy arises. The Court observed that though the parties may have complied with the requisite conditions for a valid Hindu marriage as per Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act in the absence of there being a “Hindu marriage” in accordance with Section 7 of the Act, i.e., solemnization of such a marriage, there would be no Hindu marriage in the eye of law.  “Unless the parties have undergone such ceremony, there would be no Hindu marriage according to Section 7 of the Act and a mere issuance of a certificate by an entity in the absence of the requisite ceremonies having been performed, would neither confirm any marital status to the parties nor establish a marriage under Hindu law.”, the court said.

Now let us see what the Statute (Hindu Marriage Act) says about nullity of marriages. Section 11 and 12 of the Act speaks about Void and Voidable marriages. A Marriage is void under Section 11 of the Act in case (i) either of the parties had a spouse living at the time of marriage; or (ii) the parties are within the degrees of prohibited relationship; or (iii) if they are sapindas of each other, i.e. in contravention of conditions specified in Clauses (i), (iv) and (v) of Section 5. A marriage can be held voidable in accordance with Section 12 as well. Interestingly, neither of these provisions deal with a situation of non-performance of requisite ceremonies.

Taking note of this, the Delhi High Court in Man Mohan Vaid vs Meena Kumari, observed: “If the Legislators thought that a marriage in absence of appropriate ceremonies was void or voidable then there could have been a provision either in Section 11 or Section 12 to make the marriage void or voidable with specific reference to ceremonies mentioned in Section 7 of the Act also. Since this is not so, it is a definite omission and it is a pointer indicating that legislative intent was otherwise. This was probably so on account of the fact that the villagers as well as the Pandits in the countryside may not be very well versed in performing Vedic rituals and saptpadi or appropriate form of homam. Would it be possible to accept a proposition in such a circumstance to say that if a Hindu performs a marriage according to Anand Karaj rights it would be illegal, and not a valid marriage?”

Now, let us consider this scenario: X, a Hindu Man, marries Y, a Hindu woman. However, the priest do not perform the ‘requisite’ ceremonies. However, they get their marriage registered. Later, differences crop up between them. X comes to know from the priest that requisite ceremonies were not performed. He approaches the Family Court seeking a declaration that the marriage is void since ‘requisite’ ceremonies were not performed. Can the Court declare the marriage void on this ground?

As pointed out by the Delhi High Court, there is a reason why non-compliance of Section 7 HMA is not made a ground to declare that a marriage is nullity. Marriage, and the rights and obligations attached to it, is more than these ceremonies.

In my view, the Supreme Court judgment in does not take into consideration the intention of the legislature in this regard. The Court has indulged in adding a ground to Section 11/12 HMA and therefore we can see many petitions before Family Court for declaring a marriage as null and void citing this judgment.

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