‘Self Respect Marriage’ Among Hindus In Tamil Nadu Does Not Require Public Declaration : Supreme Court

Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act deals with ceremonies for a Hindu marriage.

According to this provision a Hindu marriage may be solemnized in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies of either party thereto. Where such rites and ceremonies include the Saptapadi (that is, the taking of seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire), the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken.

The Supreme Court, in some judgments, have held that “Saptapadi” and “Datta Homa” are essential ceremonies and without there being these two ceremonies, there would not be a valid marriage. “Saptapadi” was held to be an essential ceremony for a valid marriage only in cases it was admitted by the parties that as per the form of marriage applicable to them that was an essential ceremony.

However in Tamil Nadu, there is an amendment to Hindu Marriage Act in this regard. Section 7A is a special provision regarding suyamariyathai and seerthiruththa marriages [self respect marriages]. It reads as follows:

(1) This section shall apply to any marriage between any two Hindus, whether called suyamariyathai marriage or seerthiruththa marriage or by any other name, solemnized in the presence of relatives friends or other persons-

(a) by each party to the marriage declaring in any language understood by the parties that each takes the other to be his wife or, as the case may be, her husband; or

(b) by each party to the marriage garlanding the other or putting a ring upon any finger of the other; or

(c) by the tying of the thali.

(2) (a) Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 7, but subject to the other provisions of this Act, all marriages to which this section applies solemnized after the commencement of the Hindu Marriage (Madras Amendment) Act, 1967, shall be good and valid in law.

In S. Nagalingam vs Sivagami, the Supreme Court noted this provision and made the following observations:

“Section 7-A applies to any marriage between two Hindus solemnized in the presence of relatives, friends or other persons. The main thrust of this provision is that the presence of a priest is not necessary for the performance of a valid marriage. Parties can enter into a marriage in the presence of relatives or friends or other persons and each party to the marriage should declare in the language understood by the parties that each takes other to be his wife or, as the case may be, her husband, and the marriage would be completed by a simple ceremony requiring the parties to the marriage to garland each other or put a ring upon any finger of the other or tie a thali. Any of these ceremonies, namely garlanding each other or putting a ring upon any finger of the other or tying a thali would be sufficient to complete a valid marriage.”

However in S. Balakrishnan Pandiyan v Inspector of Police” 2014 (7) MadLJ 651, the Madras High Court observed that a marriage conducted in secrecy with few strangers around, be it Suyammariyathai form, will not amount to solemnization, as required under Section 7 & 7-A of the Hindu Marriage Act.

Now, in Ilavarasan vs Superintendent of Police 2023 INSC 813, the Supreme Court held that this view in Balakrishnan Pandiyan is erroneous.

Such a view is simplistic because often due to parental or pressure among kinship groups, or caste/community institutions, couples intending to enter into matrimony, may not be able to, for the reasons of such opposition- hold or give such a public declaration. Doing so would imperil their lives or could in the very least likely result in danger to their bodily integrity or at worst, a forceable or coerced separation of one from the other. It is not hard to visualize other pressures being brought to bear upon two individuals, who are otherwise adults and have exercised their freewill. “, the court observed.

The court therefore held: To superimpose the condition of a public declaration, which is absent in section 7A , it is not only narrowing the otherwise wide import of the statue but also would be violative of the rights under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The court added that the right of individuals to exercise free choice is an intrinsic part of the right of life.

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