Hindu marriage not valid unless performed with requisite customs, says Supreme Court [1.5.2024]

A Hindu marriage is not an event for "song and dance", "wining and dining" or a commercial transaction, the Supreme Court has observed and said it cannot be recognised in the "absence of a valid ceremony" under the Hindu Marriage Act.

A bench of Justices B V Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih said a Hindu marriage is a 'samskara' and a sacrament which has to be accorded its status as an institution of great value in Indian society.

In its recent order passed in the matter of two trained commercial pilots, who sought a divorce decree without performing a valid Hindu marriage ceremony, the bench urged young men and women to "think deeply about the institution of marriage even before they enter upon it and as to how sacred the said institution is, in Indian society".

"A marriage is not an event for 'song and dance' and 'wining and dining' or an occasion to demand and exchange dowry and gifts by undue pressure leading to possible initiation of criminal proceedings thereafter. A marriage is not a commercial transaction. It is a solemn foundational event celebrated so as to establish a relationship between a man and a woman who acquire the status of a husband and wife for an evolving family in future which is a basic unit of Indian society," the bench said.

Terming the marriage as sacred as it provides a lifelong, dignity-affirming, equal, consensual and healthy union of two individuals, the bench said a Hindu marriage facilitates procreation, consolidates the unit of family and solidifies the spirit of fraternity within various communities.

"We deprecate the practice of young men and women seeking to acquire the status of being a husband and a wife to each other and therefore purportedly being married, in the absence of a valid marriage ceremony under the provisions of the (Hindu Marriage) Act such as in the instant case where the marriage between the parties was to take place later," the bench said.

In its April 19 order, the bench said where a Hindu marriage is not performed in accordance with the applicable rites or ceremonies such as 'saptapadi' (taking seven steps by the groom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire), the marriage will not be construed as a Hindu marriage.

"We further observe that a Hindu marriage is a sacrament and has a sacred character. In the context of saptapadi in a Hindu marriage, according to Rig Veda, after completing the seventh step (saptapadi) the bridegroom says to his bride, 'With seven steps we have become friends (sakha). May I attain to friendship with thee; may I not be separated from thy friendship'. A wife is considered to be half of oneself (ardhangini) but to be accepted with an identity of her own and to be a co-equal partner in the marriage," it said.

In Hindu Law, marriage is a sacrament or a 'samskara' and it is the foundation for a new family, the bench noted, and said, "There is nothing like a "better-half" in a marriage but the spouses are equal halves in a marriage."
Observing that with the passage of centuries and the enactment of the Act, monogamy is the only legally approved form of relationship between a husband and a wife.

"The (Hindu Marriage) Act has categorically discarded polyandry and polygamy and all other such types of relationships. The intent of the Parliament is also that there should be only one form of marriage having varied rites and customs and rituals," it noted.

The bench said after the Act came into force on May 18, 1955, it had codified the law relating to marriage among Hindus and it encompasses not only Hindus as such but Lingayats, Brahmos, Aryasamajists, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs also who can enter into a valid Hindu marriage coming within the expansive connotation of the word Hindu.

"Unless the parties have undergone such ceremony, there would be no Hindu marriage according to Section 7 of the (Hindu Marriage) 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," it said.

The top court highlighted that the advantage of marriage registration is that it facilitates proof of factum of wedding in a disputed case but if there has been no marriage in accordance with Section 7 of Hindu Marriage Act, "the registration would not confer legitimacy to the marriage".

It noted that under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, a man and a woman can acquire the status of being a husband and a wife as per the provisions of the said Act.

"The Special Marriage Act, 1954 is not restricted to Hindus. Any man and woman irrespective of their race, caste or creed can acquire the status of being a husband and a wife under the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 but under the provisions of the Act (Hindu Marriage Act, 1955), there should not only be compliance of the conditions as prescribed under Section 5 of the said Act but also the couple must solemnise a marriage in accordance with Section 7 of the Act," it said.

Exercising its plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, the apex court declared the estranged couple were not married in accordance with the law and held the marriage certificate issued to them in absence of valid ceremony under the Hindu Marriage Act as null and void.

It also quashed their divorce proceedings and a dowry case lodged against the husband and his family members.

02 May 2024