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Saptapadi UPSC NOTE

 Recent SC judgement

  • There is a certain misunderstanding of the Supreme Court judgment pronounced recently in Dolly Rani v Manish Kumar Chanchal that if no saptapadi ceremony is performed, a Hindu marriage between two people cannot be considered valid

  • The Court did not state the law in as many words, but it did not outline in the judgment that there could be other ceremonies to validate the marriage

  • It also did not examine some customary practices where no elaborate ceremonies are performed beyond the exchange of garlands or the amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, in Tamil Nadu, which introduced the suya mariyadhai (self-respect) form of marriage through Section 7(a).


The case before the court

  • The judgment arose in a case involving a transfer petition filed by the petitioner-wife, seeking to transfer a divorce petition filed by the respondent-husband from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, to Ranchi, Jharkhand. 

  • During the pendency of this petition, both the parties had jointly applied under Section 142 of the Constitution for a declaration of invalidity of their marriage

  • In their plea, they had said that they were engaged to be married on March 7, 2021, and “due to certain exigencies and pressures, they were constrained to obtain a marriage certificate dated July 7, 2021, from Vadik Jankalyan Samiti (Regd).” 

  • On the basis of that certificate, they sought registration under the Uttar Pradesh Registration Rules, 2017, and were issued a ‘Certificate of Registration of Marriage’. 

  • The families of the parties fixed a date for performing the ceremony as per Hindu rites and customs. 

  • But even as the man and woman lived separately, differences began to crop up between them and the man filed for divorce.

  • The parties admitted that since there was no Hindu marriage between them, the issuance of a marriage certificate was of no consequence

  • They stated that the court may declare that no marriage took place between them and permit them to lead their independent lives. 

  • This common remedy in law (decree of jactitation of marriage) is possible for reasons other than dissolution of marriage as void and voidable under the Hindu Marriage Act.

  • All that the Hindu Marriage Act expects under Section 7(1) is that a Hindu marriage be solemnised in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies of either party

  • Saptapadi is a custom among certain sections of Hindus; it is not universally practised among all denominations

  • The second part of Section 7(2) says, “Where such rites and ceremonies include the Saptapadi, the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken.” 

  • By no stretch of imagination can this be understood as the only form of solemnisation of marriage. 

  • The Court only reiterated what a plain reading of the Section tells us: that the requisite ceremonies for the solemnisation of the Hindu marriage must be in accordance with the applicable customs or usage and where saptapadi has been adopted, the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken.

Previous judgments

  • The law propounded in this case was nothing novel. 

  • The Hindu Marriage Act cannot solemnise a marriage through registration alone

  • Registration is now mandatory in many States, and it is done after a ceremony of marriage is conducted

  • Tamil Nadu passed an amendment in 1967 simplifying marriage ceremonies

  • While upholding the validity of the amendment, a Division Bench of the Madras High Court had ruled in S. Nagalingam v. Sivagami (2001) that “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 the other to be his wife or... her husband, and the marriage would be completed by a... 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... would be sufficient to complete a valid marriage.”

  • In Ilavarasan v The Superintendent of Police and Others (2023), the Court approved of the above decision. 

  • It found that a later decision of the High Court in Balakrishnan v The Inspector of Police (2014), saying that a suya mariyadhai form of marriage held in secrecy is invalid, was not correct

  • The Court said of the High Court’s view, “It is premised on the assumption that every marriage requires a public solemnization or declaration... 

  • Often due to parental or pressure among kinship groups... couples intending to enter into matrimony may not be able to... give such a public declaration

  • Doing so would imperil their lives or could... result in danger to their bodily integrity or... 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

  • To superimpose the condition of a public declaration, which is absent in Section 7A(1)... is not only narrowing the... wide import of the statute but would also be violative of the rights under Article 21 of the Constitution...”

  • In Ilavarasan, the marriage had been solemnised by a few lawyers in the Chambers of one of them. 

  • The Court said that a chamber could not become a matrimonial establishment, but if the lawyers performed in the capacity of friends or relatives, their role as witnesses could not be ruled out.

Saptapadi

  • Saptapadi or saat phere is regarded to be the most important rite of a Hindu wedding ceremony. 

  • In this rite, the bride and the groom tie a knot and take seven steps together, or seven rounds around a sacred fire accompanied by one vow for each step

  • After the seventh step or circuit is taken, the marriage of the couple is regarded to be complete as per Hindu tradition

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