Rajasthan HC takes Rajasthan back two centuries

Remember the stories of Rajasthan as the land of valor, where honor is more important than life? Well… that still isn’t too far from the truth. To date, women and men without power suffer at the hands of those with power. This horrifying email from a reader shares some of the environment growing up in an “honorable” family in Rajasthan. Just establishing that Rajasthan is no easy place to be to go against the family. Other news of honor related deaths – killings and suicides are routine.

In this kind of society, the Arya Samaj was a bastion of legitimacy and hope for many who wanted to marry but were not certain of parental approval. People who could “run away and marry” and perhaps return when things calmed down somewhat, or in the case of difficult families, not return at all.

The easy process and group weddings made it affordable to the poor.

In a recent ruling, the Rajasthan High Court has put a ban on any such love marriage unless parents of both the bride and bridegroom are informed through police about the intention of their children to enter into wedlock and if they object, the couple must produce three “prominent persons” from each side as witnesses. The court further directed that at least six days time be given to the parents to take a conscious decision on such a”love marriage”.

“The pious purpose of the Arya Samaj Mission has been lost by the local units in the state and they are becoming a tool for pacification of ‘greed and lust’ for girl and boy and once it is over, the marriage lands in courts resulting in irreversible breakdowns. We fail to appreciate the Arya Samaj becoming a tool of such pacification. The persons running Arya Samaj are minting money by such marriages resulting in a serious problem in society,” observed Justice Kothari Sajjan Singh.

While I understand that thoughtless, hormone laden marriages help no one, I believe that stupidity, greed or lust are currently legal in India and individual rights, if at all love marriages are that. This kind of moral policing has led to more deaths for honor than anything else. It is extremely shameful that a court violates human rights blatantly to restrict the freedoms of young people and compromise their safety out of a sense of upholding “the pious purpose” of an Arya Samaj that has absolutely no problem with these marriages. In other words, the court claims to know Arya Samaj better than the Arya Samaj, the circumstances of marriage better than the people marrying, and imposes restrictions based on their idea of “serious problem” in society.

If at all there were research that showed that marriages from the Arya Samaj had a higher rate of divorce than other love marriages, it would still be an individual’s right to marry and divorce according to their needs in life. I married an older man at 18 to escape an abusive family. It was a mistake, sure, but I did escape my abusive home and it was my mistake to make. No such reference to conclusive evidence that the so called  has been made in any case. Arranged marriages having a lower rate of divorce is no surprise, but arranged marriages also have higher rates of dowry related harassment and deaths. Would you ban arranged marriages for that?

As for the court having a problem with marriages landing up in courts for divorce, my maid doesn’t like dishes landing up in the sink for cleaning. It isn’t a popularity contest. If you don’t like your job, find another one, pressurize the govt for awareness creation so “less dishes land up for cleaning” but you can’t “ban eating rice because many dishes are from eating rice”.

The ban was supposedly prompted because a 34 year old man married an 18 year old girl. 18 is legal in India for giving consent. There are no riders for parental approval. The parents forced the girl back after marriage, and there doesn’t seem to be any misconduct involved at least from the news reports other than the parents taking her back forcibly, forcing the  filing of a Habeas Corpus petition by 34-year-old Buddha Ram Meena who entered into such a marriage with 18-year-old Maina Bhatt. It is entirely shocking that a court can supposedly uphold the forcible removal of a married woman from her husband’s house AND impose restrictions on their method of marriage!

34 years old isn’t exactly like a 54 year old! 34 year old men look and act young, and while the difference in age is large, it isn’t exactly impossible for them to fall in love with 18 year olds!

On the other hand, this ruling has legitimized the kidnapping of a girl from her married home in a land where honor killings still happen. Will the court admit culpability if the girl is killed for honor, commits suicide or otherwise comes to harm, including remaining unmarried for life because of this “scandal”? What about the lives now in danger because of hostile families seeing their marriage as a very public deadline for either banning (and they have been given that right now) or preventing through more extreme means?

Where earlier people could marry and present as fait accompli or run away till the anger died down, this ruling forces people to endure resistance, possible dangers, turns the wedding into an open challenge and defiance, And then it also makes sure that escaping will not work, since all the parents have to do is deny approval and land up at the place of the wedding to prevent it.

In pretending to protect the piousness of the Arya Samaj, the Court has successfully flatlined it as a viable option for love marriages where family may be a threat. How is this different from the Khap panchayats?

In the meanwhile, the increasingly expensive “cheap” option of Arya Samaj draws no restrictions – who actually cares about the poor people wanting to get married?

The better options for love marriages for those with dangerous families would be:

  • Not marrying – this is tops. Even if you live in for long, and later separate, the courts have started treating it like a kind of marriage if it comes to a break up. Even if you end up divorcing, by then this will only improve. It makes their job tougher, but the way I see it, they asked for it.
  • Change religion. You can be a 64 year old Muslim/Christian and happily marry an 18 year old girl, and show me the court that will challenge that. Downside – it is a stupid idea, because it won’t feel like any marriage you recognize – different rituals.
  • Run away and register for a court marriage – the witnesses can be anyone. Absolutely anyone. Indeed, many people stand outside courts to offer such services.
  • Do a normal Hindu marriage with any couple sitting in for parents – the priests are fine with it.
  • Don’t do an Arya Samaj marriage, because an honor supporting judge has made it too dangerous.

It seems to me that the court is taking Rajasthan back to times when people were the property of parents, and village elders ruled according the rights of parents to own them. Shame!

Update: I have been waiting for an online version of the judgment to become available, but nothing so far. If you find, please comment, and I will add it in.

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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