Upholding the fundamental right of adult individuals to choose their life partners and the freedom to marry them, our courts have repeatedly passed a string of judgments in their favour. The verdicts are a firm reassurance of the supremacy of an adult’s autonomy in private matters and render any third-party interference in the matter as illegal. The latest is the Supreme Court’s quashing of an FIR against a college lecturer from Karnataka who wedded a man from Uttar Pradesh despite her parents’ disapproval. In 2018, restoring the personal liberty of Hadiya, who had converted to Islam and married Shefin Jahan in defiance of her father’s wishes, the SC had set aside a 2017 order of the Kerala High Court annulling the marriage.
However, that the subject of this inviolable liberty is legally challenged time and again underscores the disconcerting fact that we as a society are still bound by some regressively oppressive cultural and communal biases and norms. Inter-caste or inter-faith choices of our young adults are generally unaccepted and sought to be smothered in the name of religion or clan. Such couples often meet with familial or social resistance and boycott and, in extreme cases, even run the risk of ‘honour killings’. The ‘love jihad’ laws enacted by Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have the potential to widen this communal gulf with the controversial provisions of criminalising religious conversion through marriage and mandating prior official clearance in inter-religion weddings.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court has agreed to examine the constitutional validity of these laws. Equally heartening is the potential of changing the societal mindset towards accepting diversity presented by many social media ‘influencers’ and ordinary men and women who share pictures of their mixed marriages, joyously sealed with ceremonies and customs of both partners and families. But the fact that inter-faith marriages are more often contracted as civil marriages is something that religions need to ponder on. It is time for the easing of rigidity. Being more accommodative will not only promote communal harmony but also bolster the flock of the faithful.