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Tied to a complicated law, some interfaith couples choose to convert | India News

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Mohammed was from Bihar and Pavitra from Mangalore was his boss at a telecommunications company. The two fell in love during a training program in Mumbai and despite family opposition, they wanted to spend their lives together. But since Pavitra’s father wanted to marry her off, the two hit the road, going to Hyderabad, Delhi and then to Dehradun. There, they attempted to marry under the Special Marriage Act of 1954, which allows interfaith couples to marry without converting, but they were repeatedly discouraged by district officials who said their marriage would not work and asked them to apply at their hometowns. .
For fear of separation, they opted for a nikah. “I had no objection to Pavitra following his religion, but we were desperate. How long could we keep running? We were afraid that someone would ask us why we lived together, ”he recalls. But his ordeal was far from over. A few days later, the police showed up at her door and took Pavitra back to Mangalore, where she claims she was forcibly held for a few months. Finally, she managed to talk to him and travel to Delhi to get officially married. But even then, it took them several months to legally marry under the Special Marriage Act (SMA) in August 2019 due to the one-month residency requirement in Delhi and official delays in sending notices and verification.
Mohammed and Pavitra’s tumultuous path to marriage shows why even couples who do not wish to convert have to opt for religious weddings rather than face the lengthy procedural and bureaucratic hassles of SMA.
One of the main problems with SMA is the notice that is displayed at the marriage registry office for a month. Amrita Garg, an advocate for the Punjab and Haryana High Court who helps these couples, says that this provision has the unintended effect of alerting vigilante groups and disapproving of family members. “At times, these notices have been sent to the couple’s families, often leading to acts of violence and honor killings, defeating the purpose of enacting this legislation,” he says. Then there is the human angle. “In my opinion, the biggest problem is the broad power given to marriage officers, the first stop for all couples who want to get married. They take over the role of marriage counselor and abuse their position to create obstacles. ”
Recently, couples in Kerala found that their photos and personal data were leaked and circulated on social media with accusations of ‘love jihad’. Athira Sujatha, who was among the people whose details were shared on Facebook and WhatsApp prior to their marriage in December 2019, wrote a Facebook post tagging state legislators that later led to the apps being removed from the government website in July. “They just didn’t mention that these apps were under SMA,” says Athira, who has not changed his religion.
Renu Mishra of the Lucknow-based Legal Initiatives and Defense Association says couples are often intimidated by the Special Marriage Act. “When we tell couples that notices can be sent home, they freak out and rarely return,” he says.
Garg says they often come across couples who convert to their partner’s religion to marry under the personal laws of that religion just to avoid the long and cumbersome SMA procedure. “However, such conversions have become difficult with laws to prevent them in states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand,” he says. “This effectively puts those couples in a Catch-22 situation.”
The Delhi-based NGO Dhanak, which provides legal, financial and psychological support to inter-caste and inter-religious couples, often receives requests from these couples who wish to travel to the national capital from other states for marriage under the SMA . “They want to change their jurisdiction because they lack faith in the local administration of their place,” says co-founder Asif Iqbal. “In addition, the inhabitants of smaller cities tend to inform families.” But even this requires a mandatory month-long stay in Delhi, which is often difficult and expensive for young couples on the run.
Time is often a luxury that interfaith couples don’t have. Fleeing their families, Anu * and Ashfaq * quickly married Arya Samaj, and later applied for a license under SMA after obtaining judicial protection. However, their plans were derailed by the Covid-19 blockade. After waiting in Delhi for two months, they ran out of money and returned to their home state, but they hope to save enough to return soon and formalize their union. “In such cases, religious marriage presents an instant solution,” says Iqbal de Dhanak, adding that they have been receiving applications from couples who had a religious marriage a year or two ago but now want to register it under SMA due to insecurity about the marriage. proposed new laws.
* Names changed on request

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