Marriage, a chaotic construct!

More couples in India have begun to see marriage as paperwork first and foremost, and more families, too, have expedited marriage registrations even if wedding ceremonies are scheduled for much later — if ever.
Marriage, a chaotic construct!

Critiques of marriage as an institution occur within a world in which the institution holds all kinds of power, which is why people who are critical of it may get married anyway. Pragmatically speaking, being legally married may be the best if not only way to ensure that one’s partner’s role in one’s life — or one’s role in their partner’s life — is protected. From having visas issued to being allowed into the ICU to receiving inheritances to being able to admit one’s offspring into school, being married can be a bureaucratic necessity.

More couples in India have begun to see marriage as paperwork first and foremost, and more families, too, have expedited marriage registrations even if wedding ceremonies are scheduled for much later — if ever. The ceremony itself may be skipped altogether. In some cases, a non-religious gathering — a party, if you will — happens in lieu of rituals. As long as the paperwork is in place, the rest can come down to personal preferences (even if “personal” occurs in consultation with a small army of relatives). However, the Supreme Court of India has now implied that these choices will no longer be relevant — and that the registration itself may not be relevant — in the absence of the religious rituals, when it comes to marriages that would fall under the Hindu Marriage Act.

Around a month ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the marriage of a former couple, both pilots, who wanted to separate — and who had not held a ceremonial wedding — was essentially invalid, meaning they need not even go through a divorce. While this may make their lives easier, it complicates the lives of countless others who, despite being legally married, may also find their marriages null and void in certain contexts, thanks to this precedent.

The ruling is surprising in some ways, not least because Justice BV Nagarathna, who is poised to become the Chief Justice in 2027 — and who is generally regarded as being progressive in her thinking and has on more than one occasion stood up to excesses by the Central Government — was on the bench.

The sentiments behind the ruling are archaic. The bench also stated that young people should “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”.

There is no connection between deep thought and performing sacraments — in fact, to opt for a registration rather than just follow customs implies deliberation, rather than simply complying.

People marry for all kinds of reasons. Frivolousness in this matter is nowhere near as detrimental as feeling one has no choice but to marry — which remains true, via conditioning, pressure or even force — for the vast majority of Indians who do. The Supreme Court would do well to recognise fundamental individual freedoms within and beyond the institution of marriage and to train its eyes on rulings that promote egalitarianism within it. Whether people marry with a signature or with seven steps around a fire should be the least of their concerns, when there is so much more that is worth investigating, repealing, reshaping and introducing — measures that will make the lives of citizens better, married or otherwise.

Sharanya Manivannan

@she_of_the_sea

The columnist is a writer and illustrator

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